Click here to close now.


Linux Containers Authors: Liz McMillan, Anders Wallgren, Greg O'Connor, Dana Gardner, Pat Romanski

Related Topics: Linux Containers, Java IoT, Industrial IoT, Eclipse

Linux Containers: Article

Is "Free Software" Dead?

Is "Free Software" Dead?

There are some people who are passionate about the differences between "free software" and "open source." I'm beginning to wonder if the difference matters.

The term "free software" came into use at about the same time that Richard Stallman quit his job at MIT, launched the GNU Project, and began writing the software that would eventually become the core of the free software community: emacs, the GNU "C" compile (gcc), the "C" libraries, and a few others.

Richard wanted to give users "freedom" and he called the GNU Project software "free software." For him, "freedom" was primarily a social and moral goal rather than an economic one. He felt that users had the right to know what the software on their computers was doing and that software that didn't allow this "freedom" was socially and morally wrong. He promoted the idea (and still does) that free software represents the ideal of "free as in freedom." It was a side benefit of the process that the software could be used and distributed at no cost.

When Linus Torvolds created the first versions of the Linux operating system, he used all the GNU tools that had been developed by the GNU Project. As a result, to this day many refer to Linux as GNU/Linux. Linux still uses the GNU "C" compiler and its "C" libraries.

But there were others who believed that the name "free software" worked against the growth and acceptance of Linux and other free software applications. They felt the name was confusing and that explaining it to managers and business people was too difficult. And the ideas behind "free as in freedom" didn't always excite management as much as it did those who were spending countless hours developing it. Another problem was that the word "free" was sometimes equated with "cheap." Many felt that if the software was "free," it must not be worth much.

This group of people, led by hacker and free software developer Eric Raymond and Christine Peterson of the Foresight Institute, proposed that the name "open source" be used instead of the term "free software."

Richard Stallman didn't support this new name. According to Richard: "Teaching new users about freedom became more difficult in 1998, when a part of the community decided to stop using the term 'free software' and say 'open source software' instead."

Stallman continued, "Some who favored this term aimed to avoid the confusion of 'free' with 'gratis' - a valid goal. Others, however, aimed to set aside the spirit of principle that had motivated the free software movement and the GNU project, and to appeal instead to executives and business users, many of whom hold an ideology that places profit above freedom, above community, above principle. Thus, the rhetoric of 'open source' focuses on the potential to make high-quality, powerful software, but shuns the ideas of freedom, community, and principle."

Not everyone agrees with this assessment of the open source community. Recently, one of the leaders of the open source movement wrote to me in an exchange we had on this topic:

The distinction between "open source" and "free software" is not technical; it's the same code and licenses. Nor is it social; it's the same developers. It's strictly one of attitude - are we focused on moralism and changing peoples' thoughts (free software) or on results and changing peoples' behavior (open source)?

Reality has spoken. You get to RMS's (Richard Stallman's) condition of freedom faster by taking the pragmatic course - by shutting up and showing them the code.

In addition, some research recently published by Eric Raymond has shown that "among software developers and in the technology trade press, use of the term 'open source' dominates use of the term 'free software' by 95%-5% or more." (See for more on this research.)

Is free software dead or dying as a label for software that meets Richard Stallman's goals of "free as in freedom"? Does open source work as a label to represent these goals now? For my part, I'm happy to say "Yes" to both of these questions.

While I know that some will strongly disagree, I think it's time to stop dividing the community using labels. We don't need different names for the same thing. Enough of us believe strongly in Stallman's goal of freedom - and believe that open source is achieving it - to be confident the goals won't be forgotten even if the label is.

More Stories By Kevin Bedell

Kevin Bedell, one of the founding editors of, writes and speaks frequently on Linux and open source. He is the director of consulting and training for Black Duck Software.

Comments (6) View Comments

Share your thoughts on this story.

Add your comment
You must be signed in to add a comment. Sign-in | Register

In accordance with our Comment Policy, we encourage comments that are on topic, relevant and to-the-point. We will remove comments that include profanity, personal attacks, racial slurs, threats of violence, or other inappropriate material that violates our Terms and Conditions, and will block users who make repeated violations. We ask all readers to expect diversity of opinion and to treat one another with dignity and respect.

Most Recent Comments
Jeff Davies 09/13/04 06:18:30 PM EDT

Daniel Wallace. Once again you repeat your nonsense about the GPL and BSD licences. Your "proof" is somewhat lacking in authority. Who are you? Are you a lawyer or a wannabe. Compare your status with the Legal giants on the GPL side.
If you really don't know what you are talking about, then kindly go learn something before commenting.

Daniel Wallace 09/01/04 09:00:56 PM EDT

Why argue about open v. free source code
licenses. The GPL, LGPL and the licenses at
OSI all fail the "extra element" test required
to avoid preemption under 17 USC sec. 301.

IBM is feeding the free/open source community
their last meal... FOSS under its present
license schemes *really* is D.O.A.

kenlars99 09/01/04 12:18:05 PM EDT

In the battle of the purists vs the realists, an issue that looms larger in my mind is GPL vs LGPL-style licenses. That is, licenses that require you to also open source your linked code versus those that don't. This seems to really be dividing the community, in particular something like the GPL KDE/Qt, which are libraries, but GPL, making them fundamentally incompatable with things like say, Eclipse and SWT, which are open-source under the less-restrictive CPL. These two incredibly cool technologies will never meet. MySQL does something similar, making their drivers GPL (which radically different from making the database GPL). While normally using a database is not an act of "linking", you always link to a driver.

RMS and the FSF have been encouraging people to license libraries (as opposed to entire applications, operating sytems) under the GPL instead of the LGPL. This just creates more of a division between business-friendly and business-unfriendly open-source software.

So call it open-source, call it free, that's an issue of wording. LGPL versus GPL - thats an issue that creates real restrictions.

morgaine 09/01/04 10:31:53 AM EDT

I can't understand why the anti-RMS brigade feel somehow hurt by RMS's statement that "Linux [the kernel] itself is no longer essential". It is simply a 100% accurate statement of fact, without any advocacy or preferences to taint it, in view of the undeniable evidence that there are hundreds of thousands of *BSD users and systems spread across the world and doing very nicely thank you, all with their own non-Linux kernels.

It's about as precise a statement as you can make. Those *BSD users are not figments of our imagination, and indeed they might even claim that they run the best kernel. However, that would be advocacy, and others might deny it. The undeniable claim though is the one that RMS made. One should not try to find hidden criticism in an utterly precise and unadorned statement of fact.

I'm completely dependent on the Linux kernel myself so any problems it might suffer could hurt me. But I can't argue with RMS's clear point.

Stallman Says 09/01/04 10:26:03 AM EDT

Sure: RMS wrote...June 23 2003

Linux itself is no longer essential: the GNU system became popular in conjunction with Linux, but today it also runs with two BSD kernels and the GNU kernel. Our community cannot be defeated by this.

So I guess he doesn't agree with Kevin Bedell. (The ref is here:,14179,2914132,00.html)

FreeVersusOpen 09/01/04 10:20:30 AM EDT

hey wasn't it RMS who argued last year that the Linux kernel wasn't essential any more

anyone have the reference handy?

@ThingsExpo Stories
Cloud computing delivers on-demand resources that provide businesses with flexibility and cost-savings. The challenge in moving workloads to the cloud has been the cost and complexity of ensuring the initial and ongoing security and regulatory (PCI, HIPAA, FFIEC) compliance across private and public clouds. Manual security compliance is slow, prone to human error, and represents over 50% of the cost of managing cloud applications. Determining how to automate cloud security compliance is critical to maintaining positive ROI. Raxak Protect is an automated security compliance SaaS platform and ma...
Today air travel is a minefield of delays, hassles and customer disappointment. Airlines struggle to revitalize the experience. GE and M2Mi will demonstrate practical examples of how IoT solutions are helping airlines bring back personalization, reduce trip time and improve reliability. In their session at @ThingsExpo, Shyam Varan Nath, Principal Architect with GE, and Dr. Sarah Cooper, M2Mi’s VP Business Development and Engineering, explored the IoT cloud-based platform technologies driving this change including privacy controls, data transparency and integration of real time context with p...
The Internet of Things (IoT) is growing rapidly by extending current technologies, products and networks. By 2020, Cisco estimates there will be 50 billion connected devices. Gartner has forecast revenues of over $300 billion, just to IoT suppliers. Now is the time to figure out how you’ll make money – not just create innovative products. With hundreds of new products and companies jumping into the IoT fray every month, there’s no shortage of innovation. Despite this, McKinsey/VisionMobile data shows "less than 10 percent of IoT developers are making enough to support a reasonably sized team....
Just over a week ago I received a long and loud sustained applause for a presentation I delivered at this year’s Cloud Expo in Santa Clara. I was extremely pleased with the turnout and had some very good conversations with many of the attendees. Over the next few days I had many more meaningful conversations and was not only happy with the results but also learned a few new things. Here is everything I learned in those three days distilled into three short points.
DevOps is about increasing efficiency, but nothing is more inefficient than building the same application twice. However, this is a routine occurrence with enterprise applications that need both a rich desktop web interface and strong mobile support. With recent technological advances from Isomorphic Software and others, rich desktop and tuned mobile experiences can now be created with a single codebase – without compromising functionality, performance or usability. In his session at DevOps Summit, Charles Kendrick, CTO and Chief Architect at Isomorphic Software, demonstrated examples of com...
As organizations realize the scope of the Internet of Things, gaining key insights from Big Data, through the use of advanced analytics, becomes crucial. However, IoT also creates the need for petabyte scale storage of data from millions of devices. A new type of Storage is required which seamlessly integrates robust data analytics with massive scale. These storage systems will act as “smart systems” provide in-place analytics that speed discovery and enable businesses to quickly derive meaningful and actionable insights. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Paul Turner, Chief Marketing Officer at...
In his keynote at @ThingsExpo, Chris Matthieu, Director of IoT Engineering at Citrix and co-founder and CTO of Octoblu, focused on building an IoT platform and company. He provided a behind-the-scenes look at Octoblu’s platform, business, and pivots along the way (including the Citrix acquisition of Octoblu).
In his General Session at 17th Cloud Expo, Bruce Swann, Senior Product Marketing Manager for Adobe Campaign, explored the key ingredients of cross-channel marketing in a digital world. Learn how the Adobe Marketing Cloud can help marketers embrace opportunities for personalized, relevant and real-time customer engagement across offline (direct mail, point of sale, call center) and digital (email, website, SMS, mobile apps, social networks, connected objects).
The Internet of Everything is re-shaping technology trends–moving away from “request/response” architecture to an “always-on” Streaming Web where data is in constant motion and secure, reliable communication is an absolute necessity. As more and more THINGS go online, the challenges that developers will need to address will only increase exponentially. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Todd Greene, Founder & CEO of PubNub, exploreed the current state of IoT connectivity and review key trends and technology requirements that will drive the Internet of Things from hype to reality.
Two weeks ago (November 3-5), I attended the Cloud Expo Silicon Valley as a speaker, where I presented on the security and privacy due diligence requirements for cloud solutions. Cloud security is a topical issue for every CIO, CISO, and technology buyer. Decision-makers are always looking for insights on how to mitigate the security risks of implementing and using cloud solutions. Based on the presentation topics covered at the conference, as well as the general discussions heard between sessions, I wanted to share some of my observations on emerging trends. As cyber security serves as a fou...
We all know that data growth is exploding and storage budgets are shrinking. Instead of showing you charts on about how much data there is, in his General Session at 17th Cloud Expo, Scott Cleland, Senior Director of Product Marketing at HGST, showed how to capture all of your data in one place. After you have your data under control, you can then analyze it in one place, saving time and resources.
With all the incredible momentum behind the Internet of Things (IoT) industry, it is easy to forget that not a single CEO wakes up and wonders if “my IoT is broken.” What they wonder is if they are making the right decisions to do all they can to increase revenue, decrease costs, and improve customer experience – effectively the same challenges they have always had in growing their business. The exciting thing about the IoT industry is now these decisions can be better, faster, and smarter. Now all corporate assets – people, objects, and spaces – can share information about themselves and thei...
The cloud. Like a comic book superhero, there seems to be no problem it can’t fix or cost it can’t slash. Yet making the transition is not always easy and production environments are still largely on premise. Taking some practical and sensible steps to reduce risk can also help provide a basis for a successful cloud transition. A plethora of surveys from the likes of IDG and Gartner show that more than 70 percent of enterprises have deployed at least one or more cloud application or workload. Yet a closer inspection at the data reveals less than half of these cloud projects involve production...
Continuous processes around the development and deployment of applications are both impacted by -- and a benefit to -- the Internet of Things trend. To help better understand the relationship between DevOps and a plethora of new end-devices and data please welcome Gary Gruver, consultant, author and a former IT executive who has led many large-scale IT transformation projects, and John Jeremiah, Technology Evangelist at Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE), on Twitter at @j_jeremiah. The discussion is moderated by me, Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions.
Discussions of cloud computing have evolved in recent years from a focus on specific types of cloud, to a world of hybrid cloud, and to a world dominated by the APIs that make today's multi-cloud environments and hybrid clouds possible. In this Power Panel at 17th Cloud Expo, moderated by Conference Chair Roger Strukhoff, panelists addressed the importance of customers being able to use the specific technologies they need, through environments and ecosystems that expose their APIs to make true change and transformation possible.
Too often with compelling new technologies market participants become overly enamored with that attractiveness of the technology and neglect underlying business drivers. This tendency, what some call the “newest shiny object syndrome” is understandable given that virtually all of us are heavily engaged in technology. But it is also mistaken. Without concrete business cases driving its deployment, IoT, like many other technologies before it, will fade into obscurity.
Microservices are a very exciting architectural approach that many organizations are looking to as a way to accelerate innovation. Microservices promise to allow teams to move away from monolithic "ball of mud" systems, but the reality is that, in the vast majority of organizations, different projects and technologies will continue to be developed at different speeds. How to handle the dependencies between these disparate systems with different iteration cycles? Consider the "canoncial problem" in this scenario: microservice A (releases daily) depends on a couple of additions to backend B (re...
The Internet of Things is clearly many things: data collection and analytics, wearables, Smart Grids and Smart Cities, the Industrial Internet, and more. Cool platforms like Arduino, Raspberry Pi, Intel's Galileo and Edison, and a diverse world of sensors are making the IoT a great toy box for developers in all these areas. In this Power Panel at @ThingsExpo, moderated by Conference Chair Roger Strukhoff, panelists discussed what things are the most important, which will have the most profound effect on the world, and what should we expect to see over the next couple of years.
Container technology is shaping the future of DevOps and it’s also changing the way organizations think about application development. With the rise of mobile applications in the enterprise, businesses are abandoning year-long development cycles and embracing technologies that enable rapid development and continuous deployment of apps. In his session at DevOps Summit, Kurt Collins, Developer Evangelist at, examined how Docker has evolved into a highly effective tool for application delivery by allowing increasingly popular Mobile Backend-as-a-Service (mBaaS) platforms to quickly crea...
Growth hacking is common for startups to make unheard-of progress in building their business. Career Hacks can help Geek Girls and those who support them (yes, that's you too, Dad!) to excel in this typically male-dominated world. Get ready to learn the facts: Is there a bias against women in the tech / developer communities? Why are women 50% of the workforce, but hold only 24% of the STEM or IT positions? Some beginnings of what to do about it! In her Day 2 Keynote at 17th Cloud Expo, Sandy Carter, IBM General Manager Cloud Ecosystem and Developers, and a Social Business Evangelist, wil...