Open Source vs Free Software

We no longer hear much about the debate between the Open Source and the Free Software movements. These days, pretty much everybody refers to them as being equivalent and both terms are used quite often indifferently. New acronyms even appeared to name an ecosystem that includes the two movements (FOSS, FLOSS, …).

Although they both have their own strengths and weaknesses in the FLOSS ecosystem, it is true that they are in practice equivalent. The best summary I found about their differences is that Free Software is a social movement and Open Source is a development methodology.

But this simplification hides an important philosophical divergence. Contrary to the Open Source Initiative, the Free Software Foundation promotes a copyleft restriction on software, a restriction that prevents, for example, using free software to develop proprietary products.

For the Open Source movement, born from the desire to open free software to the traditional business world, this limitation is undesirable. On the other hand, the interest of the Free Software Foundation is first to promote the Free Software philosophy, and as such, a copyleft restriction better suits him.

Nonetheless, they both now accept more or less the same licenses as being valid Free/Open Source software licenses. So, in practice, most FLOSS software products are both “Open Source” and “Free”. At the end, it doesn’t make a whole lot of difference for software developers.

Still, it is rather paradoxical that an open source software product is more free than a free software one.

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