Source Available vs Open Source vs Free Software

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It is a common notion that there is a lot of ambiguity and disagreement around the term Open Source. While that has been true in the past, I believe that there is much more consensus now because the term has been refined and the taxonomy of software has been improved. Certainly there are still arguments, but I believe for the most part, there is a detente.

Much of the past ambiguity surrounded the philosophical disagreements between those who felt software should be free as in liberty, not only free as in beer. This view essentially holds that derivative works of Free Software must themselves be open and Free. Richard Stallman (who does not want to be associated with the term Open Source) embodies this philosophy, as does the GPL license.

The opposition felt that we should not place such restrictions on software to consider it Open Source.

While this disagreement may have been heated at times, in many ways the core argument around the term Open Source has been resolved by differentiating between Free Software and Open Source. There are now sites dedicated to the Free Software Definition and the Open Source Definition to promote these terms.

While there are certainly disagreements between the two camps on how software should be licensed, in many ways the camps are compatible. When looking specifically at the licenses, it is helpful to think of Open Source as a superset of Free Software. Free Software is necessarily Open Source, but an Open Source is not necessarily Free Software because a Free Software license is in general as restrictive or more restrictive than an Open Source license.

Likewise a Source Available is not necessarily Open Source, but Open Source is necessarily Source Available.

In my hope to be a neologist, I will push the term Source Available (I like it better than my earlier term Code Available) and hope it catches on. If someone coined it before me, at least I hope the claim to fame of making it popular. ;)

I have written on the topic of Open Source software before if you are interested.

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4 responses

  1. Avatar for Community Blogs
    Community Blogs July 26th, 2006

    I have more Beach Week Chronicles to get online, but I needed to take a sidebar and add a bit of info

  2. Avatar for JC John SESE Cuneta
    JC John SESE Cuneta September 18th, 2007

    Personally, I'd prefer to work on Free/Libre Software as you will automatically be an Open-Source, especially if you're using GPL, which is both camps (camps, not the devs) #1 choice for licensing.
    And as for the term, I prefer the new modern term "FLOSS" for "Free/Libre (and) Open-Source Software", which is more interesting especially when you say "get a FLOSS" (lolz ambigousity again).
    :)

  3. Avatar for Olivier Biot
    Olivier Biot January 18th, 2009

    Very interesting presentation of free, open source and a 3rd category nicely named "source available". I'd like to add "freeware" as another term that's often used in this confusing mix. And "public domain" which by the way does not exist all over the World.
    Reasons for mixing these terms can also emanate from cultural aspects as there's no 1:1 mapping of "free" in all languages and cultures. Besides, is the "free" in "free software" to be compared to "free speech" or "free press" or "free to use as you please" or even "free mind"?
    Is what is meant with "free software" really "free"? That's the subject of an intense, almost religious debate that eventually turns out to be tightly linked to the propagation of the terms and conditions (the license) of a free/open source software product to derivative works and to other works that interact with this software. In this context the term "copyleft" is quintessential: it describes your rights and duties with respect to how a software developer can (re)use the software and how other software may interact with the software. One source of debate originates in how "copyleft" and "freedom" can be seen as expressions of the same idea (or not). Some see "copyleft" as a charter that protects the software, other see "copyleft" as an obstacle for freely using it.
    The acronym "FLOSS", which stands for free, libre and open source software, tries to catch parts of the aforementioned categories but does not solve or address the differences between them. Personally I'm not a fan of this term as it brings more confusion by grouping movements that share common ideas but are in fact too different to correctly describe as a whole.
    Maybe we should stop looking at the source code only and start looking at the fascinating "FLOSS phenomenon" through different goggles...

  4. Avatar for Tim Murphy
    Tim Murphy July 9th, 2015

    IPhil, are you aware of a "shared source" or "source available" license template? My google searching so far has only resulted in proprietary licenses. The irony :-)