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<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8" ?>
<title>Free Software, Open Source, FOSS, FLOSS - same but different</title>
<body class="article">
<p id="category">
<a href="/freesoftware/freesoftware.html">Free Software</a>
<h1>Free Software, Open Source, FOSS, FLOSS - same but different</h1>
<div id="introduction">
There are two major terms connected to software you can freely use,
study, share, and improve: Free Software and Open Source. Based on
them you can also find different combinations and translations like
FOSS, Libre Software, FLOSS and so on. So why do people use these
terms, and how are they different from one another?
<h2>Historical background</h2>
Historically, Free Software was the first term, created 1986 together
with the <a href="/freesoftware/freesoftware.html">Free Software
definition</a>. In 1997 Debian, a project aiming to create a completely free
and community based GNU/Linux distribution, developed the Debian Free
Software Guidelines
(<a href="">DFSG</a>) as a
check-list whether a program can be included in the distribution or
not. One year later, the Open Source Initiative (OSI) was set up as a
<a href="">marketing
campaign for Free Software</a>. It introduced
the <a href="">Open Source definition</a>
by copying the DFSG and replacing "Free Software" with "Open
Source". According to
a <a href="">public
statement</a> by Bruce Perens, one of the founders of the OSI and author
of the DFSG and Open Source Definition, the Open Source term was intended
as a synonym for Free Software. Perens eventually decided to return to
the roots of the movement and to speak about Free Software again. Thanks
to their shared roots, both Open Source and Free Software describe the
complete set and the whole range of software licenses that give users the
right to use, study, share, and improve the software<a class="fn"
In the course of time people came up with additional labels for the same
set of software. Today terms such as Libre Software, FOSS (Free and Open
Source Software) or FLOSS (Free, Libre and Open Source Software) are
often used to describe Free Software. In some cases people also use terms
like "organic software" or "ethical software". Often the motivation for
terms like FOSS or FLOSS is to stay out of the terminology debate and to avoid
confusion through words like "open" or "free". But these terms tend to cause another
confusion, because they virtually invite people to look for differences
between the terms where actually no differences exists, regarding the
software they describe.
This short summary of the historical origin of the different terms should
show that at the end all of them have the same root and refer to the same
set of software.
<h2>Who uses which term, and why?</h2>
The Free Software movement is a large and diverse community. People have
different interests in Free Software and different reasons to
participate. But these differences don't necessarily connect with the
terms they use. A lot of people use the term Open Source even while
highlighting the social and political dimension of Free Software while on
the other hand there are people in our community who prefer the term
Free Software but concentrate more on the practical benefits. Whether
someone says Open Source or Free Software isn't necessarily an indication
of their motivation.
Beside individuals there are also many well known organisations in the
Free Software ecosystem. Many of them play an important role and
emphasize different aspects of Free Software. For example, some
organisations focus on the technical direction of Free Software projects,
some on legal aspects, some on political, social and ethical aspects and
some focus on license evaluation. These organisations typically have
decided to use one or another term and stick to it. But this should not
lead to the conclusion that the term they use is the critical factor
regarding their motivations. The critical factor are the people driving
the organisation and the goals of the organisation as such. The practical
experience with different organisations and people in the community shows
that the line can't be drawn along the language they use.
This diversity is good, as it shows that Free Software provides many
advantages in many different areas of our life. But we should not divide
our community just by the term someone prefers. No matter what term
someone uses and what their initial motivation is, in the end they works
on the same set of software and on the enhancement of software freedom
and any other aspect of Free Software.
<h2>License evaluation</h2>
There are three widely recognized entities in the Free Software movement
that regularly evaluate licenses: The <a href="">Free
Software Foundation</a>, the <a href="">Debian
project</a> and the <a href="">Open Source
Initiative</a>. When asked whether a particular license gives software
users the freedom to use, study, share, and improve the program, they
almost always come to the same conclusions.
<h2>Does Copyleft make the difference?</h2>
Looking at Free Software licenses there are two main categories,
protective or <a href="">Copyleft</a>
licenses and non-protective licenses. While Copyleft licenses are
designed to protect the rights to use, study, share, and improve the
software non-protective licenses allow to distribute the software without
those rights. Sometimes people think that the terms Free Software and
Open Source are used to distinguish between Copyleft and non-Copyleft
licenses. The lists of Free Software licenses by Debian, the FSF and the
OSI show that both protective and non-protective licenses comply with the
Free Software definition and the Open Source definition. This means that
neither the terms Open Source and Free Software nor the different
definitions are suitable to distinguish between Copyleft and non-Copyleft
<img src="/freesoftware/softwaremodels.png" alt="This graphic
should visualise the different software categories and their
connection" title="This graphic visualises the different software
categories and their connection"/>
Protective licenses and non-protective licenses are sub-classes of Free
Software licenses recognized by the Open Source Initiative and the
FSF. Copyleft or non-Copyleft is not a criteria suitable to distinguish
between Open Source and Free Software, both terms describe the same set
of software.
<h2>Development model</h2>
The way a program is developed can be a crucial factor in its success or
failure. But whether a program is written in an open, participatory
process or behind closed doors doesn't tell us whether it is non-free or
Free Software.
When looking at software we have to distinguish between the software
model and the development model. While the software model describes the
attributes of the software (e.g. free or proprietary) the development
model describes different ways to develop software. As discussed in
in <a href="/freesoftware/enterprise/freesoftwarecompany.html">"What
makes a Free Software company?"</a> the different software development
models are defined independently of the software model and work for both
Free Software and proprietary software. Models that leverage the
advantage of an open and collaborative community can show their full
strength in combination with the Free Software model. However this does
not mean that any program developed in an open, collaborative development
process is Free Software. There are Free Software projects developed by a
single person or a company with little or no outside input. On the other
hand developers of proprietary software have adapted collaborative
development models to fit into their software model, e.g. SAP with its
partnership program.
<h2>Why we call it Free Software</h2>
If all these terms describe the same set of programs, why do we at FSFE
insist on using the term Free Software?
Free Software is all about your freedom. That's a message we want to get
across loud and clear. Language is important because it frames how people
think about a subject. The different terms focus on different aspects,
even if they describe the same software. Freedom is a core value of Free
Software, and our language reflects this. This makes Free Software the
right choice for FSFE and we invite you
to <a href="/activities/whyfs/whyfs">follow us</a>.
<h2 id="fn">Footnotes</h2>
<li id="fn1">
<a href="">Copyleft</a> licenses, licenses
designed to protect those rights, are a subclass of Free Software
licenses recognized by the Open Source Initiative and the FSF.
<author id="schiessle" />
<original content="2012-12-08" />