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Free Software vs. Open Source Software: Know the Difference

Shumaila Saeed
By Shumaila Saeed || Updated on December 25, 2023
Free Software is focused on user freedoms, while Open Source Software is about the collaborative and transparent development process.
Free Software vs. Open Source Software

Key Differences

Free Software is defined by the freedom it gives users regarding the software's use, modification, and distribution. These freedoms are philosophical and ethical in nature, emphasizing the users' rights. Open Source Software, while also freely available, focuses more on the practical benefits of a transparent development process where the source code is open for anyone to inspect, modify, and enhance.
Shumaila Saeed
Shumaila Saeed
Nov 11, 2023
Free Software advocates argue that software should be free as in freedom, not necessarily free of cost. The term "free" refers to liberty rather than price, so users have control over the software they use. Open Source Software, on the other hand, may or may not be available at no cost, but its defining feature is that its source code is available for users to work on collaboratively.
Shumaila Saeed
Shumaila Saeed
Nov 11, 2023
The Free Software Foundation (FSF) upholds that Free Software must adhere to four key freedoms, including the freedom to run the program for any purpose and to redistribute copies. Open Source Software, as defined by the Open Source Initiative (OSI), must comply with criteria such as no discrimination against persons or groups and the distribution of license.
Shumaila Saeed
Shumaila Saeed
Nov 11, 2023
Free Software often comes with a copyleft license, which requires any modified versions of the software to also be distributed as Free Software. Open Source Software licenses may not require copyleft, allowing proprietary versions of the software to be distributed under certain conditions.
Shumaila Saeed
Shumaila Saeed
Nov 11, 2023
Both Free Software and Open Source Software are cornerstones of the software development community, sharing many similarities but differing fundamentally in philosophy and often in licensing. The term "Free Software" puts the emphasis on freedom, while "Open Source" focuses on the development methodology.
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Shumaila Saeed
Nov 11, 2023
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Comparison Chart

Philosophy

Emphasizes user freedoms.
Emphasizes collaborative development.
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Shumaila Saeed
Nov 11, 2023

Licensing

Often uses copyleft licenses.
Licenses may or may not require copyleft.
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Shumaila Saeed
Nov 11, 2023

Focus

Freedom to use, modify, and distribute.
Open access to source code and collaboration.
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Shumaila Saeed
Nov 11, 2023

Cost

Free as in freedom, not necessarily in cost.
May be free of cost, but not a requirement.
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Shumaila Saeed
Nov 11, 2023

Origin

Driven by the Free Software Foundation.
Driven by the Open Source Initiative.
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Free Software and Open Source Software Definitions

Free Software

It is characterized by its copyleft licensing, promoting the same freedoms in derivative works.
The developer released his program as free software to ensure it remained freely available.
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Shumaila Saeed
Nov 10, 2023

Open Source Software

Open Source Software often makes the source code available for free, but not always.
They used open source software for the project to cut costs without sacrificing quality.
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Shumaila Saeed
Nov 10, 2023

Free Software

It is often associated with a political and ethical stance for software freedom.
She advocates for free software as she believes in the ethical right to control technology.
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Shumaila Saeed
Nov 10, 2023

Open Source Software

It is developed in a decentralized and collaborative way, relying on peer review and community production.
The web server software was improved rapidly due to its open source nature.
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Shumaila Saeed
Nov 10, 2023

Free Software

Free Software allows users to adapt the software to their needs without restriction.
The hospital chose free software to customize their patient management system securely.
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Shumaila Saeed
Nov 10, 2023
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Open Source Software

It is defined by open collaboration, transparency, and community-oriented development.
The open source software project thrived thanks to its active community contributions.
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Nov 10, 2023

Free Software

Ree Software grants users the freedom to run, copy, distribute, study, change, and improve the software.
He used free software to edit the video because he could legally share the modified version.
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Shumaila Saeed
Nov 10, 2023

Open Source Software

Open Source Software does not necessarily mean free software, as some open source licenses allow for proprietary derivatives.
The company built its commercial product on open source software but kept its own additions proprietary.
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Shumaila Saeed
Nov 10, 2023

Free Software

The movement emphasizes freedom rather than price.
Free software can be commercially sold, provided it upholds the users' essential freedoms.
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Shumaila Saeed
Nov 10, 2023

Open Source Software

Open Source Software is software with source code that anyone can inspect, modify, and enhance.
She prefers open source software because she can verify the code herself for security issues.
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Shumaila Saeed
Nov 10, 2023

Repeatedly Asked Queries

What is Free Software?

Free Software is software that users are free to use, study, modify, and redistribute.
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Shumaila Saeed
Nov 11, 2023

Are Free Software and Open Source Software always free of charge?

Not necessarily; "free" refers to freedom, not price, and open source software can sometimes be sold.
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Shumaila Saeed
Nov 11, 2023

Can Open Source Software be proprietary?

Yes, if the license allows, modifications can be proprietary.
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Shumaila Saeed
Nov 11, 2023

Can Free Software be modified?

Yes, it's one of the fundamental freedoms.
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Shumaila Saeed
Nov 11, 2023

What is Open Source Software?

Open Source Software is software with publicly available source code for collaboration and modification.
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Shumaila Saeed
Nov 11, 2023

Can Free Software be used for commercial purposes?

Yes, it can be used commercially as long as user freedoms are preserved.
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Shumaila Saeed
Nov 11, 2023

How can I tell if software is Free Software?

Check if it grants the essential freedoms defined by the Free Software Foundation.
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Shumaila Saeed
Nov 11, 2023

Why use Free Software?

It gives users control over their software and promotes sharing and collaboration.
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Shumaila Saeed
Nov 11, 2023

How can I tell if software is Open Source?

Verify if its license meets the Open Source Initiative's definition.
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Shumaila Saeed
Nov 11, 2023

Is Open Source Software secure?

It can be secure, as openness allows many eyes to inspect and improve the code.
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Shumaila Saeed
Nov 11, 2023

Do all Free Software licenses require sharing modifications?

Many do, especially copyleft licenses, but not all Free Software licenses require this.
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Shumaila Saeed
Nov 11, 2023

Does Open Source Software mean anyone can contribute?

Generally, yes, though contributions may be subject to review by project maintainers.
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Shumaila Saeed
Nov 11, 2023

Are there restrictions on how Free Software can be used?

There are no restrictions on use, but there may be conditions on redistribution.
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Shumaila Saeed
Nov 11, 2023

Can I charge for distributing Free Software?

Yes, you can charge for the physical act of transferring a copy.
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Shumaila Saeed
Nov 11, 2023

What’s a copyleft license?

It's a type of Free Software license that requires derivative works to also be free.
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Shumaila Saeed
Nov 11, 2023

Can Open Source Software be sold?

Yes, it can be sold as long as the source code remains available.
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Shumaila Saeed
Nov 11, 2023

Is Open Source Software better than proprietary software?

It depends on the use case, but open source software often offers more flexibility.
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Shumaila Saeed
Nov 11, 2023

Are there examples of Open Source Software?

Yes, examples include the Apache web server and the Chromium browser.
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Shumaila Saeed
Nov 11, 2023

Why use Open Source Software?

It allows for collaboration, transparency, and can lead to more reliable software.
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Shumaila Saeed
Nov 11, 2023

Are there examples of Free Software?

Yes, examples include the GNU/Linux operating system and the Firefox web browser.
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Shumaila Saeed
Nov 11, 2023

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About Author
Shumaila Saeed
Written by
Shumaila Saeed
Shumaila Saeed, an expert content creator with 6 years of experience, specializes in distilling complex topics into easily digestible comparisons, shining a light on the nuances that both inform and educate readers with clarity and accuracy.

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