[Ilugc] difference between free and opensource software

steve steve at lonetwin.net
Sun Aug 22 02:28:50 IST 2010


This is a long answer, but I encourage you to read the entire thing ...slowly, 
to make sure you understand everything ...

On 08/21/2010 08:10 PM, balaji sivanath wrote:
> hi,
> can anyone tell what is the actual difference between opensource and
> free sofware.i came through documentation but i didnt get it in
> crystal clear manner

To understand the difference you should understand the history of software.

Anyways, here is a brief explanation -- note that I have simplified this a bit 
but hopefully that won't affect the basic understanding.

Free software was a term 'formally' adopted by Richard Stallman (rms) in the 
early 80s to describe software which, according to him, allowed the maximum 
'freedom' to the person who used the software.

This meant that a person who used free software had to have complete *freedom* to:

0. Use the software for all purposes (ie: for good or for evil, for hobby or for 
business, for personal use or for commercial distribution)

1. Read the software's source code

2. Modify this source code

3. Redistribute these modifications

These aspects were termed as the 'freedoms' of the software. So any software 
that allowed these freedoms were called free software by rms and his supporters.

It is *important* to note that rms just made this *formal definition* of free 
software. There already was plenty of software that existed prior to rms's 
formal definition which allowed users some or all of these 'freedoms'.

Anyways, in an effort to categorize free software differently from software that 
was available at no cost, rms encouraged the use of the term 'freeware'.

However, by the time he started doing this, 'non-tech' users and people unaware 
of the 'real' meaning of software 'freedom' were already calling software that 
was available at no cost(*) as free software.

This confusion unfortunately still exists (in fact, as very well demonstrated by 
a reply to this thread).

Now, coming to the opposite of free software, ie: software which did not allow 
for any of the freedoms listed above -- that type of software is called 
'proprietary' software. Proprietary software disallows freedoms 0 and 1 (which 
basically implies 2 and 3 also are not possible).

Most proprietary software is 'licensed' to the user under something called the 
'ELUA' (End User License Agreement). If you have ever installed any proprietary 
software, you would have seen the ELUA and clicked the 'I Accept' agreement to 
install it. It is a good exercise to try and read these ELUAs.

Think of these ELUAs as a 'rental' or 'lease' agreement. Although you pay money, 
you are not 'buying' the software, you are 'leasing' it because, you don't 
really 'own' the software ! Since, you can't do whatever you want with it -- for 
example you cannot share it with anyone, or you cannot use it on more than one 
system or you cannot change it to suit your needs or you cannot resell an old 
copy of it or you cannot even make a 'copy' or it for backup purposes. Doing any 
of these might be illegal.

So, that was proprietary software. Something that you 'lease' from a company 
that controls everything that you can do with it.

Note that both Free software and Proprietary software might be available as 
freeware (ie: 0 cost), but only one of them is really 'free as in freedom'

Now, coming to the term Open Source. You see, when rms formalized the 'free 
software' term, many people did not know about free software, because almost all 
free software available then were available for Unix or Unix like platforms. 
This implied that free software was mostly available in Unix labs in 
universities and research institutions. At that time there wasn't any proper 
unix like system available for PCs.

However, in the early 90s linux landed on the scene and changed that. Free 
software was now also available on PCs alongwith the Linux OS which itself was 
also free software.

The growth of linux along with the growth of the internet (which incidentally 
was also being built on the backbone of free software) opened up the possibility 
of commercial offerings associated with free software such as service, support 
and commercial (ie: paid for) free software companies (like Red Hat) to exist.

However, due to the fact that most non-tech users (like managers, CEOs and 
investors) did not know or care about the freedom that software offered and 
would easily confuse the term 'free' with freeware, some of the biggest names in 
the free software world decided to create a new term.

This term was supposed to describe free software and also expand the formal 
definition of rms to allow for software that although allowed at least freedom 0 
and 1 may or may not restrict to an extent freedom 2 and 3 based on some 
licensing terms. The term they created was 'Open Source Software'.

So, all free software is essentially Open Source Software, however all open 
source software is not free software, according to rms's definition of free 

The term FOSS is supposed to include all Free/Open Source software.

Hope that clarified your queries.

> is there any video illustrating them
There already is a lot of material explaining this including videos. Do a video 
search for free software. In face there are 2 movies which are pretty well know 
that cover the history of free software and linux -- search for 'The Code' or 
'Revolution OS' -- maybe someone should hold a friendly screening of these.

- steve

(*) and shareware, which was free of cost software, but usually with some 
limitations such as limited time or limited users licenses or limited functionality

random spiel: http://lonetwin.net/
what i'm stumbling into: http://lonetwin.stumbleupon.com/

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