Free Software or Open Source Software: Let’s Cut To the Chase3 min read
It’s definitely not just the name
Free Software and Open source software feature different licensing requirements, which are promoted by two separate groups. Both are fixated on the availability of source code to the user along with the user’s right to study, alter and freely redistribute the code to others. The thing to note about the GNU General Public License of free software is that the developer can actually charge the user for the “free software”. This begs the question what exactly is free about this type of software. The freedom is that the user has access the source code along with the right to study, modify, alter and distribute the code to others (Free speech, not free beer as they say). An alternative to the General Public License is the BSD license, which allows distribution of the source code only and only if a few specific conditions are fulfilled. The free software ideology is promoted by the Free Software Foundation.
Open source software is not governed by either of these licenses described earlier and is promoted by the Open Source Initiative (OPI), a relatively organization. In this case, the ready to run software is often provided to the user along with the source code. There is no specific license governing such open source software hence we have two additional types of software related to open source – freeware and shareware. Shareware is payable though the user gets a period of free trial. However, access to the source code is not provided as part of the typical shareware license. Freeware users are free to download and use the software but access to source code is not provided. A majority of the true blue open source application developers however provide complete access to their source code and allow users to actively participate in improving the currently available application.
Though these ideological differences between the two types are often a source of contention between the OPI and the Free Software Foundation, they are definitely interested in ensuring greater openness in the field of software development. Both these movements consider proprietary software as they nexus of evil because it curtails the freedom of users by severely restricting access to the source code. Even if these two different ideologies take different routes, their goal are remarkably similar- greater benefits and freedom of choice to the user along with superior user involvement. From the end user’s perspective, it hardly matters to the average user as long as the final application performs according to the users’ expectations, while providing an adequate if not an exceptional user experience. This has led many software development companies and users to use the terms free software and open source software interchangeably.
How Does it Affect Organizations?
In most cases open source software tend to outperform free software in terms of stability and security as a result of greater collaboration between users to improve the available application. Thus using open source software is often preferred by organizations operating within a limited budget such as SMEs. In some cases, larger corporations have opted to use open source resources too – sometimes to draw greater attention from additional user groups and sometimes to develop competence in developing its own application based on a specific open source platform. A case in point being the use of PHP in website designing by leading organizations all over the world.
For security reasons, individuals/enterprises wanting to utilize the benefits of an open source platform, recommend the route of custom application development. This offers the best of both worlds by allowing the installation of additional security features into the open source solution. Android and Java mobile apps are the best examples of how such customized solutions may be created and deployed in companies. The main problem with using proprietary software is the cost factor, however, in some cases it might be unavoidable such as with MS-Office. The current financial crisis has led to a severe cash crunch in most companies leading to implementation of various cost reductions. As a result of such cost reductions, the market for open-source and free software had expanded significantly during the 2008 to 2012 period. Whether this growth is sustainable or not in a post-recovery market is what remains to be seen.