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Is Free Software the same as open-source software? (What is free software, history + more)

open-source software

 Free software is not the same as open-source software as they have different values. Free software means people’s freedom in what they do with the software. In contrast, open-source software refers to something that’s publicly accessible for people to modify and share, such as source code and its ability to facilitate collaboration.

When we talk about free software and open-source software, what are we referring to? Both talk about how users get to interact with the software but what makes them different is the underlying values. Free software talks about the liberty people can take with the software, while open-source software is more about modifying and sharing software while celebrating the spirit of collaboration.

What is free software?

Free software refers to software that respects users’ community and freedom. It generally means that users do have the freedom to run, copy, study, modify, improve and redistribute the said software. Therefore, when looking at the term free software, it is not about the price but rather the liberty people have concerning the software.

However, there is one restriction when it comes to free software. When redistributing the modified version, you must do so with the original terms of use, modification, and distribution. What makes free software ideal is that users are free to do as they please with their copies, including profiting from them after making the initial purchase.

What is open-source software?

In software development, open-source refers to something publicly accessible that people can modify and share. Open source can refer to products, projects, or initiatives that celebrate aspects of collaboration, open exchange, prototyping, meritocracy, and transparency as everyone embraces community-focused development.

In the context of software, open-source refers to software with source code that anyone can study, modify and enhance. Source code is a part of the software that most computer users never get to interact with. It is left to computer programmers who then change how a program or application works. They can add features or fix issues through the program’s source code to make the software run better.

What is the difference?

  Free software Open-source software
Main selling point Freedom to do as you wish with the software before redistribution Something publicly accessible to modify, share and collaborate with others
Purchase required Yes/No No
Restrictions Yes No


Free software focuses on people’s freedoms regarding what they can do with the software after the initial purchase or acquisition. Whichever way they choose to modify and redistribute is up to them. With open-source, the focus is on collaboration, whereby people can work together to create even better software with open source.


What is libre software?

Libre software is the same as free software, and it’s directly translated to mean free speech, not free software.

What are examples of open-source software?

Some top examples of open-source software are Mozilla Firefox, Linux, VLC Media Player, Python, and LibreOffice.