Open Source and Free Software

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In a world where globalization rules, the media bombards us with terms borrowed from other languages, and’ computer science becomes more and more essential, it becomes almost mandatory to learn using a computer and have a minimum knowledge of English, just to avoid being on the wrong end of the stick.

OPEN SOURCE – a reality upside down?

The expression Open Source is now in common use, usually associated with the word Software, and in recent years we can also hear about Open Source Hardware (see Arduino). If the basic concept is well known and rather intuitive, it is not unusual that there are misunderstandings and sometimes real misinformation around this topic. Open Source, translated literally, means that a source code is open (that is, can be modified) or free . In other words, When a program is made so that anyone can read it and fully investigate it, and accordingly modify and customize it, the source of the program is called, indeed, open. But what is a source called when it is not open? Is there a Closed Source, or Locked Source? Well… somehow, yes. In this case we talk about Proprietary Software, or protected by some kind of license, and therefore not accessible and / or modifiable at will. What many do not realize, however, is that the software, in the beginning, was open, or to be more precise, shared. Perhaps because the programmer, who aims to design something functional, and possibly increasingly complex, knows that sharing it can inspire other programmers and in turn be inspired, with benefit of the whole community and the quality of the software itself. The fact that the’ expression Open Source appears to have appeared all’ of a sudden, in a market completely ruled by proprietary software, must be only a matter of history / social habits. Something very similar to’ the invention of’ the electric car, passed off as a great innovation, but actually born long before petrol cars, but soon abandoned (boycotted?) in favor of’ the latter.

If foreign languages ​​may be misleading, here things get complicated a bit. The literal translation, Free Software, has connotations that are very clear, and quite romantic. But the word free English also has a second meaning, which is very common, that is free of charge, and in an area, the one reguarding software, in which the income statements have several zeros, this’ ambiguity was quite annoying and counterproductive. The Free Software Foundation was founded in’ October 1985, by Richard Stallman, as an organization whose main purpose is to regulate the diffusion of the software in a free. And we stress "free as in freedom", not "free of charge"! Those who develop free software must obey a set of rules (see the 4 freedom of Free Software, GPL Licenses) which would preserve the freedom, and make sure that it propagates also in subsequent redistributions, but nothing prevents you from putting a price on the sale of such software.

Differences and Similarities

Is free software open? Is open software free? Maybe it's not the case to simplify so much, but the answer is pretty much "yes". Leaving aside small details and technical/legal aspects, Free Software and Open Source are pretty much the same thing, what makes them so different is the point of view from which one observes the matter. The followers of the Free Software give a strong importance to ethics and philosophy in production and distribution of the software. In summary, they bother to define carefully what are the ethical/moral principles that those who produce software must strictly obey, in order to ensure that the software, born Free, continues to be free. On the other hand, the supporters of Open Source believe that it is better to emphasize that sharing software (with freedom in this case too) must be pursued in order to have practical evidence of, for example in terms of usefulness and quality of the product. In fact, they focus primarily on marketing to achieve the diffusion and thus the sustainability of the entire system, which inevitably led to disagreement, especially about which compromises to accept, and what principles to believe as strictly inviolable.

Many ideas, and endless discussions can arise from these few lines. What is certain is that Free Software and Open Source are among us, and we use them every day (often unconsciously), despite a system heavily controlled by licenses and proprietary patents. It is indeed of great important for the software to be free, and for those who use the software to be free as well, and treat with respect their own conscience. Isn't it?

Daniele Lo Re

Examples of open source software in common use: Firefox, VLC, Gimp, 7-Zip, OpenOffice, LibreOffice
Examples of commonly used Free Software: GNU/Linux, gcc, Emacs, GPG

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