Is There a Difference between Free and Open Source Software?

Free and Open Source Software? Differences

Proprietary software can be very expensive and the availability of open source and free software saves consumers about 60 billion dollars a year. Though many people think the terms are interchangeable, they are not. While there are many similarities between the two and they do both describe approaches to free software, the differences are significant enough change the intention from what Free Software Foundation founder Richard Stallman calls development methodology to social movement.

Free Software – Social Movement

Richard Stallman founded the Free Software Foundation in 1985 in order to provide software freedom to all computer users. Contrary to popular belief, free software doesn’t have much to do with the cost of the software. Though free software is generally without cost, this is not a requirement. Cost free software refers to a kind of software technically called freeware. Instead, free software as defined by the Free Software Foundation is software that respects some very specific freedoms. Access to source code is fully granted so that the user may have:

  • The freedom to study how the program works, and change it for their needs without restriction.
  • The freedom to redistribute copies so they can help your others.
  • The freedom to run the program, for any purpose.
  • The freedom to distribute copies of modified versions to others in order to give the whole community a chance to benefit from new changes.

Examples of free software are MySQL, LinuxKernel, emacs text editor and Libre Office. Free software programs will typically fall under three main types of free software licenses.

OpenOffice is one example of both Free and Open Source Software

Public Domain – these programs may be incorporated into any work, usually because the copyright has expired or the work was never copyrighted to begin with or the author has chosen to release it into the public domain.
Copyleft license – this is the most likely license that free software will fall under. It lets the author retain copyright of the product while permitting redistribution under the same license. This can also be called a Viral License.
Permissive License – these licenses are also called copyfree as they have no restriction on distribution.

Open Source Software – Design Methodology

While free software is also open source software, open source software does not necessarily have to be free software as it is not required to fulfill the freedom requirements listed above. Open source software puts more emphasis on the technological superiority of the free software rather than the freedom of use. It allows for improvements on code for any open source program however, open source software is usually available under a copyright and license and different software distributors can enforce different copyright laws and use different licenses. Certain licenses come with obligations such as author recognition in all documentation or the requirement that all changes to code be made available in source code form.

Some examples of open source software programs are the Internet browser Firefox, Apache server and, GNU/Linux operating system. Download Gimp for an image manipulation program that will give Photoshop a run for it’s money..

These days, the term open source can be used pretty loosely. It is often times applied to non-software forms of user generated content like Wikipedia and open source publishing.


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