I just read a nice essay by Richard Stallman with the title Why Open Source Misses the Point of Free Software – GNU Project – Free Software Foundation. A chosen quote from this essay poses perfectly the problem
Open source is a development methodology; free software is a social movement.
Most people probably aren’t even aware of this difference. I never understood why and how the term open source came to be applied to hardware, government and many other areas when in fact even the English language doesn’t see any notion of source in such contexts.
The article I refer to is concerned about correct definitions, I want to look at some of the misunderstandings.
There is an angle to this discussion, a lot of people and organisations look to Open Source Software (OSS) in search for cheap (but not cheerful) opportunities to solve their problems. You can’t blame them for it, but this can raise several issues. I will ignore any moral aspects for now, and focus on a few practical implications.
- Some individuals or organisations release their work as Open Source with the explicit intention to invite others to contribute to it. This is often an acknowledgement that one’s work can be bettered and perfected if others would gain access and be allowed to contribute.
- By releasing a work as open source, there is no implicit or explicit guarantee of quality or defect. It just means use it at your own risks, your contribution would be appreciated if only in terms of signalling any defects found, or improvements that you might have been able to add to it.
- FOSS doesn’t opposed nor condone gainful use. Statistically however, there exist far fewer people and organisations able to contribute than those who actually use OSS. This is well understood and accepted by most. However, it is astonishing to see some people throwing a tantrum and launching on diatribes when they get frustrated by some open source software. This is just plain crazy behaviour, they not only miss the point and are showing preposterous entitlement that deserves to be frowned at.
- Increasingly, many organisations are using OSS as a mean for attracting and retaining talent. This is an instance that stretches the notions of free and open in an interesting way, a subtle form of free promotion and marketing.