A Touch of Class

f. rainne

Free As in Freedom

One of the principle differences is that the Free Software camp think that the term "Open Source" dilutes the entire point of the exercise — increase in freedom — while the Open Source side thinks that the term "Free Software" is too easily confused with "Gratis Software"...

I really wish we could come up with a term that didn't have the ambiguity of "Free Software" and of "Open Source".

What's wrong with the term "Open Source" by Hixie

Clearly the term should be ‘Liberty Software’. Unambiguous and patriotic. No one would dare to criticize. :)

English has a lot of words with the same root as ‘liberty’: liberty, liberal, liberate, etc. Unfortunately for this case, it lacks an adjective form of ‘liberty’, leaving only the sharply ambiguous term ‘free’.

The ‘open’ in ‘open source ’ carries a lot of the same meanings as the ‘free’ in ‘free software’:

o·pen adj.
    1. Carried on in full view
    1. Not sealed or tied
    1. Accessible to all; unrestricted as to participants
    2. Free from limitations, boundaries, or restrictions
    1. Available; obtainable
    2. Available for use
American Heritage Dictionary

The word ‘open’ by itself has a very wide range of interpretation. Its context as a modifier for ‘source’, though, restricts the meaning much more, narrowing it almost (but not completely) to the definition it takes in the definition of ‘open source’. The only plausible “misuse” of ‘open source’ would be applying it to source code that is openly available but legally restricted beyond the OSI's constraints. Debacles like calling Microsoft's new marketing strategy “open source marketing” are openly silly because there is clearly no source involved! (It could justifiably be called “open marketing”, though, leaving ‘open source’ itself untouched.)

On the other hand, the word ‘free’ has effectively two different meanings: “unbound” in a variety of nuances, and “without charge”, a specific derivation of it. The phrase ‘free software’ fails to constrain “without charge” out of context, so interpreting it as “freeware” is just as valid. Labelling Microsoft Internet Explorer as ‘free software’ makes sense, because it literally is free software. In the minds of people software is a commodity, not an idea, just as a book, although it contains ideas, is a commodity, not an idea. If I spoke the phrase “free idea”, the ‘free’ would by context take the meaning of “unbound“. If I then spoke the phrase “free commodity”, its context would suggest “without charge”. People persistently interpret ‘free software’ as “gratis software” not because of some historical accident but because that's the meaning its context suggests. The Free Software Foundation's interpretation of that ‘free’ as “unrestrained” is unnaturally forced, and that's why it is so difficult to drill it through peoples' heads.

As for me, having recently written and spliced together some documents explaining ‘free’ for mozilla.org, I enjoy the literary flexibility of ‘free software’, how it lets me connect the various ideas of software freedom. However, I consider ‘open source’ as the more precise and unambiguous term and tend to use it for the terser references in product marketing and other discussion.

Fries anyone?

A rose, by any other name...Shakespeare