July 2003

From: JT Johnston
Subject: GNU.org Versus OpenSource.org

Tim,

What's the difference between gnu.org and opensource.org? I have been reading the Introduction from Open Sources: Voices from the Open Source Revolution, but don't get what DiBona, Ockman, and Stone mean. OSI (the Open Source Initiative) permits folks like RedHat to distribute a paid CD; GNU doesn't? OSI permits greating a module or plugin to work with a Microsoft product; GNU doesn't?

JTJohnston


The differences are not at the level you suspect. There are differences between individual licenses; for example, BSD-style licenses allow proprietary derivatives, as long as credit is given to the original author, while GPL-like licenses require that any derived works carry the same license as the original. But the differences between the Free Software Movement and the Open Source Movement are broader and more philosophical.

The Free Software Movement has as its primary goal the idea that all software should always be accompanied by its source code, and with the right of the user to modify and extend that source code. The Open Source Movement shares that goal, but does not define this as a moral right, but instead focuses on the pragmatic benefits of source sharing. What's more, the Free Software Movement is associated with only a single group of licenses, the GNU Public License and its derivatives, while the open source definition was an attempt to capture the commonalities across a range of different licenses. It's a little more inclusive. All free software licenses are open source, but not all open source licenses are free software.

Selling and distributing software is permitted under all free software and open source licenses. The limitation that free software licenses put on sales and distribution is that you must provide the source code either with the software you distribute, or make it easily available for online download or other reasonable access.

If you carefully read the two sites you mention, I'm sure you'll be able to understand the differences. You might also want to take a look at some of the books we publish on the theory of free software and open source. Eric Raymond's The Cathedral & The Bazaar is a great explication of the idea behind open source. Open Sources: Voices from the Open Source Revolution is a collection of essays from open source leaders that explains how they've applied that philosophy in their work. And Free as in Freedom is a biography of the Free Software Movement's founder, Richard Stallman, and contains a lot of information about his motivations and ideas. We also have a book on open source licensing in the works; it should be out some time next year.

Tim

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