Facts and Friction on Open Source and Free Software
When generally talking about our community and software it builds and promotes, we use various differing terms and acronyms; "Free Software", "Open Source", "Linux", "GNU/Linux", "FOSS", "FLOSS" etc. To outsiders this may seem counterproductive because it confuses people, but in such an open and diverse community ecosystem this shouldn't come as a surprise. Various people hold various perspectives and hence form various views on issues that concern them. Some sort of a polarization is almost inevitable.
In our community this polarization is between people who promote the "Open Source" label and those who promote the "Free Software" label. The difference between views of these two "camps", as we often call them, is more in the way they prioritize certain issues than anything else. Motivations for supporting either of the labels can differ, but they usually come down to that fundamental difference.
The two do not necessarily disagree about any of the goals of the community. Both usually believe that software freedom is important just as they believe that developing superior software is important. Both think that software patents are a bad thing for the software industry. Both believe DRM and TCPA are a bad thing for consumers. There is in fact so little disagreement regarding specific issues that one would wonder what the whole fuss is all about, but there is still a minor difference which matters a lot.
The disagreement is about which of these issues is more important. It is a matter of priorities. Is software freedom more important than superior software? Is it more important than a greater market share, bigger profits, personal convenience or something else? The Free Software supporters, as represented by the Free Software Foundation, would say yes, software freedom is paramount. Open Source people, as represented by the Open Source Initiative, Linus Torvalds and some business entities would, having different priorities, say that other things can usually be more important than that. Sometimes an Open Source proponent would disagree with the definition FSF promotes for freedom or just the method which FSF uses to promote it.
If you would, based on the last sentence, assume that the Open Source is often about distancing from the FSF, you would be correct. The FSF is the founder of the GNU project and the Free Software movement and has obviously been present far earlier than the Open Source label and the Open Source Initiative (OSI) have been brought up, which was only in 1998. It wouldn't be far off to conclude that Open Source was founded in response to the FSF and in order to distance those parts of the community which disagreed with it, from the FSF. And that is exactly what Linus Torvalds has said in a recent LKML post:
The whole "Open Source" renaming was done largely _exactly_ because people
wanted to distance themselves from the FSF. The fact that the FSF and it's
followers refused to accept the name "Open Source", and continued to call
Linux "Free Software" is not _our_ fault.
Obviously, there was a significant number of people who continued to support the views of the Free Software Foundation and hence continued to use the old term "Free Software", referring to freedom, not price, when they say "Free". Richard Stallman, the founder of the Free Software Foundation, has his own take on Open Source which basically agrees with Linus as quoted above. This is what he said recently on a 5th international GPLv3 conference.
The term "open source" was coined to avoid ever mentioning ethical issues. Specifically the ethical issues which are the centre of the Free Software movement.
Since Free Software Foundation represents the Free Software movement with these ethical issues at the center, by distancing themselves from the FSF, Open Source founders distanced themselves from these issues as well. It is not really a secret that the Open Source Initiative was founded to appeal to businesses and the mainstream under the notion that business entities do not respond well to the talks about ideological, moral and ethical issues. They believed that what corporations and the general public are instead interested in was a development model that can produce superior software. In addition, the ambiguity of the term "free" in "Free Software" supported the idea of coming up with a different label, even though this different label has its own shortcomings.
In 1999, Bruce Perens, one of the co-founders of Open Source said the following:
About a year ago, I sent out a message announcing "Open Source". Eric Raymond and I founded the Open Source Initiative as a way of introducing the non-hacker world to Free Software. Well, thanks to Eric, the world noticed.
The "non-hacker world" pretty much represents the mainstream world of businesses and the general population who, according to Open Source supporters, need to hear about the superiority of the software developed in an Open Source way more than about the ideal of freedom of computer users promoted through Free Software. They were right that the mainstream wanted to hear this considering the reputation of everything that even smells as "politics". This is a world where most prominent politicians tend to be visibly corrupt causing people to perceive politics in whole as a bad thing and extending this perception further to politicians who are not corrupt. In order to shield the Free Software movement from this perception, Open Source tried to hide the political part and show off the practical part instead.
While this may seem like a noble goal it should be noted that this obviously results in delivering only a part of the picture, not the whole. And this is what Bruce Perens recognized in 1999, only a year after helping establish Open Source. This is what he said in the same email that the previous quote was taken from, which can be read in a February 18th 1999 Slashdot entry:
And now it's time for the second stage: Now that the world is watching, it's time for us to start teaching them about Free Software. Notice, I said Free Software, _not_ Open Source.
Most hackers know that Free Software and Open Source are just two words for the same thing. Unfortunately, though, Open Source has de-emphasized the importance of the freedoms involved in Free Software. It's time for us to fix that. We must make it clear to the world that those freedoms are still important, and that software such as Linux would not be around without them.
It makes sense to assume that the part that Open Source promotes is meaningless without the part that it de-emphasizes. It is this political ideal, the freedom promoted by the Free Software Foundation, that the superior software comes from. The whole software development methodology that Open Source promotes was created by the people whose goal was freedom. It was made the way it is in order to allow for this ideal to live. It was not created with superior software in mind, but superiority still came as a side-effect. If merely this superiority is what Open Source is all about than the central tenet of the Open Source campaign is the result, not a cause, and the Free Software is a cause.
As the most vocal supporter of the Open Source view today as well as the most prominent opposition of the new GPLv3 license being developed by the FSF, Linus Torvalds is unfortunately reverting to FUD in order to promote his view. This is what he claims in the recent LKML post:
Similarly, the fact that rms and the FSF has tried to paint Linux as a GNU
project (going as far as trying to rename it "GNU/Linux" at every
opportunity they get) is their confusion, not ours.
Unfortunately, it is Linus who is spreading confusion by this statement. It is one of those verifiable facts that what RMS (Richard Matthew Stallman) and the FSF are insisting upon is not renaming the Linux kernel to the GNU/Linux, but calling the whole operating system which is not fundamentally consisted only of the Linux kernel, but the GNU system as well, as GNU/Linux. There is a great difference between the name of a kernel and the name of a whole operating system of which the kernel is only a part of.
I said it is a verifiable fact and here is the verification. This is what Richard Stallman, the accused here, said about this particular issue:
There really is a Linux, and these people are using it, but it is not the operating system. Linux is the kernel: the program in the system that allocates the machine's resources to the other programs that you run. The kernel is an essential part of an operating system, but useless by itself; it can only function in the context of a complete operating system. Linux is normally used in a combination with the GNU operating system: the whole system is basically GNU, with Linux functioning as its kernel.
Be assured that you wont find any evidence supporting the claim that RMS has called to rename the kernel from "Linux" to GNU/Linux. And the quote above confirms that RMS respects the name of the kernel as just "Linux" even though he believes that the whole system should be called GNU/Linux because the GNU system can work with various different kernels making it meaningful to recognize which of the kernels a particular GNU system is running. The most popular free operating system is the one running the Linux kernel and is hence called GNU/Linux.
If Linus Torvalds was concerned about clarity as opposed to confusion he wouldn't be making such nonfactual claims. Disagreements are something to be respected, but deliberate misinforming is not a way to promote our views. By spreading misinformation, Linus Torvalds is doing no good to the promotion of the Open Source view and certainly no good to the community as a whole.
Despite holding fundamentally incompatible views, the Open Source and the Free Software movements can coexist in cooperation on developing and promoting Free Open Source Software, but coexistence is undermined by deliberate confusing and misinforming.
What view will you support is your own decision. It might be a good idea to base it on the result of an objective scientific test applied to the outcome of both views. Linus Torvalds would support you in this quest.
That's what open source is all about. It's about _scientific_ ideals.
As for me, I would argue that in the spirit of those scientific ideals, having freedom as a prime goal as FSF does, would be the best thing to support. This is exactly what produced the "Open Source" method Linus loves so much.