Open Source vs. Free Software: What's the difference?

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Difference between Open Source and Free Software

The Internet has become an integral part of business and living. People rely on the web to gather information, buy and sell products and advertise their companies and services. As a part of website promotion or to gain advertisement income, certain websites, especially those who specialize in technology comes up with programs that can be used by the general public. Open source and free software are two types of software that are distributed throughout the web . Oftentimes these two are believed by the common person to be one and the same, but they are not. Technically they are very different in many respects.

Open Source
Free Software


An open source software or OSS is a type of computer software that is distributed to interested buyers in source code form, or the form where the program is structured. This software is normally protected by certain privacy rights which can be read through a software license. The developers of this software permit the user to make some changes, study and sometimes improve the software. Free software on the other hand is a software that can be modified, studied and used without any copyright restrictions and can also be redistributed to other people without restrictions as well. Generally, this free software, as the name suggests is free of charge. It is very much the same in concept as the open source software but only the OSS is bought and is with certain restrictions.

Types of Software

Open source software has become very popular nowadays. Even with the restrictions in the redistribution, editing and modification of the program, a lot people still use it because it’s convenient. Examples of open source software include osCommerce, Linux operating system, Apache HTTP Server and Mozilla Firefox. Free software on the other hand has the same popularity as the open source software. Unlike the open source software, it has the installer together with the package. Examples of these are Linux Kernel, C library, MySQL, and office suite.


The license of a program states the obligations and rights the developer of the software grants to the user of the software. Open source licenses give the users the right to modify the program, copy and redistribute them and the source code. Also, these licenses can enforce an obligation to the user about specific rights with the use of the program. Free software, on a different note has licenses that grant the user total control and use of the software. The most common problem a user encounters with these softwares and licenses is that if these are not compatible with each other, mixing the source codes could bring a lot of intricacies and instability of the program.


  • Open source software are usually free of charge, but sometimes comes with a certain fee. The same applies to the free software, and whenever there is a fee, it is only very minimal.
  • Open source software can be modified, changed and studied, but with certain restrictions.
  • Free software can be modified, changed and studied without any restrictions whatsoever.

Which term is misunderstood more often?
  • Open Source
  • Free Software

Discuss It: comments 1

  • Guest
  • nurul qurratuaini binti jaapar wrote on January 2011

it is the package software and free software are the same?

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