Why software freedom and “open”ness are different and how that affects you.

I found Daniel Olivera’s part of this talk (audio) interesting (I only speak English, so I can only discuss the English parts of it), but I’d like to expand on the last part some more. This video is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 license.

The initial versions of the Apple Public Source License (APSL) are a specific example of the difference between the Open Source and Free Software movements. When Apple initially published the APSL, the Open Source proponents concluded it was an Open Source Initiative (OSI) approved license. The Free Software Foundation did not, they called this license a non-free license because it did not uphold certain freedoms. This difference is a direct result of the definitions of “free software” and “open source”.

I would have also pointed out that it is curious why anyone would want to say that the OSI supports software freedom when they call such effort “ideological tub-thumping” in their FAQ. The FSF shows that differences between the movements can be described respectfully without name-calling. The OSI was set up to not have to talk about software freedom; software freedom talk was getting in the way of OSI representatives talking to their preferred audience: businesses. So the OSI was founded to frame the debate for free software by throwing out the name “free software” and taking on motivations that would appeal to business: faster, cheaper, and less buggy software development. These consequences of software freedom were taken as chief reasons to adopt what they came to call “open source” software. Hearing someone (perhaps it was Michael Tiemann of Red Hat?) ask about this makes me think if there’s interest in further supplanting the free software movement by getting someone sufficiently high up in an FSF branch to say that the OSI fights for our software freedom like the FSF does, thus allowing the OSI to echo this anytime someone points out an uncomfortable history filled with episodes where software freedom was forgotten in the pursuit of developmental goals.

Finally, it seems that every week there are a few examples of where free software and open source proponents view the situation differently. The recent dust-up about “Open Source DRM” is another example.

Generally, Open Source proponents look at nothing but technical merit whereas Free Software proponents look at what effect a program has on society. There’s a quote from Stallman I’ll have to look for, it goes something like this: If a proprietary program that functions well comes along, an Open Source proponent is likely to look at it and conclude that they’re surprised such a program could be written without involving more developers, but they can’t argue with the technical success the programmers achieved. So they’re compelled to run the program and recommend it to others. The Free Software proponent says that taking away their freedom is not an option. They will not recommend this program to anyone and will only run it for the purpose of making a free replacement.