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Open Source

I invented nothing new. I simply assembled the discoveries of other men behind whom were centuries of work... progress happens when all the factors that make for it are ready and then it is inevitable.

Henry Ford

So what's the problem with originality? As we've discussed, in short, it’s a myth, and a dangerous one at that, because it ends up privileging a few (often old men in suits who know nothing about ‘originality’) and disadvantaging the rest. To say ‘originality is a myth’ is not to say that innovation isn’t real, or that people aren’t creative or that ingenuity doesn’t exist, just that we’ve been thinking about those things the wrong way. FLOSS (or Free/Libre Open Source Software) provides an alternative framework for understanding and organizing our creative efforts, which has come to influence conversations beyond software (search the term “open source” alongside words like fashion, education, filmmaking, democracy, housing, medicine, cancer research, economics, etc.).

Free Software

an ideological position

There is a similarity between the folk process—where a poem or a song or a story can get refined and reshaped by one teller or singer after another—and the way free software gets improved. You often find cases where a free program is being developed now by a group of people who include none of the original developers.

Richard Stallman


As it is often explained, the “free” in Free Software, isn’t about money ( though technically yes, it usually happens to be “free” as in “free beer” ) rather it’s about “freedom”. In 1986 Richard Stallman defined a couple of key freedoms, “First, the freedom to copy a program and redistribute it to your neighbors, so that they can use it as well as you. Second, the freedom to change a program, so that you can control it instead of it controlling you; for this, the source code must be made available to you.” Today Free Software is defined by the following “four freedoms”

Free Software Definition

  • The freedom to run the program as you wish, for any purpose (freedom 0).

  • The freedom to study how the program works, and change it so it does your computing as you wish (freedom 1). Access to the source code is a precondition for this.

  • The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbor (freedom 2).

  • The freedom to distribute copies of your modified versions to others (freedom 3). By doing this you can give the whole community a chance to benefit from your changes. Access to the source code is a precondition for this.

Open Source

an practical (apolitical) position

The term “open source” software refers to a software development model which came from the Free Software movement but wanted to disassociate itself from the politics (the ideological impetus) of the Free Software movement and rather focus on the practical (even commercial) benefits of open source development.

open source

Let’s keep going with the analogy from that video to explain how a typical proprietary ( copyright ) software license might work in recipe-form. With proprietary software the source-code is hidden/secret ( closed source ) so you never get access to the recipe, instead you’ve got to buy pre-packaged microwavable meals. But you don’t technically “own” these microwavable meals, you simply “license” them, which means you’re allowed to use the meal as per a set of terms and agreements you must spend a few hours reading and agree to before every time you pop it into the microwave. These terms govern what you are and aren’t allowed to do, for example: you would typically be allowed to eat the meal when it comes out of the microwave, but you can’t share any part of your meal with your friend ( they have to purchase their own sh!tty microwavable meal ). Additionally there may be restrictions on the kind of microwave and plate you’re allowed to use to cook your meal ( these restrictions are legal, not technical of course, in theory any microwave or plate works, you’re just not allowed to use ‘em ). This might get frustrating, especially considering how crapy the meal is; it’s so bad your first thought after biting into it might be “this needs some salt or hot sauce or something”, but you can’t add any of that, because any/all modifications to the meal are prohibited.

At this point you might say to yourself, “F* it, imma make my own version of this dish from scratch”... sure, in theory that’s ok, but you can’t do so by looking at the back of the box and reading the ingredients list ( that’s kept secret, a bit scary when you think to ask, “how do we know it’s safe?” ), you could try to “reverse engineer” it, by teasing apart the individual pieces of mush in the meal… but that’s difficult because the company producing them added some extra goup to the mush meal ( DRM ) to make it difficult to mess with and it’s also likely against that initial terms and agreement you signed to even try to “reverse engineer” it. Now you might be pretty frustrated and so you think, “F* it, I’ve got like 10 boxes of this crap left, I’mma use it prop up my desk instead of eating it”... but that too might be against the terms and conditions, in the section covering what you’re allowed to do and not do with your licensed microwavable meal.

tractor hacking

Open Source Licenses

See GitHub's Choose a License page.

See also Creative Commons for non-code based open projects

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