Wed, 24 Sep 2008
In the past couple of days, there have been two posts on the programming reddit that have caught my attention:
- OpenGL finally "Open", about OpenGL being licensed as free software, and
- Open Sound System is now open sourced!, about OSS being licensed as free software.
Here we have two codebases that seem obviously free. They are seemingly accepted within the free software ecosystem yet until recently have not been free software. Never having used these from a coder's perspective, I've never had any reason to investigate their licensing thoroughly. However, I've certainly used them as part of my desktop, and still had no idea.
This suggests to me that using the term 'open' to refer to software that is free as in speech is harmful. You will do only one of two things:
- suggest to people who are already sceptical of the term 'open' that your software is not necessarily free, requiring them to investigate more closely, or
- suggest to people who don't know any better that, when used to describe software, 'open' is a synonym for 'free as in speech', which the examples above show to be untrue.
There is no good reason for someone developing free software to want either of these things to happen. The only incentive I can see here is for someone who wants their code to be accepted within the free software community without the supposed disadvantage of licensing their code under a free license.
If you're not convinced, consider Microsoft's latest file format offering, Office Open XML. If that doesn't convince you, you're not even trying.
EDIT: It has been noted in Reddit comments and in #wuglug that these complaints apply to 'free' as well. I should note that:
- I never intended claimed that using the word 'free' in a title was better. I've edited the second bullet to reflect my intended meaning better.
- The use of the term 'free' in a title would, in addition to any implications about 'free as in speech'-ness, also imply 'free as in beer' but this is normally true of 'free' software anyway (whereas 'open' has only one implication, which often should not be implied).