“Open source is a development methodology; free software is a social movement.” That’s a great explanation but it may still leave a few people at a loss of what’s being discussed here. Before we make this more tasty I’d like to define both terms further.
Free Software refers to apps, applications, programs, widgets, whatever you want to call the stuff on your electronics device that allows you to do something besides look at a black screen while being free. The word “free” in free software is akin to its’ use in free speech or a free market. Programs aren’t don’t have intelligence so of course they don’t have a right to free speech. Instead, free software is about making the programs that you use as accessible and maintainable as a car, house or journal. Many people may use and have access to these items and can pretty much do whatever they want with them as long as they aren’t breaking the law. If a vehicle breaks down the owner has the option to fix it themselves or to find a non-manufacturer or non-dealer provided mechanic to fix it. If vehicles weren’t accessible then it’s very possible that something as simple as changing the oil would not be possible for anyone not authorized to do so. Free software is all about getting your everyday software to the same level of accessibility.
Have you ever had a technician working on your pc but they couldn’t resolve your issue? Sometimes this is due to poor training on the subject matter or some other lacking area. In other cases it may be due to a piece of software on the machine not working properly. The argument of free software is that it will be fully accessible to its’ users so that they can do whatever they would like to do with it. Maybe they want to have their name appear instead of the name of the program, that’s one possibility of free software. Maybe the person or community would like for a bug in the software to be fixed, but the main development team doesn’t see it as a critical issue so it’s tossed to the side along with your complaints. Free software values would allow for people that don’t develop or maintain the software to attempt to fix it beyond closing and reopening it, reinstalling it or playing with settings. They would be able to get “under the hood” (check and change the code) so that they may solve the problem. They would also have the right to do so instead of being tied to an end user license agreement that doesn’t permit anyone to modify the software. Plenty of people ignore eula’s, but the Free Software movement is about granting users the same rights to interact with their software as they would with a book or any other belonging.
Open source software is an application that has its’ source code available. Just think of the source code as the blueprints that tell a person how to make the software. If the source is available then people can understand the software better and can even make perfect copies or variations upon the original document. Lots of open source software is improved upon by the community that uses it. The community involves every entity from a single person to the largest corporation involved. Based upon how different entities in the community come together, they form their own neighborhoods, or groups. Some groups focus solely on using open source software for profit or stability while others use it as a hobby or as a way to receive a lot of stuff for free. Free in this instance does not have the same meaning as free does in the latter section. Free as used previously is like free beer or free parking. Not a single direct monetary cost involved for most of the users.
Open source software and Free Software have a mostly symbiotic relationship. In most cases what is beneficial for the one will be beneficial for the other. When progress is made one group it can often open the door for the other to advance. It also has the ability to slam doors in the others face. Most open source software is released under a licensed agreement. The existence of license agreements does not in itself restrict people or take away from their rights, it’s the terms of those agreements that do so and that is a significant portion of what stops open source software and free software from being the same thing.
Free software will encourage the use of licensing that do not infringe upon the rights of users and to also allow them to share and change it. Open source software simply wants the right to have access to the source code and the right to use the source code. One licensing agreement that can often appease both groups is the GPL, version 2. To give a brief summary of it, everyone that uses the software with this license has access to the use the source code, to modify it, and to redistribute it with any license that grants an equal or higher level of rights without removing any of the rights given by this license. That is a pretty grand scope but it can go further, any entity can also unlicense their work so that it’s in the public domain.
Licensing that gives more rights to the users when compared to the rights of the author is called copylefting, or <a href=”http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Copyleft”copyleft. Instead of a distributor or owner asserting their rights over the user, the user is being given rights that the owner cannot renege upon on any work that is copyleft. There are many reasons that an author of software or any work would provide a copyleft license for use of their work instead of restricting the use and distribution of it. It can even be for financial reasons like market domination. Of course, open standards are just as significant as open source or free software. Open standards is beyond the scope of this article but will be further elaborated upon in a future article that will be linked to here when completed as well as being viewable on the site normally.
Chicken, KFC, and Recipes
Oh yes, it’s time to get delicious! If the previous parts were too long, or you just decided to skip to the bottom then feel free to continue forward. Open Source and Free Software will be further explained with the product of the Colonel.
Open source software would demand that complete recipes of the chicken being bought be included with every purchase along with the plans necessary to create the bucket that the chicken is in.
Free software wants the chicken being sold to be made available for anyone to cook and for anyone to be able to share the recipe and plans that were just purchased.
Open source is more about developers, or cooks, being able to play around with or to use the recipe for their own purposes. Free software is about giving everyone the right and ability to cook this chicken, share the recipe and to even be able to ask KFC to serve their chicken differently. Maybe they want the right to demand that certain spices aren’t being used, the open source folks just want to do it themselves at home.
Now obviously this is a gross oversimplification. It’s made to point out the extremes of both groups. In reality, most people fit into both groups or neither. They either want to just toss their money on the table and walk out with chicken or they want one or two rights that advocates of one or both groups fight for.
Maybe they’d like to buy KFC at their grocery store already frozen instead of buying it at the restaurant. Or maybe they just want a seasoning pack so that they can season their chicken the same way that the Colonel does his without demanding to actually know the recipe. Both groups have different end goals for software and other inventions, but they often want many of the same things. Sometimes they want them in different ways that are simply not compatible with the ideologies at play for each group. One group simply needs access to the source while the other needs access to all of the rights. That is the difference.
Open source advocates very simply want to inspect and study at the farthest end of the most extreme of their opinions. Free software enthusiasts have an issue with this because they want to do more than look at what is available, they want to participate and thrive while doing so. They want to make the chicken and possibly resell it or modify it with personal changes and share that instead of simply being inquisitive or having to be restricted in what they can do with the bucket of chicken and how they can do it. Open source is the scientist and Free software are the citizens.
Most people do not care about the extreme ends of the spectrum, but without non-profits like the Free Software Foundation (FSF) or companies like IBM they wouldn’t have very little if any choices available to pick from.