ROBERT STEELE: I thought F/OSS had merged as a meme. Now I understand you to mean that while both have practical similarities in outcomes, the underlying ethics are completely different.
Nothing has changed. The free software movement remains what it has always been since 1983: an ethical and political campaign for freedom for computer users.
Open source remains what it has been since 1998: a practical recommendation to let users change and redistribute source code.
I still champion free software, and disagree with the ideas of open source because they omit the most important idea.
INSERT: A program is free software if the program’s users have the four essential freedoms:
- The freedom to run the program, for any purpose (freedom 0).
- The freedom to study how the program works, and change it so it does your computing as you wish (freedom 1). Access to the source code is a precondition for this.
- The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbor (freedom 2).
- The freedom to distribute copies of your modified versions to others (freedom 3). By doing this you can give the whole community a chance to benefit from your changes. Access to the source code is a precondition for this.
“FOSS” and “FLOSS” are ways of talking about both free software and open source without choosing between them. If you want to talk about the community’s development practices, for instance, that sort of neutrality between the two philosophical camps may be useful.
Nearly all open source software is free software. The two terms describe almost the same category of software, 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, because only free software respects the users’ freedom. By contrast, the philosophy of open source considers issues in terms of how to make software “better”—in a practical sense only. It says that nonfree software is an inferior solution to the practical problem at hand. For the free software movement, however, nonfree software is a social problem, and the solution is to stop using it and move to free software.
“Free software.” “Open source.” If it’s the same software, does it matter which name you use? Yes, because different words convey different ideas. While a free program by any other name would give you the same freedom today, establishing freedom in a lasting way depends above all on teaching people to value freedom. If you want to help do this, it is essential to speak of “free software.”
We in the free software movement don’t think of the open source camp as an enemy; the enemy is proprietary (nonfree) software. But we want people to know we stand for freedom, so we do not accept being mislabeled as open source supporters.
INSERT: Beyond Software
Software manuals must be free, for the same reasons that software must be free, and because the manuals are in effect part of the software.
The same arguments also make sense for other kinds of works of practical use — that is to say, works that embody useful knowledge, such as educational works and reference works. Wikipedia is the best-known example.
Any kind of work can be free, and the definition of free software has been extended to a definition of free cultural works applicable to any kind of works.
Phi Beta Iota: Proprietary may be powerful in isolation, but it does not scale. Only infinite human intelligence applied as an open (free) collective is capable for creating infinitely scalable software. Those who suggest that machine intelligence will scale faster than we can imagine are missing the difference between linear and non-linear / intuitive scaling. IOHO.
UPDATED COMMENT FROM rms:
Thanks for posting that. I have one small correction to suggest, though. That Guardian article from 2008 does not represent my latest thinking. Shortly after that, I realized that the term “cloud computing” is too broad — it includes many totally different practices. So I concluded that it is a mistake to formulate any statement using that term. Some of those practices are bad, and some are ok. So I do not say, “cloud computing is bad”. Rather, I say “the term ‘cloud computing’ is too broad — let’s talk about a specific topic.”