Free vs. Open Source Software

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I have two questions on this topic:

1- What is the difference between free and open source software? Do both mean the same thing?
2- Some free (open source?) software is used by companies to make big money. Aren't these conflicting things?
 

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  • #2
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Free means that it can be used for free by anyone. An example of this would be Steam, MysqlWorkbench, iTunes, or basically any piece of software that you can get without paying for. But you can't modify the program in any way (at least not easily) because you don't have the code that was used to create it.

Open source means that as well as being free, the source code is also free. This allows other users to use or modify the code. This includes things like Firefox, VLC...

Most open source software is released under GPL, which licenses it to be used for free for any purpose, personal or commercial. There are other licenses (zlib, Berkley...) Some of them are stricter about how it can be used. They often use them simply because they are the best and most reliable. Nearly every company uses LAMP (Linux, Apache, Mysql, PHP,) at least for internal stuff, and every part of that is open source.
 
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  • #3
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OK, free vs. open source software is more clear now. I know many companies use open source software, but doesn't this negate the purpose of open source in the first place? My understanding is that open source was born out of the premise that users must have control over the software (which produces higher quality software by having many more people to contribute and fix the bugs), yet these companies use these free and open source software to control how their customers can use what they produce using these open source software, and make them pay money for it. I don't understand this part.
 
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Modern big products are component based. They use underlying systems as a backbone for their own proprietary code. Almost every web service is a custom, copyrighted piece of PHP code. That code itself is secret and runs the business, but it makes no sense for a digital media company to care in the slightest how PHP actually interprets their code or how Apache handles their request, and they certainly wouldn’t put resources into duplicating components that are well known. Like you said, some of the industry standards are so great because they have so many eyes on them.
 
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  • #5
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But in this case what is the benefit for those who make these open source software? I don't see a benefit, while others use their software to profit. Do they use support for example as a way to make profit?
 
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Maybe nothing, most of the time big companies will push their changes back into the trunk and it’ll get merged.

Most big open source programs are like Firefox: big conglomerations of coders managed by a non-profit entity.

Also, lots of time something becomes open source when it’s no longer profitable, or been replaced with something better. For example, when Quake came out, the DOOM engine was no longer top of the line, so they just released the source to the fans.
 
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  • #7
russ_watters
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I know many companies use open source software, but doesn't this negate the purpose of open source in the first place?
I don't know why it would - what do you mean? Or is it what comes next?:
My understanding is that open source was born out of the premise that users must have control over the software (which produces higher quality software by having many more people to contribute and fix the bugs)...
That is the premise, yes.
...yet these companies use these free and open source software to control how their customers can use what they produce using these open source software, and make them pay money for it. I don't understand this part.
That doesn't sound like a real thing. Where did you hear it/do you have an example?
 
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  • #9
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Python and R are two very popular free open source software nowadays, and used by many companies to do data analysis, to generate more revenue. Also, Python can be used to develop (web) applications. These application may not be free to the customer. So the products of free open source is neither free nor open source. I see a contradiction here. Why would someone spend his/her time developing a software that is free and open source with no benefit (just to make it available to everyone), while others using it to profit and copy-write their products?

I know Richard Stallman is against the naming open source, and he started the free software movement, but I was/am still not entirely sure about the difference. The GNU/Linux project was lunched as a result of the free software movement, yet we can say that its development methodology is open source where any one can contribute to the source code.

I heard that CEOs didn't like the term free because it implied no profit, and people came up with a new name: open source, but not sure about this.
 
  • #10
russ_watters
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The two terms describe almost the same category ofsoftware...
Not really, especially in today's time of cloud based computing. Most websites you visit are code or sit in front of code that is free to use but you are not authorized to copy or may never even see the source of. Open source must be free, but free doesn't have to mean open source.

And in my industry I get lots of useful free software that equipment manufacturers make as marketing tools.
...but they stand for views based on fundamentally different values. Open source is a development methodology; free software is a social movement.
Well, not exactly. A friend gave me a book by a pioneer of the movement[edit: he's referenced above: It's Stallman], called "Free as in Freedom." For open source + Free proponents, it is often a social movement, but most free software we come in contact with isn't open source and isn't connected with the movement.
For the free software movement, free software is an ethical imperative, essential respect for the users' freedom.
I didn't see that: to me the key component was open source = freedom and free is just a byproduct.
 
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  • #11
phinds
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The two terms describe almost the same category ofsoftware, but they stand for views based on fundamentally different values. Open source is a development methodology; free software is a social movement. For the free software movement, free software is an ethical imperative, essential respect for the users' freedom.
I disagree. Open source is not development methodology. Development methodologies are things like using JAVA and SQL, etc., and those things can be open or closed source. "Open source" has nothing to do with development methodology but rather it is a specific social commitment to software that can be modified by the user. It is generally free but does not have to be. Free software on the other hand does NOT necessarily include respect for the user's freedom because it specifically (unless it is also open source) does not allow the user to modify the code and in fact often comes in "pro" versions that have more features but are not free.
 
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But the free software movement defines free as open source as well. Accordingly, free software without the source code isn't free. Free is intended to give the user freedom, which is accomplished by providing the source code, not just a free stuff. I think open source by it self doesn't imply free, but free as defined by the free software movement, is an open source. Maybe that's why Richard Stallman rejects the term open source, and insists on the term free software.
 
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phinds
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But the free software movement defines free as open source as well. Accordingly, free software without the source code isn't free. Free is intended to give the user freedom, which is accomplished by providing the source code, not just a free stuff. I think open source by it self doesn't imply free, but free as defined by the free software movement, is an open source. Maybe that's why Richard Stallman rejects the term open source, and insists on the term free software.
I've had plenty of free software that is not open source, so how they define it is just THEIR definition (who ever they are), not THE definition. Free just means no cost. It does not mean "comes with source code"
 
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To my knowledge, when the free software movement started in the 80s, there was no free (of cost) software. However, no one said that was "the" definition, but my question was in that context.
 
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phinds
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To my knowledge, when the free software movement started in the 80s, there was no free software. However, no one said that was "the" definition, but my question was in that context. If a software is free of cost but not open source, then there will be no confusion about the terms.
And indeed, as is clearly shown by this thread, there IS confusion about the terms because Stallman decided to muddle the two. People who decide to give away their applications but not the source code to them really don't care what Stallman't definition is, they just call their stuff "free software" because that, literally, is what it it. Stallman does not have exclusive right to the English language.
 
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  • #16
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Yes, I was confused because of the larger context of the discussion.
 
  • #17
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To my knowledge, when the free software movement started in the 80s, there was no free (of cost) software. However, no one said that was "the" definition, but my question was in that context.
Wikipedia tells me the term "freeware" was coined in 1982 and includes a Venn diagram implying there is perhaps 10x as much free software as open source software.

Stallman's Free Software Foundation also has it's own page, and I'll have to check with the book later, but it does seem that as with the book title, he starts with open source and free comes by association.

So I agree with @phinds that he's muddying the waters a bit and just because he might want free and open source to exactly overlap, doesn't mean they do, can or should.
 
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  • #18
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Gnuplot is an example of an open source program that's not free as in freedom. You can't modify its code and release it to the public freely.
From its website:
Gnuplot said:
Does gnuplot have anything to do with the FSF and the GNU project?
Gnuplot is neither written nor maintained by the FSF. At one time it was distributed by the FSF but this is no longer true. Gnuplot as a whole is not covered by the GNU General Public License (GPL).

Gnuplot is freeware in the sense that you don’t have to pay for it. However it is not freeware in the sense that you would be allowed to distribute a modified version of your gnuplot freely. Please read and accept the modification and redistribution terms in the Copyright file.
 
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  • #19
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I searched more about the topic, and I will summarize what I've found:
  1. The word free in English is actually ambiguous, and can be used to mean cost (e.g., free coffee) as well as to mean freedom (e.g., free speech).
  2. Free software as defined by the free software movement doesn't imply gratis, and can be commercialized. The issue is not money, but restricting the users, and use malicious functionality in the software to track users or something like that. So, I think the free software movement is producing free as in freedom AND gratis software for wide spread adoption, to push proprietary software back, but free software as defined by the software movement doesn't have to be free of charge.
  3. I think @adaliadelle was right. Both free software as defined by the free software movement and open source movement appear similar on the surface, but they are motivated by two different goals. The former aims at giving the user control to give him/her freedom and privacy (it is a political and social movement) which may come at the cost of convenience, while the latter aims at giving the user control to obtain better software quality for convenience.
  4. I also found that Linux is actually a part of the GNU Operating System project launched by Richard Stallman, and it is not THE operating system. I wonder why Linux took the whole credit!!
 
  • #20
phinds
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I also found that Linux is actually a part of the GNU Operating System project launched by Richard Stallman, and it is not THE operating system. I wonder why Linux took the whole credit!!
Because it wasn't WRITTEN by Stallman and the FSF/GNU but rather by Torvalds. That is, the heart of any O.S. is the kernel and the original Linux kernel was written by Torvalds.
 
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Because it wasn't WRITTEN by Stallman and the FSF/GNU but rather by Torvalds. That is, the heart of any O.S. is the kernel and the original Linux kernel was written by Torvalds.
Right, but the Kernel needs an environment to be useful, and this environment was provided by the GNU project. I think saying Linux-based OS is more accurate than saying Linux OS.
 
  • #22
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First, GNU has its own kernel, the Hurd. It's been under development for more than 25 years and still hasn't hit Version 1.0.

Second, it really frosts Mr. Stallman that the universe went with Linux and not waited for the Hurd. This comes out whenever he sets pen to page. That doesn't mean that you should discount what he says, but it does mean you should understand his perspective.

Third, yes, everyone uses a lot of GNU tools under Linux. Everyone also uses a lot of non-GNU tools under Linux. Would Linux be viable without the GNU tools? Probably not. Would it be viable without the non GNU tools? Probably not.

Finally, what is GNU? Is the GNU foundation? Code written parially by a member of the foundation? Is it anything using the GNU license? Is it a way of life? Credit that accrues to one "instance" of GNU should not spill over to another.
 
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