Just because it's free doesn't make it open source

As open source becomes more ubiquitous, misunderstanding about what it actually is seems to grow.

The burgeoning love affair the world has with "open-source" [fill in the blank] seems to be confusing some.

Free does not equal open source. And open source does not equal free. There. I said it.

To the open source veterans out there, that sounds moronic. Of course open source doesn't mean free. And why would free mean open source? Heck, until recently anyone could download Internet Explorer (Mac users can't anymore, but they weren't using it anyhow), and no one would mistake that for open source software.The News-Herald describing its new newsgathering efforts:

But to the unitiated, "open source" and "free" are interchangeable. To wit, this article from southern Ohio's

The Ben Franklin Project involves The News-Herald gathering and producing a day's news using open-source tools. These are tools that are available for use without any cost.

Many of you use open-source tools every day. Think Twitter, Facebook, Gmail, Google Docs — communication tools that are accessed for free and enable communication between two parties.

Even just looking "open source" up on Wikipedia would have served this reporter well.South By Southwest Interactive Festival last month, I attended a panel called "Selling Your Milk When the Cow Is Free." The panel focused on how companies that traffic in open source can — and should be able to — make money.White House developing its site on Drupal and Firefox pulling in 30 percent of the world market in web browsers, it shouldn't be too much to imagine that in a few years, articles such as the one that inspired this post will be relegated to the Wayback Machine.

Calling Twitter, Google or Facebook "open-source tools" is akin to calling bacon a vegan food.

Are they free to use? Sure. Are they open source? Uh, no.

Twitter is probably the best-known site built on Ruby on Rails, an open-source platform (so's Hulu). And it has an API developers can tap into to create third-party applications (think Tweetdeck) for it. But to call Twitter "open-source" because it's free to use is a huge misunderstanding of what open source means.

But though I initially started out planning to rant about this article, I realized this not just an isolated example of the disconnect between tech geeks and the world at large. The big selling point of open source for years has been the "free" entry point. So to then turn around and make fun of people who are not immersed in the tech world for thinking that open source means free is to blame the victim.

Fact is, most "average" people understand enough technology to turn on their computers. Maybe they're even advanced enough to download Firefox and install a custom background on their Twitter profiles. The challenge to the open source community is to try to explain what open source is to those people.

Even among the technologically adept, the idea that open source should mean free is not unusual. At the

With the

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