An important distinction: Free Software and Open Source

While introducing free software fonts to my colleagues and students at my work, I review the license for the fonts I bundle on the systems I build. Some LaTeX fonts are particularly pretty and useful, so I read the LaTeX Project Public License and the commentary on Wikipedia about this license. This license covers a number of fonts I’m interested in distributing so I was keen to learn if the fonts would be free software—free for my users to use, distribute, and modify (even commercially).

For some time when I tell others that I draw a sharp distinction between “free software” and “open source”, I point out that I agree with the FSF’s take on the matter. I’ve been told that the differences between “free software” and “open source” pale in comparison to the similarities. I’ve seen and pointed out practical implications of this philosophical difference as I watch open source enthusiasts take on proprietary software for their own personal use while I flatly reject proprietary software for my computers, a radical difference to be sure.

The situation with The LaTeX Project Public License is another significant difference that directly affects me and my users: This license has been around a while and is used to license some fonts I find interesting (including Kurier and Iwona). The LaTeX Project Public License is a free software license since it grants users the freedoms of free software yet not an OSI-approved license. Fortunately Wikipedia is careful to make this distinction.

Update 2010-08-29: Thanks to eagle-eyed Nathan Owens for finding a typo above!