Often, this site references Free/Libre and Open Source Software (FLOSS). In the context of this term, what does free and open mean? Where do the definitions for free software and open source come from?
If you care about transparency, control, privacy, and security, these are important questions to consider as we navigate societies infused with technology.
The History of FLOSS
The origin of FLOSS is tightly linked to the origin of GNU/Linux. It is an interesting and complex history. If you would like to learn more about this topic, the following documentaries may be of interest:
Two organizations maintain the definitions of Free Software and Open Source:
- The Free Software Foundation (FSF) defines the Free Software Definition.
- The Open Source Initiative (OSI) defines the Open Source Definition.
Ultimately, what makes software free software or open source software is the license that it is released under. Both the FSF and OSI have detailed information on which licenses they consider meeting their definitions of free software and open source software, respectively:
After reviewing both organizations' definitions and licenses, you may find that there is significant overlap. Indeed, almost all free software is open source software, and vice versa.
If these organizations' definitions have so much in common, why have two different terms? The likely reason is that different people have different values, and feel that they can best serve the cause of FLOSS by adopting terms that emphasize what they believe is most important.
In short, it may be fair to say that free software advocates prioritize community, control, and freedom, while open source advocates prioritize practicality, business, and the needs of capital. The FLOSS term is an attempt to strike a balance between these two approaches.
Keep in mind, simple adoption of FLOSS software does not guarantee any particular societal outcome. For example, it is completely possible to have a dystopian surveillance state dominated by a few governments and corporations, where most people are continually working (but never in control) and paying for things (but never owning them).
This bleak vision of precariousness and servitude can be mostly powered by FLOSS software, which is likely why free software advocates find it important to not just focus on the convenient aspects of using their software, but on the ethical and social context in which that software is used.
For a better understanding of software freedom and related topics, it may be useful to refer to the FSF founder in their own words. Select the button below for some of their quotes.