Welcome!

Linux Containers Authors: Kevin Benedict, Elizabeth White, Yeshim Deniz, Liz McMillan, Olivier Huynh Van

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
SYS-CON Events announced today that Massive Networks will exhibit at SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Massive Networks mission is simple. To help your business operate seamlessly with fast, reliable, and secure internet and network solutions. Improve your customer's experience with outstanding connections to your cloud.
In the enterprise today, connected IoT devices are everywhere – both inside and outside corporate environments. The need to identify, manage, control and secure a quickly growing web of connections and outside devices is making the already challenging task of security even more important, and onerous. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Rich Boyer, CISO and Chief Architect for Security at NTT i3, discussed new ways of thinking and the approaches needed to address the emerging challenges of security i...
DX World EXPO, LLC., a Lighthouse Point, Florida-based startup trade show producer and the creator of "DXWorldEXPO® - Digital Transformation Conference & Expo" has announced its executive management team. The team is headed by Levent Selamoglu, who has been named CEO. "Now is the time for a truly global DX event, to bring together the leading minds from the technology world in a conversation about Digital Transformation," he said in making the announcement.
Internet of @ThingsExpo, taking place October 31 - November 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA, is co-located with 21st Cloud Expo and will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry players in the world. The Internet of Things (IoT) is the most profound change in personal and enterprise IT since the creation of the Worldwide Web more than 20 years ago. All major researchers estimate there will be tens of billions devic...
"The Striim platform is a full end-to-end streaming integration and analytics platform that is middleware that covers a lot of different use cases," explained Steve Wilkes, Founder and CTO at Striim, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 20th Cloud Expo, held June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY.
Everything run by electricity will eventually be connected to the Internet. Get ahead of the Internet of Things revolution and join Akvelon expert and IoT industry leader, Sergey Grebnov, in his session at @ThingsExpo, for an educational dive into the world of managing your home, workplace and all the devices they contain with the power of machine-based AI and intelligent Bot services for a completely streamlined experience.
With tough new regulations coming to Europe on data privacy in May 2018, Calligo will explain why in reality the effect is global and transforms how you consider critical data. EU GDPR fundamentally rewrites the rules for cloud, Big Data and IoT. In his session at 21st Cloud Expo, Adam Ryan, Vice President and General Manager EMEA at Calligo, will examine the regulations and provide insight on how it affects technology, challenges the established rules and will usher in new levels of diligence...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Calligo, an innovative cloud service provider offering mid-sized companies the highest levels of data privacy and security, has been named "Bronze Sponsor" of SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo ®, which will take place on Oct 31 - Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Calligo offers unparalleled application performance guarantees, commercial flexibility and a personalised support service from its globally located cloud plat...
What sort of WebRTC based applications can we expect to see over the next year and beyond? One way to predict development trends is to see what sorts of applications startups are building. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Arin Sime, founder of WebRTC.ventures, discussed the current and likely future trends in WebRTC application development based on real requests for custom applications from real customers, as well as other public sources of information.
SYS-CON Events announced today that DXWorldExpo has been named “Global Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo, which will take place on Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Digital Transformation is the key issue driving the global enterprise IT business. Digital Transformation is most prominent among Global 2000 enterprises and government institutions.
SYS-CON Events announced today that Datera, that offers a radically new data management architecture, has been named "Exhibitor" of SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo ®, which will take place on Oct 31 - Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Datera is transforming the traditional datacenter model through modern cloud simplicity. The technology industry is at another major inflection point. The rise of mobile, the Internet of Things, data storage and Big...
While the focus and objectives of IoT initiatives are many and diverse, they all share a few common attributes, and one of those is the network. Commonly, that network includes the Internet, over which there isn't any real control for performance and availability. Or is there? The current state of the art for Big Data analytics, as applied to network telemetry, offers new opportunities for improving and assuring operational integrity. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Jim Frey, Vice President of S...
"We provide IoT solutions. We provide the most compatible solutions for many applications. Our solutions are industry agnostic and also protocol agnostic," explained Richard Han, Head of Sales and Marketing and Engineering at Systena America, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at @ThingsExpo, held June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY.
"We are focused on SAP running in the clouds, to make this super easy because we believe in the tremendous value of those powerful worlds - SAP and the cloud," explained Frank Stienhans, CTO of Ocean9, Inc., in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 20th Cloud Expo, held June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY.
"DX encompasses the continuing technology revolution, and is addressing society's most important issues throughout the entire $78 trillion 21st-century global economy," said Roger Strukhoff, Conference Chair. "DX World Expo has organized these issues along 10 tracks with more than 150 of the world's top speakers coming to Istanbul to help change the world."
"We've been engaging with a lot of customers including Panasonic, we've been involved with Cisco and now we're working with the U.S. government - the Department of Homeland Security," explained Peter Jung, Chief Product Officer at Pulzze Systems, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at @ThingsExpo, held June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY.
The financial services market is one of the most data-driven industries in the world, yet it’s bogged down by legacy CPU technologies that simply can’t keep up with the task of querying and visualizing billions of records. In his session at 20th Cloud Expo, Karthik Lalithraj, a Principal Solutions Architect at Kinetica, discussed how the advent of advanced in-database analytics on the GPU makes it possible to run sophisticated data science workloads on the same database that is housing the rich...
"MobiDev is a Ukraine-based software development company. We do mobile development, and we're specialists in that. But we do full stack software development for entrepreneurs, for emerging companies, and for enterprise ventures," explained Alan Winters, U.S. Head of Business Development at MobiDev, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 20th Cloud Expo, held June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY.
SYS-CON Events announced today that DXWorldExpo has been named “Global Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 21st International Cloud Expo, which will take place on Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Digital Transformation is the key issue driving the global enterprise IT business. Digital Transformation is most prominent among Global 2000 enterprises and government institutions.
In his opening keynote at 20th Cloud Expo, Michael Maximilien, Research Scientist, Architect, and Engineer at IBM, discussed the full potential of the cloud and social data requires artificial intelligence. By mixing Cloud Foundry and the rich set of Watson services, IBM's Bluemix is the best cloud operating system for enterprises today, providing rapid development and deployment of applications that can take advantage of the rich catalog of Watson services to help drive insights from the vast t...