Jan 01, 2009
I was reading an essay the other day about the conceptual differences between "open source" and "free" software, in the FSF meaning of the word (you may read this essay here).
I have been a GNU/Linux user for many many years now, and I owe a great deal to all these people who have contributed through the years. Because of "free" and "open source" software, I have a learned so much I now have a career and job satisfaction. For a lot of software packages out there, you could probably freely exchange the terms, but, to me, it was "free" software that taught me and "open source" software that gave me some good jobs.
Reading about the subtle but important differences in these approaches, I have suddenly remembered how my early GNU years felt like (I like to think I'm in my GNU teens, now -- there are GNU grand-daddies out there :-) It was "open source" that penetrated the market, but it was "free" software that gave us the tools and got me to start reading. Motivation sometimes is paramount.
Nowadays, everyone's at least heard of "open source" and a lot of companies are actually using it. So, the outlook's peachy. What's all this fuss about "freedom"? Are these FSF people irrelevant, at last? Could we simply dismiss them as ramblers from a bygone era and focus on practicalities instead?
I am getting all philosophical here, but it's a holiday and people have more time to stop and think and get abstract on holidays, after a nice, relaxed meal -- so please forgive these musings.
"Open source" is cultural product, be it a methodology or sets of computer instructions. "Open source" has been written by people from many different backgrounds, sharing some ideas -- it's not just technical, it's also a cultural thing made possible by technology, globalization, economy, our times in general.
In that sense, all this libre software out there is the result of a culture, in the same way that the Parthenon is the result of the dominant technological and philosophical ideas in ancient Athens, the Pyramids the result of such ideas in ancient Egypt, and so on... You cannot understand the monuments if you don't study the culture. And you cannot build this stuff unless you live the culture.
So, does the "freedom" approach belong to history books? I think this will be decided by the number of people writing and using "free", as opposed to "open souce" software. Let's keep the culture alive.
Happy New Year, everyone!