What is free and open source software and why can it cost money?

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

We keep getting questions from users and customers who wonder why some Enterprise add-ons of free and open source software cost money. Comments even go as far as saying that this does not make it true open source software. With this article we want to summarize some basic ideas about free and open source software. [1]

What is free and open source software?

The terms “free software” and “open source software” are often used jointly. But let’s take a closer look at the exact definition and origin of each term.

Free software came first. It was originally described by Richard Stallman in the 1980s. The free software definition says: “Free software” means software that respects users’ freedom and community. Roughly, it means that the users have the freedom to run, copy, distribute, study, change and improve the software. Thus, “free software” is a matter of liberty, not price. To understand the concept, you should think of “free” as in “free speech,” not as in “free beer”.”

Open source software focuses on the implications that free software has for software development: surprisingly effective collaboration on software development. The term open source software must comply with the criteria of The Open Source Definition by the Open Source Initiative, of which OpenProject is a member of. It presents the open source philosophy and further defines the terms of use, modification and redistribution of open source software. Several open source software licenses qualify within the Open Source Definition. The most prominent and popular example is the GNU General Public License (GPL), which OpenProject is licensed under.

What is the difference between free software and open source software?

The terms “free software” and “open source software” as described above, refer to the same set of licenses and range of software programs. Nevertheless, both terms originally focus on different aspects of the software and have different underlying values.

Free software indicates that the software does not have any constraints on copyrights while open source software enables easy and effective collaboration on software development and distribution without any need for reverse engineering, as described in depth in Richard Stallman’s “Why Open Source Misses the Point of Free Software”. He explains that the open source software stands for different criteria than those of free software. Where one can say that all released free software source code is open source software, not all open source software is also free software, since their open source software licenses are too restrictive, e.g. not allowing to make a modification and using it privately, or missing copyleft.

Free software may also be referred to as “libre”. The term “freeware” in contrast refers to (also a proprietary software) that does not require payment for the basic use. Nevertheless, what makes it difficult for business models based on open source software is that free software is still being mixed up with freeware or even used interchangeably on many websites, posts or articles.

Paying for free and open source software

If you consider the above definitions, you now understand better why you may also pay money for free software. OpenProject falls into the definition of free and open source software. The source code is published on GitHub and is being continuously developed and improved by an active open source community; it considers the software freedoms. There is a set of engaged core OpenProject developers and product maintainers who also need to pay their bills. Therefore, we made parts of the software as Enterprise add-ons that need to be paid for. With this, you actively support the maintenance and further rapid development of the product.

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[1] Sources and further reading:

The definitions and concepts in this article are not new. I have summarized existing ideas. Here are the sources and further reading inspiration: What is free software?: https://www.gnu.org/philosophy/free-sw.en.html#f1 Free software: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Free_software The Open Source Definition: https://opensource.org/osd Open source software: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Open-source_software Why Open Source misses the point of Free Software: https://www.gnu.org/philosophy/open-source-misses-the-point.en.html