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title="Free Software is Open-Source Like Vegan is Plant-Based"
subtitle="Even the hyphenation corresponds."
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# What’s wrong with saying “open-source?”
Free software is open-source like vegan is plant-based. They are
similar in practice, but differ in spirit. Almost all open-source
software is free software and vice versa, but the two banners champion
Consider the <abbrev title="GNU Image Manipulation
Program">GIMP</abbrev> for example. It is licensed under the GNU
<abbrev title="General Public License">GPL</abbrev>, which makes it
free software. For many it is a suitable replacement for Adobe’s
proprietary Photoshop. An “open-source” advocate might pitch the GIMP
- Students can study the source code for educational purposes
- Third parties can audit the source code for security issues
- Hobbyists may contribute to the project as volunteers
Sounds great! I like all those things. However, there is no mention
of nonfree software and maligned licensing—no rationale for
rejecting it; sure, “open-source” has engineering benefits for
developers, but that’s like saying nonviolence has mental health
benefits for would-be attackers.
The best thing about the GIMP is that it replaces Photoshop,
liberating its users from Adobe’s grasp. The open-source advocate
fails to mention this, because to do so would be to acknowledge the
injustice of nonfree software and risk upsetting those who do not like
the truth. <small>It is analogous to the vegan who advocates people switch
to a plant-based diet for their health and the environment.</small>
GPL-licensed program is free software and it liberates us insofar as
it sufficiently replaces any nonfree software upon which people
“Open-source” is for pushovers. Those who use such weasel words are
not promoting freedom for users; they might enjoy superior engineering
but lay idle as proprietors claim control over our computing bit by
bit (pun intended).
Of those people who do recognise this injustice, many still consider
themselves in favour of open-source, perhaps because they are not
aware of the distinction.
Numerous well-meaning compatibilists apply the phrase “free and
open-source” to freedom-respecting software in an effort to please
everyone, but unfortunately it doesn’t work because it propagates the
misconception that “free” in this context just refers to cost, and
that the “open-source” part covers licensing.