Free and open-source software/History

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'Free software' was originated by Richard Stallman 11px-Wikipedia_logo.jpg in the early 1980s while a programmer at MIT's artificial intelligence laboratory. He was extremely frustrated by the increasing proprietary nature of software which placed restrictions on users wanting to modify or improvement it. Up until the '80s software had generally been freely available as it was the computer hardware that was seen as the commodity.

He thought people would benefit more from having basic freedoms concerning using and developing rather than it being locked down commercially. For any software to qualify as as 'free software' he stated it must have the following freedoms:

  • The freedom to run the program for any purpose.
  • The freedom to study and modify the program.
  • The freedom to copy the program so you can help your neighbour.
  • The freedom to improve the program, and release your improvements to the public, so that the whole community benefits.

He then setup the Free Software Foundation (FSF) as an organisation to promote these principles.


In the late 1990s a faction from within the free software community created a new term 'Open source' in order to dispel the common confusion over the meaning of 'free' (it refers to freedom rather than cost), and to make this development model appeal more to the business sector who were seen as a major resource in helping evolve this kind of software. Richard Stallman and the Free Software Foundation have never been happy with this move though, and distance themselves from the new term.

However for most people 'Free software' and 'Open source' are effectively the same thing despite the philosophical wrangling. The combined term 'free and open-source' is used here to refer to the movement generally.