speaking there is very little difference between The Free Software Definition
and The Open Source Definition
(there are a few licenses
which are Open Source
but not Free Software
). The difference lies in the underlying philosophy
and reasons for their advocacy:
This extract (1) from the FSF
website helps to sum up the Free Software angle:
(...) ownership of a program--the power to restrict
changing or copying it--is obstructive. Its negative
effects are widespread and important. It follows that
society shouldn't have owners for programs.
Another way to understand this is that what society needs is
free software, and proprietary software is a poor
substitute. Encouraging the substitute is not a rational way
to get what we need.
began the GNU
Project and founded the FSF
on his belief that Proprietary
Software (and the power for authors of software to restrict
its use) was immoral, and that all software should
be free. Through advocating Free Software, he aims to make Proprietary Software obsolete
was a term created to help market
Free Software to businesses. Companies are generally uninterested in the moral issues underlying the software
they use. Open Source concentrates on the technical
advantages that it is claimed the methodology brings: higher quality software, no vendor lock-in
, lower cost
From the opensource.org FAQ (2):
How is "open source" related to "free software"?
The Open Source Initiative is a marketing program for free software. It's a pitch for "free software" on solid pragmatic grounds rather than ideological tub-thumping. The winning substance has not changed, the losing attitude and symbolism have.
For Free Software advocates the choice is a moral one: Proprietary Software should not be used as it is immoral. For Open Source advocates, it is a technical one: Open Source leads to superior quality software.
Note that this is not to say that the advocates of Open Source do not agree with the principles of Free Software: they may simply choose the Open Source message as a more effective way to promote it. For example, Bruce Perens, who originally wrote the Open Source Definition, recently released an article entitled "It's time to talk about Free Software" (3) where he advocates discussing the Free Software viewpoint, now that there is enough interest in the subject.
Linus Torvalds is probably the embodiment of the Open Source viewpoint: he has publicly stated that he believes politics has no place within engineering. Although Linux is Free, he has demonstrated he has nothing against Proprietary Software, most notably through the use of the Bitkeeper System for holding the kernel source code.
RMS, however, believes this message is at complete odds with his own: he has stated that he would even use inferior software so long as it was free. With the massive growth of interest in "Open Source" over the past few years, it is little surprise that Free Software advocates have become even more vocal (some might even say extremist) as well.