Free Software Vs. Open Source

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Free Software and Open Source

While Free Software Foundation founder Richard Stallman argues that Free Software is not Open Source, he is only half right—or only speaking about the question of motivation (the half that matters to him). The definition of Open Source, as enshrined in the Open Source Definition (OSD) is a nearly verbatim copy of the Debian Free Software Guidelines (DFSG). Both the OSD and DFSG are practical articulations of Stallman's Free Software Definition (FSD). Open Source, with a different political and philosophical basis, can only exist because the FSD is broad enough to allow for its translation into other terms yet defined enough to allow for a directed and robust social movement. As much as Stallman might want to deemphasize Open Source, he would never change the broadly defined definition of freedom that made its existence possible.

This level of translatability within the domain of Free and Opens Source Software
(FOSS) is echoed in the accessibly of its philosophies and technologies to groups from across the political spectrum. Recalibrating the broad meaning of freedom outlined in the FSD to align with their own philosophies and politics, these groups perceive FOSS as a model of openness and collaboration particularly well suited to meet their own goals. In this process of re-adoption and translation, FOSS has become the corporate poster child for capitalist technology giants like IBM, the technological and philosophical weapon of anti-corporate activists, and a practical template for a nascent movement to create an intellectual "Commons" to balance the power of capital. In these cases and others, FOSS's broadly defined philosophy—given legal form in licenses—has acted as a pivotal point of inspiration for a diverse (and contradictory) set of alternative intellectual property instruments now available for other forms of creative work.

As a site of technological practice, FOSS is not unique in its ability to take multiple lives and meanings. For example, Gyan Prakash (1999) in Another Reason describes the way that many of the principles and practices of early twentieth century techno-science were translated, in ways similar to FOSS, during India's colonial era. British colonizers who built bridges, trains, and hospitals pointed to their technological prowess as both a symbol of a superior scientific rationality and justification for their undemocratic presence in the subcontinent. Prakash describes the way that a cadre of Indian nationalists re-visioned the practice and philosophical approach to techno-science to justify and direct their anti-colonial national liberation movement.
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