Google’s relation to FOSS

Ah, I could go on endlessly about differences between the Open Source and Free Software, but I’d bore most people. Still, I expected better of ars technica.

A recent article on that site about the co-author of the GPLv3, Eben Moglen, desiring companies like Google to open up internal patches again mixes up the two issues slightly. It’s these things that make people believe Open Sources and Free Software are one and the same.


Open Source software comes with no moral obligations. Free Software comes with the idea attached, that we all benefit most from software that’s available for everyone to change. In contrast to the ars technica author’s opinion, Free Software almost requires companies to share patches they use only internally – not because the license expressively demands it, but because it’s morally better to do so. And it’s a good thing the license does not demand it, because doing so would run counter to the freedoms they want the software’s users to have.

The Open Source software movement isn’t about such morals, it focuses on the quality open, peer-reviewed software provides. But Eben Moglen represents the Free Software Foundation, who do care – hence their work on the GPL reflects that, and thus it should come as no surprise that Moglen desires companies to fulfill their moral obligations above and beyond the terms of the GPL.

It is true, however, that Google does a lot for the FOSS communities even while reaping the fruits it produces – other companies are less giving, however.