The difference between free software, proprietary software and open source software

In this article, I am going to explain the difference between free software, proprietary software and open source software. Free software and proprietary software have a different philosophy and we must not confuse them with each other. Read on to know more.

I wanted to write an article about the different models of software development we can choose to create or the programs that we use. I am sure that many of the readers of know or at least have heard of free software or open source software. However, these terms are not heard much in non-PC areas, so there are a large number of people who do not know the importance of different philosophies of software development.

In this post, I want to help all these people who don't know these terms, what they mean and the impact that they may have on our daily lives. We use these programs on all devices, a computer, tablet and a smartphone. In fact, we can extend the spectrum beyond software, knowledge in any area can be free or proprietary.

Differences between proprietary software and others

The analogy of a cake is a good choice to define this concept. The ingredients of a very popular cake made in a particular bakery (proprietary software) can not be revealed because if another company mimics this cake, they may use it for their benefit. Proprietary software only defends the interests of companies that sell the program and can not be modified by individuals for particular needs.

When we cook, we learn recipes from relatives, friends and the Internet. I'm sure that many of us change an ingredient or two, to make the meal more to our liking. These are the programs free or open, accessible to everyone and allow modification.

Characteristics of free software

For a program to be free software, it should respect these 4 essential freedoms:
  • Freedom 0: Freedom to run the program as you wish.

  • Freedom 1: the Freedom to study the source code of the program and freedom to change it.

  • Freedom 2: the Freedom to help your neighbour, i.e. freedom to make and distribute exact copies of the program whenever you want.

  • Freedom 3: Freedom to contribute to the community, i.e. freedom to make or distribute copies of your modified versions of the program.

The benefit of the free software for schools is indisputable. You can save money by not paying for permission to use proprietary software. To develop programs, it is vital to learn how to program. Reading codes of others can help us learn or to solve problems.

Some companies distribute free or very cheap versions of its proprietary softwares to schools. Students learn to use that software and graduate along with dependence on those programs. But now that they are not studying and do not receive free copies of the program, they are forced to buy it or use illegal measures to get a copy. To not depend on any particular proprietary software, you can always learn to use free software.

The differences between free software and open source

In 1998, a part of the free software community was formed and began a campaign to promote the open source software. The term opensource was originally proposed to avoid a possible misunderstanding with the term free software. Free software refers to freedom of the program, not to price. This open source movement was soon associated with free software movement.

All free software is open source, but not all open source softwares are free software. The difference lies in the different licenses that accompany the program. Many of the open source licenses are less permissive, not respecting the freedom of free software. Non-free software do not provide much benefit to the community when compared to the free software. An example of free software license is GPLv3.

In short, if we want to improve the society, we must share knowledge and not hinder access to it. This does not apply only to computers, we could apply this to any field of knowledge, for example, medicine. Imagine if a company develops a life-saving drug and a multinational company purchases the patent to sell it. They in most cases sell the drug at inflated prices to get as much profit as possible. Countries are obliged to buy the drug since they do not have the recipe to develop it themselves. This leads to a lot of loss of lives simply because they can't afford to buy these drugs. Instead of a patent, if the knowledge of developing these drugs are shared using open source platforms, it will benefit the entire human society as a whole.

For our own sake, let us defend free knowledge in all areas.

Read How Fedora Linux is better than Windows OS?


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