Many times we come across a misconception that because the software is open source, it automatically means it’s free, which isn’t the case. We are here to explain the difference between free software and open source, though, admittedly, there is some overlapping.
What Is Free Software?
There are many types of free software, but let’s just say that many browsers, document editors, music players, audio and video editors are free software. Some of them have free versions and premium features. What makes software free? Well, you can run it for whatever purpose, whether it is personal or for business. You can modify and tweak it to suit your needs. You can even copy and distribute files or the modified version of the software itself.
This is the type of software that everyone enjoys – the software that is truly free. You don’t have to pay anyone to acquire it or use it for whatever purpose you see fit, with a few possible exceptions. However, you can’t modify it, as its code is closed to the public. Take Skype, for instance. Skype falls into the category of freeware, as you don’t have to buy it, though there is Skype credit. Additionally, you can’t use Skype for free is you are running a business.
What Is Open Source Software?
Open source software comes with a license that allows users to study the code, modify it, and possibly improve it. The purpose of this is to see what the code does, whether there are any hidden features and to control the updates via community input.
The main confusion here is that a lot of open source software is also free, meaning that you don’t only have the option of modifying it, you can also get it for free.
Let’s view these concepts in the context of games. There are free online games that anyone can enjoy, with some of them getting revenue from ads, while others allow users some advantages or cosmetic changes if they choose to invest their money as well. However, if you read the User License Agreement, in many cases it states that you are not allowed to tinker with any part of the software, distribute it to others, or the combination of the two. These games fall into the category of free software.
Games that are more like open source are those that have mods. Mods, or modifications, involve cosmetic changes or tamper with the physics of the game. Bad examples of this include playing GTA as Spongebob, or fight against Thomas the Tank Engine in Skyrim. They are bad examples because mods were not allowed in these cases, but you get the picture. Open source allows people to look at the code and change what they don’t like about it or to explore other options. Garry’s Mod, for example, is a physics sandbox that allows you to create your own games.
The Bottom Line
Some people use the terms free software and open source software interchangeably. Due to the fact that there is an enormous overlapping between the two, this is not entirely wrong. Sometimes, there is a combination of these two working together. However, free software is free, while open source can be modified. In their strictest definitions, one does not apply to the other.