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'Free' versus 'open source'

    In response to the report written by Stephen Shankland, "Lawyers ride shotgun for open source":

    Stephen Shankland's article about the Software Freedom Law Center mentioned the Free Software Foundation, me, and our GNU General Public License, suggesting we developed it for "open source projects." This is inaccurate: The Free Software Foundation, as its name says, is part of the Free Software Movement, and so is the GNU GPL.

    Our basic principle is that proprietary software, through the restrictions of its license, unjustly denies users basic freedoms; in 1984 we set out to regain those freedoms by switching to free (that is, freedom-respecting) software. We developed GNU, the principal basis of today's GNU+Linux operating system, so we could have a free system to switch to. (Torvalds' kernel, Linux, filled the last gap in GNU in 1992.) We developed the GNU GPL as a license for GNU; most free software projects use it. Many open-source projects use it too, and they are welcome to, but that's not what we wrote it for.

    As GNU+Linux caught on, it gained many users that did not agree with free software ideals. In 1998 they formulated another philosophy, called "open source," which appreciates free software for practical benefits but declines to see the matter as a choice between right and wrong. It cites values such as power and reliability of software, rather than freedom and community. Those who hold that view have a right to promote it, but the Free Software Foundation disagrees with them, so please do not link the FSF with their slogan. We work for free software.

    As for where the Software Freedom Law Center stands on this question, I do not speak for it, but its name offers a hint.

    Richard Stallman
    President, Free Software Foundation
    Chief GNUisance, GNU Project