Open Source versus Free Software from a Marketing Perspective

Via Sandro Grogans comes an interesting interview / discussion from about the use of the phrases “open source” and “free software” and the need to tailor the message to the audience.

Bruce Perens (co-founder of the Open Source Initiative) and Shane Coughlan (from FSF Europe):

Perens essentially calls the exclusion or downplaying of Richard Stallman a critical mistake made at the point of split between the “Open Source” and “Free Software” camps. They go on to discuss what the current challenges are in terms of helping people understand the core concepts of freedom underlying both approaches.

At risk of inciting a comments flame war, are “open source” and “free software” just two different names for the same thing, as Perens argues (even if you believe one name to be better than the other)?

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  1. #1 • Janet Swisher said on April 19 2009:

    I think they are synonyms with different connotations. I associate “open source” with BSD and related licenses, whose minimalism emphasizes freedom from restrictions. I associate “free software” with the GPL family, which emphasizes responsibilities as well as rights.

    I find both terms limiting when trying to talk about these concepts to people in the business world who are unfamiliar with them. The ambiguity of the word “free” really does interfere with communication. I repeatedly encounter people who confuse “free software” with “freeware”, and think it includes things like Google apps — anything they don’t have to pay for.

    The term “open source” has acquired its own baggage, in that it has become entangled with the notion of collaboration that used by most free/open source software projects. I have encountered business people who think that because they have a wiki, they are doing “open source”, even though they claim ownership of the contributed wiki content.

    Because I deal with not only free/open source software, but also free/open content, I have started using the term “open licensed” to refer to Creative Commons as well as GPL- or BSD-licensed material. I hope to emphasize the freedom of the license, rather than the development model or economic model. I don’t know whether this term will catch on with anybody else, but it’s the best I’ve come up with so far to communicate without ambiguity or confusion.