Instead of using the terms "Free Software" or "Open Source" in relation to "Free/Libre Open Source Software," maybe we should use the expresions "Permissive License" and "Permissive Licensed Software" to denominate FLOSS.
"Free/Libre Open Source Software" is a viable alternative to commercial software. Its licensing and development model yields high quality software, which could be very beneficial to the end-users of software at large. Despite of the benefits, FLOSS is still lagging behind commercial closed source software, when it comes to the rate of adoption. End users, typically the people who do not develop software, are not familliar with FLOSS and they don't know what to expect from FLOSS.
Besides lack of broad media exposure, I think this can be attributed in part to the confusing terms that are being used to signify FLOSS. "Free Software" and "Open Source" software are not expressions that the end-user understands, because they are to a certain ammount non-descriptive.
"Free Software" is too often misinterpreted as being gratis software, and therefore qualitatively less than the commercial alternatives. When it comes to "Free Software," not many people think of free as in freedom. As such the term "Free Software" is not helping acceptance.
"Open Source" is completely meaningless to the common public. An end user doesn't know what source is. They don't use "Source," they use binary packages. End users don't care if they can see the source code. Source code is of no value to them. End users experience value in the binary packages that run on their PCs. Those are what get their work done.
In light of the above it is clear that the denominations "Free Software" and "Open Source" do nothing to further wider acceptance of FLOSS. They only confuse the potential new FLOSS users. What we need are terms to which end-users can relate, which are descriptive to them.
The licensingm odel of sofware is of direct interest to the end user. It is the most important aspect of software besides its functionality. The license is, after all, the agreement which ties the end user to the framework of conditions under which s/he has the right to use the software. We all know that proprietary software restricts end users severely most of the time. This is a universe appart from FLOSS software, which gives the end user the right to distribute and modify the software, given the condition that the receivers of the software are granted the same rights as the distributor under the FLOSS license. I may be somewhat GPL tainted here, but I figure it isn't all that different with other FLOSS licenses.
The right to freely copy and distribute the software is a huge selling point to end users. This truly is the most powerful aspect of FLOSS. End users that use FLOSS don't have to fear the BSA. They are able to use and to share the software with as many users and as many PCs as they see fit. Giving friends a copy, and knowing that it is legitimate, must be an eye-opener to most end users. Combine this with the low cost and high quality of FLOSS and you'll see how it would attract new users, if only they would understand the basic tenet of FLOSS.
As pointed out before, "Free Software" and "Open Source" don't describe FLOSS to end-users as something of value to them. The terms don't say anything about the characteristics of FLOSS that are compelling or important to the end user. "Permissive License," however, is something that speaks to the end user. All end users know that software is licensed. They also know that they are practically prohibited to do anything with their proprietary software other then use it on one PC only. FLOSS grants them rights that far exceed the things other software licenses allow them to do. Hence "Permissive Licensed Software." From the viewpoint of the common user, "Permissive License" pretty much covers the most important aspect of FLOSS to them. It forms a nice contrast to the restrictive software world most end users are living in today.
"Permissive License" and "Permissive Licensed Software" also solves another problem: That of the "feud" between the proponents of the terms "Free Software" and "Open Source." "Permissive License" and "Permissive Licensed Software" do describe the special characteristic of FLOSS pretty well. It doesn't press forward the ideology behind "Free Software" nor does it say anything about the merrit driven aspects of "Open Source". I may be mistaken, but I think both factions could be reconciled over the naming if they used "Permissive Licensing" and "Permissive Licensed Software." "Permissive Licensed Software" is both "Free" and "Open Source."
I am just a fairly advanced GNU/Linux user, but I hope this piece does make a contribution. I would like this piece to be read by as many people as possible, and hope that it will be discussed on it's merits.
(Although I use GNU/Linux, I appreciate the existance of the BSDs, the HURD, and numerous other Permissive Licensed OSes.)
(c) Ronald Trip, Scharmer 2003 The Netherlands.
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