Stallman is right!

Karen and I were sitting in the BMI lounge in Belfast reading an Internet magazine that described XML as “an open source language”. This annoyed me more than I expected, possibly due to my lack of sleep. “Stallman is right” I said.

The Open Source movement was started to ‘rebrand’ Free Software to make it more acceptable to business and give it a name that was less open to confusion. “‘Free’ is frequently misunderstood to refer to price and not freedom” was their complaint, so they choose what they thought to be a less ambiguous name: “Open Source”. RMS didn’t like this because it stopped people talking about freedom.

“Open Source” has turned out to be much more open to misinterpretation and misuse than “Free Software”: many people, including the authors of the article that sparked this rant, believe that something is open source if you can read the source code. Yes, “Free Software” was slightly ambiguous (in English; the translations in most other languages were not ambiguous at all), but the term could be simply clarified with phrases “Free as in ‘speech’, not ‘beer'”; “Open Source” is much more difficult to explain.

So, again I say “Stallman is right!”. He may be a fanatic, but without him we probably wouldn’t have Free Software by any name. He takes a lot of abuse for wanting us to talk about “Free Software” instead of “Open Source”, and asking us to accurately describe our favourite OS as “GNU/Linux” instead of just “Linux”. If RMS annoys you, good: he’s doing his job. RMS, keep up the good work!