Open Source

Free vs. open source software - what's the difference?

Although business may often use the terms interchangeably, there is a small, but fundamental difference between free and open source software that organizations should be aware of.

Essentially the same category of software, the difference lies in the values and beliefs behind their creation, which can affect licence implications and upkeep costs.

In a nutshell, open source is a development and distribution paradigm, whereas free (freedom, not zero cost) is a social movement. For software to be considered ‘free’, it must be possible to exercise the ‘four freedoms’: to make use of the programme for any purpose, to access the source code and study and change it as you wish, to redistribute freely copies of the software, and to distribute freely modified versions of the software.

Providing an API is not the same as ensuring users aren’t locked in: The difference between ‘open’ and ‘open source’

“The free movement believes the world should be rid of non-free – i.e. proprietary – software. Its ideology dictates that the user should be completely liberated from the controls of the software developer,” explains Zohar Babin, VP of Platform and Growth at Kaltura. “The open movement, by contrast, is about open access to software code. It’s practical, and far less political: it’s about getting access to the source code so that the user can modify and share it with the community. The open movement doesn’t advocate against one license or another, but rather promotes a practical approach where people can decide on what is most suitable for their needs ­– including proprietary options.”

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Keri Allan

Keri Allan is a freelance journalist and editor who has been covering the engineering and technology sector for over 15 years, writing for titles including E&T Magazine, The Engineer and Arabian Computer News.

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