Sometimes I hear the phrase “I prefer commercial over free software or open source software” which has this connotation that the opposite of free–that is is #freeasinfreedom–and open source software is commercial software. This is not the case. I feel like we need to set the record straight that the opposite of free and open source isn’t commercial, it’s proprietary.
Open source (and openness in general) is a philosophy as much as it is a software development approach and nowhere in this philosophy does it say that open source software cannot be commercial. In fact, the open source definition (https://opensource.org/osd) specifically states that open source software must not be restricted from a specific field of endeavor–e.g. open source software cannot be restricted from being used in a business. Even if we go to the Four Essential Freedoms of Free Software (https://www.gnu.org/philosophy/free-sw.en.html), nowhere does it say there that free software cannot be used commercially.
Free and open source software (FOSS) isn’t about whether it is commercial or not, it’s about freedom and respecting the user’s freedom. Open source software, more so free software, provides you with the freedoms to access, use, modify, and share the software. If this involves commercial purposes, you have the freedom to do so with FOSS. This isn’t necessarily the case with proprietary software. Proprietary software restricts the user’s freedom. It may not allow you to freely access the software without a license or account; it may put restrictions on what you can do with the software and how you can utilize it; it may even prevent you from sharing the software with your friends without first procuring another license or committing something illegal–i.e. pirating software.
BNHR is a staunch advocate of freedom and openness especially in the fields of software and technology. While some may say that software is just a tool and you should choose the best tool for the job, I say that choosing free and open source software–the option that respects the user’s freedom–has value in itself and that even though using FOSS may not necessarily make you a better analyst, developer, or GIS person than someone who uses proprietary options, the choice to use FOSS still matters. But that’s a post for another time.
So remember, if there is a divide, it isn’t between FOSS and commercial software. It’s between FOSS and proprietary software. Both can be used commercially but one provides you with freedoms and respects your freedom while the other restricts it.
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