Welcome!

Linux Containers Authors: Mehdi Daoudi, Elizabeth White, Mano Marks, Pat Romanski, Carmen Gonzalez

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 www.catb.org/~esr/writings/terminology/ 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 Linux.SYS-CON.com, 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: http://techupdate.zdnet.com/techupdate/stories/main/0,14179,2914132,00.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
WebRTC is bringing significant change to the communications landscape that will bridge the worlds of web and telephony, making the Internet the new standard for communications. Cloud9 took the road less traveled and used WebRTC to create a downloadable enterprise-grade communications platform that is changing the communication dynamic in the financial sector. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Leo Papadopoulos, CTO of Cloud9, discussed the importance of WebRTC and how it enables companies to focus o...
Big Data engines are powering a lot of service businesses right now. Data is collected from users from wearable technologies, web behaviors, purchase behavior as well as several arbitrary data points we’d never think of. The demand for faster and bigger engines to crunch and serve up the data to services is growing exponentially. You see a LOT of correlation between “Cloud” and “Big Data” but on Big Data and “Hybrid,” where hybrid hosting is the sanest approach to the Big Data Infrastructure pro...
In his General Session at 16th Cloud Expo, David Shacochis, host of The Hybrid IT Files podcast and Vice President at CenturyLink, investigated three key trends of the “gigabit economy" though the story of a Fortune 500 communications company in transformation. Narrating how multi-modal hybrid IT, service automation, and agile delivery all intersect, he will cover the role of storytelling and empathy in achieving strategic alignment between the enterprise and its information technology.
Buzzword alert: Microservices and IoT at a DevOps conference? What could possibly go wrong? In this Power Panel at DevOps Summit, moderated by Jason Bloomberg, the leading expert on architecting agility for the enterprise and president of Intellyx, panelists peeled away the buzz and discuss the important architectural principles behind implementing IoT solutions for the enterprise. As remote IoT devices and sensors become increasingly intelligent, they become part of our distributed cloud enviro...
With major technology companies and startups seriously embracing IoT strategies, now is the perfect time to attend @ThingsExpo 2016 in New York. Learn what is going on, contribute to the discussions, and ensure that your enterprise is as "IoT-Ready" as it can be! Internet of @ThingsExpo, taking place June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, New York, is co-located with 20th Cloud Expo and will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry p...
"LinearHub provides smart video conferencing, which is the Roundee service, and we archive all the video conferences and we also provide the transcript," stated Sunghyuk Kim, CEO of LinearHub, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at @ThingsExpo, held November 1-3, 2016, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
Things are changing so quickly in IoT that it would take a wizard to predict which ecosystem will gain the most traction. In order for IoT to reach its potential, smart devices must be able to work together. Today, there are a slew of interoperability standards being promoted by big names to make this happen: HomeKit, Brillo and Alljoyn. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Adam Justice, vice president and general manager of Grid Connect, will review what happens when smart devices don’t work togethe...
"There's a growing demand from users for things to be faster. When you think about all the transactions or interactions users will have with your product and everything that is between those transactions and interactions - what drives us at Catchpoint Systems is the idea to measure that and to analyze it," explained Leo Vasiliou, Director of Web Performance Engineering at Catchpoint Systems, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 18th Cloud Expo, held June 7-9, 2016, at the Javits Center in New York Ci...
The 20th International Cloud Expo has announced that its Call for Papers is open. Cloud Expo, to be held June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, brings together Cloud Computing, Big Data, Internet of Things, DevOps, Containers, Microservices and WebRTC to one location. With cloud computing driving a higher percentage of enterprise IT budgets every year, it becomes increasingly important to plant your flag in this fast-expanding business opportunity. Submit your speaking proposal ...
Discover top technologies and tools all under one roof at April 24–28, 2017, at the Westin San Diego in San Diego, CA. Explore the Mobile Dev + Test and IoT Dev + Test Expo and enjoy all of these unique opportunities: The latest solutions, technologies, and tools in mobile or IoT software development and testing. Meet one-on-one with representatives from some of today's most innovative organizations
20th Cloud Expo, taking place June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY, will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry players in the world. Cloud computing is now being embraced by a majority of enterprises of all sizes. Yesterday's debate about public vs. private has transformed into the reality of hybrid cloud: a recent survey shows that 74% of enterprises have a hybrid cloud strategy.
SYS-CON Events announced today that Super Micro Computer, Inc., a global leader in Embedded and IoT solutions, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 20th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 7-9, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Supermicro (NASDAQ: SMCI), the leading innovator in high-performance, high-efficiency server technology, is a premier provider of advanced server Building Block Solutions® for Data Center, Cloud Computing, Enterprise IT, Hadoop/Big Data, HPC and E...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Linux Academy, the foremost online Linux and cloud training platform and community, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 20th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Linux Academy was founded on the belief that providing high-quality, in-depth training should be available at an affordable price. Industry leaders in quality training, provided services, and student certification passes, its goal is to c...
WebRTC is the future of browser-to-browser communications, and continues to make inroads into the traditional, difficult, plug-in web communications world. The 6th WebRTC Summit continues our tradition of delivering the latest and greatest presentations within the world of WebRTC. Topics include voice calling, video chat, P2P file sharing, and use cases that have already leveraged the power and convenience of WebRTC.
"Matrix is an ambitious open standard and implementation that's set up to break down the fragmentation problems that exist in IP messaging and VoIP communication," explained John Woolf, Technical Evangelist at Matrix, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at @ThingsExpo, held Nov 4–6, 2014, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
WebRTC sits at the intersection between VoIP and the Web. As such, it poses some interesting challenges for those developing services on top of it, but also for those who need to test and monitor these services. In his session at WebRTC Summit, Tsahi Levent-Levi, co-founder of testRTC, reviewed the various challenges posed by WebRTC when it comes to testing and monitoring and on ways to overcome them.
"A lot of times people will come to us and have a very diverse set of requirements or very customized need and we'll help them to implement it in a fashion that you can't just buy off of the shelf," explained Nick Rose, CTO of Enzu, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 18th Cloud Expo, held June 7-9, 2016, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY.
DevOps is being widely accepted (if not fully adopted) as essential in enterprise IT. But as Enterprise DevOps gains maturity, expands scope, and increases velocity, the need for data-driven decisions across teams becomes more acute. DevOps teams in any modern business must wrangle the ‘digital exhaust’ from the delivery toolchain, "pervasive" and "cognitive" computing, APIs and services, mobile devices and applications, the Internet of Things, and now even blockchain. In this power panel at @...
Every successful software product evolves from an idea to an enterprise system. Notably, the same way is passed by the product owner's company. In his session at 20th Cloud Expo, Oleg Lola, CEO of MobiDev, will provide a generalized overview of the evolution of a software product, the product owner, the needs that arise at various stages of this process, and the value brought by a software development partner to the product owner as a response to these needs.
WebRTC services have already permeated corporate communications in the form of videoconferencing solutions. However, WebRTC has the potential of going beyond and catalyzing a new class of services providing more than calls with capabilities such as mass-scale real-time media broadcasting, enriched and augmented video, person-to-machine and machine-to-machine communications. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Luis Lopez, CEO of Kurento, introduced the technologies required for implementing these idea...