Until today, I have always used the terms open source and open source software interchangeably. But then I read Phil Haack's blog post in which he suggests that the two terms are not necessarily referring to the same thing. He proposes the following definitions:

Open Source Software is source code which is licensed under a license that meets the Open Source Definition.

Open Source is a development methodology which includes certain characteristics:

  • Developed in the open with community involvement
  • The team accepts contributions that meet its standards
  • The end product has an open source license. This encompasses open source software, open source hardware, etc.

So Phil argues that the end product of open source development is open source software, but open source software is not necessarily the product of open source development. Since he also mentions that there are many different understandings of what open source means, what do you think about these definitions? Do you agree with the distinction he has made?

2 Answers 2


Open Source Software is Open Source but not all Open Source is Open Source Software.

There is Open Source Hardware, Open Source Robotics, etc. It is a philosophy that can be applied to almost anything. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Open_source

  • 1
    Better than my answer.
    – Ubermensch
    Feb 17, 2012 at 12:16
  • 1
    It may just be the word "source" in "open-source" that makes it sound like software because of the association with source code. Although the term has broadened since it originated, it still sounds a little bit strange referring to "open source hardware" rather than just "open hardware" or something along those lines. Feb 17, 2012 at 17:51
  • There's also Open-Source Hardware (strangely not mentioning OpenSPARC, though it has a Wikipedia article)
    – haylem
    Mar 4, 2012 at 1:01
  • @haylem don't forget rasperry pi and arduino!
    – Zenon
    Mar 4, 2012 at 4:20

Phil is right in the sense that open source software is a result of open source development and for that very reason your source code must be made available in public. Open source's canonical is free software, free as in speech, not in beer. There are cases where a open source project can be extended and turned into a proprietary product. And there are a lot of open source license methods GPL, LGPL, MIT, FreeBSD to name a few that create confusion among newcomers (I am still to understand, perceive and evaluate them).

Plus, free software and open source software are used interchangeably in web contexts that further the confusion. Free software, most often, are only free to use and not free to modify and distribute. On top of this, there are intellectual property rights(IPR) that differ from country to country that makes the situation more confusing. That's the reason my answer is a bit ambiguous.

If you just want to create a open source software, create it with open source tools and license it under GPL3. If you are more concerned about IPR, you need to do a decent bit of research on the internet to get a hold of how things would pan out.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.