Stop Calling Everything “Open Source”: What “Open Source” Really Means


What does open source mean? That’s an increasingly tough question to answer because the term is now being applied everywhere and to everything — which is not good. To understand why open source is losing its meaning, you have to start by tracing the origins of the phrase.

Open source was a term originally used in the intelligence community. It had nothing to do with software.

Then, in 1998, a group of people who advocated the free sharing of software source code coined the term open source software. They did so primarily because they sought an alternative to free software, the term that was initially used to describe software whose source code was freely available.

For political reasons not worth discussing here, some people today continue to prefer the term free software. By and large, however, open source software has become the de facto way to describe software with freely redistributable source code.

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