Proprietary vs Open Source vs Free Software

I recently had to think about the terminology problem around Free Software, Libre Software, Open Source, FOSS or FLOSS.

Whenever you do mean to imply the 4 Software Freedoms, Free Software seems to be the best option. Libre instead of Free might help to make it clear it’s not about price, but that term isn’t used that widespread, and it’s the Free Software Foundation, not the Libre Software Foundation.

FOSS may be bearable, but having 2 words for the same thing in one acronym like in FLOSS, while there’s already a huge overlap  involved … I have no nice word for it.

Open Source will in most cases also be Free Software, but it’s often used to emphasise the practical aspects and is preferred by those who want to distance themselves from a perceived Free Software fanaticism. What’s really impractical is that Open Source feels to me like a more handy term for stuff that doesn’t happen to be executable software, but this baggage is no help, there.

I really don’t like the idea of a divide between an Open Source pragmatism and Free Software idealism (or worse labels). While there may be FS nutcases, I think the determining aspect is the nutcase, not the FS part, then. So called idealism can often be thought of as long-term pragmatism. You don’t reach certain goals, if you give in, easily. The hard part is the balancing of the value one ascribes to what is desired, against the probability and cost. What seems pragmatic now, might show to have been short-sighted, later.

Now all in all, people will not agree on the weighting of values and of what is actually at stake, what the opportunities and risks are and the time span to think of. But if you see a continuum, instead of a hard split, it should be much easier to get along or even cooperate for mutual benefit.

Personally, I much prefer Free Software, but will use what I think I have to, to get a job done. I may forgo some comfort I could have with a closed solution, sometimes. It’s a case by case decision. But I would not stay out of an entire field for lack of an FS solution. As an example, have fun trying working as Industrial Designer without Solidworks or the like. And no, I simply can’t write a parametric solid-modelling application or fund it’s development, not in this life 😉

About thorwil
I'm a designer from Germany. My main interests are visual and interaction design, free/open-source software and (electronic) music.

7 Responses to Proprietary vs Open Source vs Free Software

  1. Jeremy Bicha says:

    I think most people believe “free software” is simply software that they don’t have to pay money to use, like Google Earth or Angry Birds or even Internet Explorer or Facebook. “Open source” can be easily defined as software where the source code is open for anyone to use and is less confusing. Yes, that’s simplistic but “free software” doesn’t mean what most people think it does.

  2. c0d3g33k says:

    Perhaps the problem is one of focus. “Free software” implies an attribute of the software itself, rather than the freedom of the human being using the software. “This software is free” is much easier to interpret as “This software has no cost” than as “You are free to use this software as you wish”. When people say “free software”, they really mean something closer to “software freedom” or “software that doesn’t restrict your freedoms”. “Open source” communicates the concept poorly as well.

    We really need a better term to describe this thing we all love.

  3. Martin Owens says:

    You could stick €100 into a kickstarter or some kind of floating fund, then when/if there are enough people demanding the project and enough of these pots of money. They can be combined and work can begin.

    At least while you’re stuck, you should seek a way out.

  4. bochecha says:

    > “Personally, I much prefer Free Software, but will use what I think I have to, to get a job done.”

    I know that’s not how you intended this sentance, but I think it pretty much summarizes my opinion about the terms “Free” and “Open Source”.

    What I mean is that the ethical values are more important to me, but I will use any of those terms depending on which one is most likely to get the message across.

    If I’m talking to an individual who values his freedom, the “Free Software is the obvious choice. If I’m talking to my boss, then I will rather speak about how “Open Source” can help the company make more money.

    YMMV, and there are a lot of nuances between those two examples of course. 😉