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Archive for October 1st, 2009

Misunderstanding open source #2: Confuse FOSS, FLOSS, Open Source and Free Software

with 6 comments

The term ‘FOSS’ means ‘Free/Open Source Software’. The term ‘FLOSS’ means ‘Free/Libre/Open Source Software’

FOSS and FLOSS are two different terms for the same thing – the combined software production of the Free Software movement and the Open Source movement.

The free software and open source movements are similar to each other in many ways but are not the same. The differences are largely political and ideological. To most consumers of the software these differences are immaterial. For years I tried to maintain an impartial position on these differences, but have lately given up and sided with the open source movement.

Because of the definitions of these terms it is usually meaningless to compare or contrast FOSS with open source or FOSS with free software because FOSS includes both of them.

Here is an example of wrongly using these terms from a Dana Blankenhorn post (http://blogs.zdnet.com/open-source/?p=4901):

FOSS is idealism, 80-proof distilled idealism, and the open source movement was born in 1998 as a reaction against that.

There are two problems with this statement. Firstly, this statement says that open source was born as a reaction against Free/Open Source Software. Open source was created as a reaction against itself? This is clearly meaningless. The second problem is that that FOSS and FLOSS refer to the software – not to the movement, participants, politics, practices or philosophies. The software itself does not have idealism, the people creating it do. To make sense this statement should be:

The Free Software movement is idealism, 80-proof distilled idealism, and the open source movement was born in 1998 as a reaction against that.


Written by James

October 1, 2009 at 9:20 pm

Posted in open source

Misunderstanding open source #1: Fixate on Linux, Firefox, Eclipse

with 3 comments

I have lost count of the number of times that various commentators about open source have fallen into this trap – thinking that every open source project is like, or should be like, Linux, Firefox, and Eclipse.

Certainly those projects are shining examples of the power and value of open source, but over-focusing on their structure, operation, and community is harmful.

Open source spans the continuum from a single-developer hobbyist ‘scratching their itch’ up to the global, foundation-guided, multi-layered Linux.

The same continuum occurs in the retail market – everything from a couple of kids with a lemonade stand, all the way up to Walmart.

The problem comes when open source columnists, commentators, and bloggers think that all open source projects are the same. Thinking that ideas, solutions, priorities, politics, motivations, and economics can be applied uniformly along these continuums is nonsense. Its like telling the kids on the lemonade stand that they need to follow Walmart’s example when it comes to marketing or negotiating with suppliers.

The problem is that most of the writers about open source have no actual experience of open source development. All they know is what they read and hear, and most of that happens to be about Linux, Firefox, and Eclipse.

An example of falling into this trap is in one of Dana Blankenhorn’s recent posts http://blogs.zdnet.com/open-source/?p=4869

What the history of the last few years tells me is that the best home for an open source project is not a company, but a foundation.

Sure, Dana, but there are over 200,000 open source projects. You think we should create 200,000 foundations? This is the kind of nonsense people write when they make this mistake.

I agree that foundations are a great way to govern open source projects. But this approach will probably only ever work for a minute fraction of all projects.

Written by James

October 1, 2009 at 8:43 pm

Posted in open source