Is Open Source a Synonym for Free Software ?

The market for open source and free software is surging high with its appreciation in mainstream segment also. The free software products like Linux or others are moving from the walled boundaries of servers to desktops and laptops. Recently, launched Ultra low cost laptops were supported on Linux and that came as a major breakthrough for it to garner some spotlight from tech analysts.

But still the concept of free software and open source software is not clear with many of us. We are confused at the basic level and interchanging the terms for each other. We use the terms Free Source and Open Source interchangeably and get them confused with the concept that they are available for free.

To some extent the concept gels with what we consider “available for free” but not in complete sense. The word “free” is basically the misnomer. We confuse it with “free burgers” but it should be considered for “free speech”. No doubt that some softwares from both the communities are available for free of cost and are offered as free downloads but not all utilities.

The two communities working with the aim of offering freedom to developers are working in the same direction but are literally and fundamentally different in their approaches. Till 1998, they were more or less same but after that the two movements separated with a different prospective, a different philosophy, and different motives.

The commonality in both the approaches is the open availability of source code to developers but the aim backing this approach is different with both the communities.


Where Free Software Community lays stress on providing source code to developers with the aim that user is free to do what he wish with the software’s source code. It is more philosophical in nature.


However, Open Source believes in offering source code to users with the aim that collaborative efforts can bring more subtle results. It has motivation that users can freely provide their suggestions for the source code and can append it to the existing one if results provided are efficient enough.

Both the communities lay stress on redistribution of code with no restrictions but the principles and motivations are different.

Where one seeks the liberty provided to users; the other targets the development of more efficient software programs with collaborative approach. Against the philosophical methodology of Free Software Community, the Open Source Community is driven by more practical reasons.

To some years the movements were working as a common alliance and Open Source was used as a marketing term for free software to reduce the ambiguity; but to worst it added more problems. So finally the two movements parted and started their own way.

Where the software developed by open source are more or less fits to zero-cost category, nothing like that can be defined for free software. To define it better, nothing which is free of cost can be a tailored fit for both the communities but cannot be turned off even.

Open Source is opposite to original context of Free Software. Free Software aims the freedom of users but Open Source aims the collaborative approach. The former stresses that users can freely see, modify and redistribute the code but latter has the approach that users can see the code but cannot modify it to suit its needs. In OSS, the liberty availed is in accordance of specific licensing agreements allowing one to fiddle with the code.

Free Software values freedom offered to users but Open Source believes in team development of software. Where one can be attached to social movement, the other is a development methodology. Both are against the patents and proprietary software, but cannot go hand in hand due to disagreement on certain principles.

To ask you, is GNU/ Linux is a free software or open source software? Cannot answer surely; Linux is not an open source software but a product of free software community (as you are free to make modifications).

At crux, it can be said that both are different movements with differing principles but are fighting against the common objective “Proprietary Software”.