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I've always referred to free and open source software simply as "Open Source". However, some people have approached me saying that these two "things" (or philosophies) actually aren't the same at all.

I found that "Free Software" was coined by GNU and that they oppose the use of the term "Open Source". Why? Is there really a difference?

EDIT: It seems the meaning of free I meant wasn't well understood. I'm specifically talking about GNU's "Free Software" ideology. As in the FSF (Free software foundation). http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/free-sw.html. I don't believe most shareware/freeware/demos fall into this category.

I'm talking from a more philosophical position. If you release your source code and create an "Open Source" application, in essence it is already free is it not? I don't know of any PAID for open source projects (truly open source). I've heard of people paying for SUPPORT for open source software but never for the software itself. Am I missing something?

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closed as off topic by random Jul 25 '11 at 17:35

Questions on Super User are expected to relate to computer software or computer hardware within the scope defined by the community. Consider editing the question or leaving comments for improvement if you believe the question can be reworded to fit within the scope. Read more about reopening questions here.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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expected to generally relate to computer software ... This has a whole lot to do with that. Voting to reopen –  MaxMackie Jul 25 '11 at 17:54
    
I can't vote, but it seems that you are asking much more about the difference between two philosophies. While I agree that the application of these philosophies relates to software, it is not a question about software, its a question about a philosophy. –  soandos Jul 25 '11 at 18:09
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Philosophy might not have been the best word for me to have used in my question, however I do think that this pertains to what the SU community wants to know. –  MaxMackie Jul 25 '11 at 18:13
    
Even if I grant you that (and it seems probable) unfortunately, its not the right place for this question as defined by the FAQ. Submit a change to them I guess. –  soandos Jul 25 '11 at 18:15
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Got to like single moderator closes with 0 explanation on a borderline question –  TheLQ Jul 31 '11 at 1:53
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5 Answers

up vote 2 down vote accepted

The word "free" means more than one thing in English. The FSF, on the page you cited, explains that they mean free as in free speech, not as in free beer. They crafted a software license, the GPL, that lays out the terms of what people who download thier software are allowed to do with it, consistent with their definition of free.

However, the FSF are not the only people who write software and make it publicly available, and not all software authors who give code away "for free" necessarily want to apply the terms of the GPL to their own software. This led to the invention of a broader phrase "open source software" which includes GPL-licensed software but also includes software licensed under other terms. For the full definition, see the OSI page.

Two of the other terms you mention (shareware, demoware) usually refer to software licensed under terms inconsistent with either the GPL or open source licenses. The term "freeware" is vague.

The practice of giving away software is older than either the FSF or the Internet. There are libraries of mathematical Fortran subroutines, for example, that date to the 1960s and can still be downloaded today.

Also it is possible to pay for free software. Before everyone was on the Internet, you could pay the FSF to ship you a magnetic tape containing their software. But as you point out, the more common business model today is to give the software away and charge for support.

To answer your last question, if you publish your source code (where "your" means you own the copyright to it) and as the copyright holder offer a license to the world allowing anyone to copy and modify your software, and the terms of your license are consistent with the open source definition, then what you've created is open source.

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While not the longest answer, I think this one justly covers a lot of ground. +1 and accepted. –  MaxMackie Jul 25 '11 at 17:26
    
"not all software authors who give code away "for free" necessarily want to apply the terms of the GPL to their own software. This led to the invention of a broader phrase "open source software"" this is wrong. there are very few licenses that nobody uses that are open-source but not free . almost all open-source licenses are free licenses. BSD,MIT etc are all free as well as open-source . you are confusing copyleft and free software. –  Alaukik Aug 4 '11 at 15:42
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Free software is software that anybody can download, install, and run for free.

Open source software is software that usually anybody can install, download, and run for free and also program and expand and improve by downloading the source code for that program and modifying it.

The only requirements on Open Source software are that modifications generally be submitted back to the community to allow others to benefit from them.

There are difference sorts of free software as well. Trial versions, demos, and shareware are usually versions of software that are time- or feature-limited, allowing people to understand how the software works prior to committing to purchase it.

Freeware, in it's strictest sense, only applies to software that is unlimited in features or time and is free for all to use. The only limitations on freeware being that the source of the programs are not available for access or modification.

Along a continuum there would be closed-source for install software at one end. Proceeding along the line you'd next encounter trial-, demo-, and share-ware as being "kinda free". Then you'd get freeware, which is free to use but not to modify, and then you'd get open source, which is free to use, free to modify, free to ruin, free to improve... you get the picture.

UPDATE To address modified question:

Here you're getting into poh-TAY-toh versus poh-TAH-toh more than anything else. Though rabid adherents of the FSF or fans of any of the various Open Source licenses would probably claim otherwise.

Yes, as defined, Free Software according to the FSF would not include, in any way, shareware, trialware or demoware. I'm inclined to agree with them. While they are technically free, they are still trying to get you to pay something for more oompah.

Also involved in this ecosystem is "Freemium" software, such as SugarCMS or some of the other enterprise-level applications that tend to be very complex, very robust, and easily comparable to many of their vastly more expensive commercial cousins. These are free to use, but the companies offer enterprise-level support for a cost. Usually a subscription-like fee structure. This allows small outfits or someone with sufficient expertise to run the software for truly free, but companies without the requisite in-house talent can still enjoy high levels of support and availability for a fee comparable to a similar commercial product.

There are many different ideas pulling at GNU, the FSF, and anybody else willing to attempt to codify and corral the herd of cats that are open source and truly free software developers as well as companies building legitimate business models around free software. For instance, Ubuntu is given away free, but the Ubuntu company(corporation?) offers corporate support for a fee, and I believe Red Hat is not offered for free at all (if it is, insert some random non-free linux distro), and some distros are completely and totally free and offer no commercial level support option through an organization or corporation. Are all these open source? Are they all free software? Maybe. Maybe not.

My opinion is that free software and open source represent many of the same things but are not all the same thing. There are signficant points where they overlap, and significant points where they are totally unique.

Some of the points need to be argued over. Companies I work for find themselves unable to consider many open source packages due to the licenses that bind them. Some points ought not be argued over. There are some applications that just aren't worth applying anything more than the most simple and rudimentary of licenses to.

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I edited my question, could you please take a look? Thanks –  MaxMackie Jul 25 '11 at 16:29
    
+1, a nice full answer –  MaxMackie Jul 25 '11 at 17:24
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Free software is free software, but that does not mean the source code is available. Open source, on the other hand, is usually free, but only if the entire application can be compiled (i.e. is not just a library). Open source code can be combined with commercial/paid applications, depending on the license it is released under.

The GNU philosophy of open source is just as I described it above - the source code is openly available, and you can modify it for your own purposes. When they say free software, however, they say that you should be able to distribute and modify it, which is not the case for some open-source licenses.

I'm talking from a more philosophical position. If you release your source code and create an "Open Source" application, in essence it is already free is it not? I don't know of any PAID for open source projects (truly open source). I've heard of people paying for SUPPORT for open source software but never for the software itself. Am I missing something?

Again, this depends on the license. As I said, if you can obtain a full application's source code and compile it, yes, it is free. However, if you purchase a closed-source product which makes use of some open-source code, you can obtain that part of the code for free, but not the entire application you paid for.

If you're looking into using an open-source license for your own software, I would strongly recommend against the GNU GPL for that reason - you can only redistribute GPL applications under the same license, which severely limits the use of code in commercial software. Instead, consider the MIT License, BSD License, or GNU LGPL. Again, this depends on your purposes, but I am a strong supporter of free, open source, and closed source software.

As a final word, note that the definitions you see on the GNU website are not globally recognized definitions, and are heavily influenced by Richard Stallman's writings. For more accurate representations, see the Free Software Foundation and the Open Source Initiative websites. If you are choosing a license, you can find a list of common licenses (also containing templates) on the OSI website here. For a near-complete list of recognized software licenses, see this list published by SPDX.

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"If you're looking into using an open-source license for your own software, I would strongly recommend against the GNU GPL for that reason - you can only redistribute GPL applications under the same license, which severely limits the use of code in commercial software." This is wrong firstly GPL software can be sold so it can be commercial secondly if you own the copyright to the code you can use it in proprietary software as well. –  Alaukik Jul 31 '11 at 17:24
    
@M. Night Shyamalan that only applies for the LGPL or AGPL. You have to redistribute your software under the terms of the GNU GPL, and even if you tried to sell it, the first person to buy it could just give it away for free, legally. –  Breakthrough Jul 31 '11 at 20:28
    
If you own the copyright to the code you can do ANYTHING you want with the code.You could use it in proprietary software or software with ANY license. –  Alaukik Aug 1 '11 at 16:36
    
Of course you can do anything you want with your own code, I was talking about other people using your code. If you release your code under the GPL, any commercial software releases must also be under a GPL-compatible license. –  Breakthrough Aug 2 '11 at 0:10
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free software is free to use (no charge), open source software makes the code publically avaliable. often a project is a combination of these two things, and often they are lumped together hence FOSS (free and open source software)

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THIS IS WRONG . –  Alaukik Jul 31 '11 at 17:22
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I'm talking from a more philosophical position. If you release your source code and create an "Open Source" application, in essence it is already free is it not? I don't know of any PAID for open source projects (truly open source). I've heard of people paying for SUPPORT for open source software but never for the software itself. Am I missing something?

There are varying definitions of "free." Some people claim that various licensing schemas restrict what you can do with code under various licenses, which effectively make them not free. Others claim that code is only truly free when they are protected under licensing that demands that the code always remain open source.

GPL code, for instance, dictates that all derivative work from a GPL project almost must remain GPL'd. This means you can't use GPL'd code, build on top of it privately, and sell that code. It also means you can't use GPL'd code, build on top of it, and release it as BSD or Apached licensed code.

Apache and BSD licensing are much more open and often allow commercial products to use code, as long as proper attribution is given to the original authors.

I'm of the camp where I don't publish code that I don't consider ripe for the Greater Good. I have a lot of stuff that falls under the GPL, mostly because the projects the code belongs to is GPL'd, but as the copyright holder for various things, i'm happy to license the code out under a more liberal license for free, if need be. That said, I'm not naive enough to believe that I have the clout or legal capital to actually defend my code if somebody were to rip off any of the stuff I've got on GitHub, Sourceforge, etc, so effectively I don't give a damn.

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