Stallman on free vs. open

In a viewpoint piece in this month’s edition of Communications of the ACM, Richard Stallman makes the case that “Open Source misses the point of free software.” (See Why ‘Open Source’ Misses the Point of Free Software.)

Free vs openFree software is software that protects our software freedoms–i.e., the freedom to use, modify, and share our software.  Free software is free as in ‘free speech’ not as in ‘free beer.’

Stallman argues that the freedoms underlying the origin and spirit of the free software movement are lost in the concept of “open source,” which to most people means that the source code is available.  He reviews some of the historical and philosophical reasons behind the split between the Free Software Foundation and the Open Source Initiative.  But he rejects the justifications for “open source” as bogus and misleading.   As one example, he points out that DRM software (Digital Restriction Managment, as he calls it) is the very antithesis of software freedom because it deliberately tries to restrict your ability to change the DRM software.   Yet some open source supporters have proposed “open source DRM.”

I think the key point here is that tens of millions of people around the world are now using free software–and it truly is free software.   But as long as we keep referring to “open source,” they will be missing the broader point about the commitment to freedom that underlies this social movement.  As he puts it,

As the advocates of open source draw new users into our community, we free software activists must work even more to bring the issue of freedom to those new users’ attention. We have
to say, “It’s free software and it gives you freedom!”—more and louder than ever. Every time you say “free software” rather than “open source,” you help our campaign.

I couldn’t agree more!  It’s worth the read:  Why ‘Open Source’ Misses the Point of Free Software


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