A Commentary on Communicating our Ideals – “Freedom Software”

By | 2006/12/30

I’ve been reflecting this past week on what we have (and haven’t) yet accomplished this year with open source and free software.  I think we have made some great strides but we also have a long road ahead of us and it will continue to take hard work from all of us.  In reflecting on some of our future goals I also began to consider some of our potential shortcomings.  What is it about this community that people don’t understand?  Before we can answer that I suppose we would need to define what we are so that we can communicate that idea to the public.  Being able to communicate better with the people we’re trying to reach will be a big step in helping them understand who we are and what we do.  I think the current terminology that we use causes the issue that we face here.

I would first define what we are with the term Freedom.  Freedom of speech.  Freedom of communication.  Freedom of creativity.  Freedom of creation.  Freedom from restriction.  Have I missed anything?

As I mentioend I think our current terms fall short of communicating this.  For one we use the terms “open source” or “free software”.  What do these really mean to an outsider?  What does “open source” mean to your parents or neighbor?  What does it mean to someone who does or does not understand computers or operating systems?  I think it tries to clearly define what we as a community stand for but , as much as I use it, I think it falls short.  Simple for the fact that it doesn’t clearly communicate our ideals to the general PC using public.

The other term that many of us stand on is that of “free software”, but I think this falls shorter than the “open source” term.  For one how do you define “free software”? (yes, this is mainly revealing a weakness in the English language)  Is it simply “software that is free”?  I think that is the first thing that would come to mind for most people.  Would you believe that I have spoken with people that honestly believed Windows XP was free of charge?  “It comes on the computer when you buy it.  I didn’t pay for it.”  ..as if Bill Gates became the richest man in the world by giving a product away.

Also, on this definition anything that wasn’t for-pay could be considered “free software”.  This would include shareware, freeware, freely downloaded components of any OS.  While this again tries to communicate the idea of “freedom” I think the weakness in the English language is the shortcoming here.  (yes we could use the term “software libre” but I don’t know how well that would be adopted.)

Now what other suggestions do you as the “open source / free software” public suggest?  Do you use alternate terms to describe what we are about?  Do you communicate the idea behind the revolution in a different way?  What are your thoughts on adopting something more along the lines of “Freedom Software”?  That is what we are about isn’t it?  Software for freedom.  It began as a movement to gain freedom and now we are in a fight to retain our freedom (DRM, etc).

I’d like to get some of your thoughts on this.  How can we better communicate the importance of what we all fight so hard for to the public?  Can we use different terms to better communicate the critical need that we so desperately try to fill?  The floor is yours.

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9 thoughts on “A Commentary on Communicating our Ideals – “Freedom Software”

  1. Bob Dole

    Well open source was defined to pamper the IT businesses, they are what less than 0.001% of our society? Seems silly to use that term imho. I think people would understand ‘freedom software’ much faster and _get it_.
    As for “software libre” that’s spanish..and translated is “free software”(as in freedom not no cost[gratis])
    But if you were to say it in english it would make more sense to say “libre software”, since we don’t say “software free” we say “free software”.
    But I myself use “free/libre software” when I speak about the software I love and use. I try to never use open source, seems silly to ignore the ethical issues like “open source” does, and seems silly to cater to the 0.001%(I made that up).

  2. Greg K Nicholson

    “Freedom software” sounds too much like “freedom fries”. And unfortunately, “liberty” has been misappropriated by the United States’ own vacuous brand of liberty.

    To express open source’s benevolent ideals in terms that are familiar to a lot of people, perhaps a good approach would be to consciously draw analogies with public services like TV and radio, parks, libraries, hospitals, museums and so on. This would also reinforce the idea of open source software being integral to society.

    So perhaps “open”, “community” or “public” software would be better terms.

    And while we’re at it, “Linux for human beings” needs to be changed – the overwhelming majority of humans have no idea what a Linux is. “Software for human beings” or even “Software for everyone” would be far better.

  3. Freddy

    I personally like the term “free software” but it gets into many ideas. What does free mean in other languages? Is “free” a universally understood concept? Free as in speech, free as in beer (I happen to like that distinction). What about free as in cost? iTunes is free as in cost, but I would never consider it Open Source (and would therefore never use it). Public Software is a good candidate. Sabdfl once said something along the lines of “we should stop worrying about stupid names and make software.” That is by no means an exact quote, I just happen to think our time is more useful hacking on helping out on IRC rather than worrying about terms. That does not mean we shouldn’t care about marketing (how we describe our awesome software), but I think that should really be an after thought.

  4. Ubuntu Tutorials

    Freddy – You do have a good point. We could sit and argue about terminology all day but if we spend the time making great software we will be more productive.

  5. Alan

    I use the term “software libre”.

    The term “free” has already been co-opted in the PC world by the term freeware, and in the Internet world by free to download. “Open Source” is only useful for corporate IT mangers.

    Libre is a concept understood by most of the people of the americas, most europeans, many africans. And people who have some exposure to those worlds.

    If used regularly, libre will be introduced into common english usage as more and more people get exposed to Free Software. In the world of the Internet and PC’s, new words get introduced into english everyday. Having a cool new word (or a known word applied outside it’s normal usage) to describe this stuff is an advantage, not a liability.

  6. k3ninho

    I suggest you’re doing the wrong thing. Software is the right term for pliable, alterable, redistributable, free works of computer programming. In contrast, binary-only corporation-controlled programs are appliance-ware: they turn your general-purpose computer into an appliance to do certain tasks (e.g. Microsoft Word is an appliance of a computer for word processing; Apple’s iTunes is an appliance of your computer for music playing).

    If you think about it, most western domestic appliances are the same kind of if-it-breaks-throw-it-out mentality as fixed-use computer programs. Genuinely soft software can be tinkered with and fixed. The task is then to change the terminology of non-free software to be acknowledge as an application, or appliance of the computer rather than true software.

    (lurked from planet.ubuntu.com)

  7. Lonnie Olson

    I have struggled with this issue myself a lot recently. I generally use the term Free Software. I then qualify that with a statement explaining what it means. I usually say something like “Free… meaning that it respects my freedom to use, modify, and share the software.

    I don’t use the term Open Source to anyone but my boss. The term is misleading, because it is associated with the Open Source Initiative which does not concerned about Freedom, but with the development model. See http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/free-software-for-freedom.html
    My boss understands that term though, and doesn’t care about the Freedom as much, so it works anyway.

    I would like to have better terms, but can’t think of anything myself. Maybe if we had some one that understood both what Free Software means, and knows how to explain it to the “layman”. Hopefully that person can explain it to the rest of us.

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  9. Tony


    I am a heavy FOSS user and supporter in China. In the Chinese language, we have different words for free as in free beer(免费) and free as in freedom(自由). Yet people still would not get a feel of what that means and would probably duck the tricky business of getting oneself around with this concept, for most of them think that is only a geek’s matter.

    For programmers and other curious cats, they will poke around for additional infos once they’re introduced to the FOSS idea. What about the rest of us?

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