Software 101: Open Source vs. Free Software Movement

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ernest.park's picture

While both the Open Source software as well as the Free Software Movement has been in existence for quite some time now, some of you may be wondering, what's the difference? Don't both ideas basically proclaim free software for all? While some may see both ideas basically reach the same conclusion of free software for everyone, philosophically the ideas are very different.

This was most evident in a conversation I had with Richard Stallman. He is quick to point out the differences when he stated, "You've described the activity using the ideas associated with the term "open source". The free software movement's goal is not even included in that description."

So then, what is the difference between open source and free software? The Free Software Movement started in 1983 as a social movement proclaiming that software should be free for all and that proprietary software is ethically and morally wrong. The social issues behind the free software movement made some uncomfortable leading to the founding of the Open Source Software movement in 1998, which viewed the availability of free software and open source code as a development methodology, focusing the practical applications of free software rather than the social and political aspects. On the GNU website, the Free Software Movement briefly explains the difference,

"The fundamental difference between the two movements is in their values, their ways of looking at the world. For the Open Source movement, the issue of whether software should be open source is a practical question, not an ethical one. As one person put it, "Open source is a development methodology; free software is a social movement." For the Open Source movement, non-free software is a suboptimal solution. For the Free Software movement, non-free software is a social problem and free software is the solution."

While both movements have been in existence for some time now, what of the future of these movements and their affect on the software market? We see that the availability of source code as a development model definitely has upside, but what of the social aspects? With proprietary software so deeply entrenched in the mainstream market, will the increasing influence of open source software also strengthen the Free Software Movement? These are some of the questions that we hope will be answered in the near future. If you have any comments please feel free to respond. Thank you.











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Bruno Cornec's picture

I think that we are already

I think that we are already seeing what the Free Software movement has brought with similar movements in other disciplins such as art (, text creations  (, scientific data (, geographical data (, musical scores ( You may refer to the video at for details on how libre acess to data is changing the research activities, and to measure the importance of using Open Formats (

Of course, for each area, solutions needs to be found to solve the specific issues brought (and thus creating sometimes new licenses ;-) but the Open Source and Free Software movement has already had a big impact in a large number of domains outside of its scope, in link with the overall digital world evolution, where every data we manipulate today can be represented by a set of bits and bytes.

Not speaking of the political impact in term of economic and technological independance,  localisation access, ...



Linux Profession Lead EMEA & Open Source Evangelist -