We have 3 closely identical tags: , and on PSE. These are almost identical other than for the philosophical "Open Source vs. Free Software" debate. Should these be merged or are these philosophical reasons enough to have them seperated?

  • 1
    open-source and free software are two completly different things. So these tags are justified. Why a foss tag? Good question... Commented Apr 13, 2011 at 20:29
  • @Traroth: In the common sense of Open Source according to the Open Source Initiative and Free Software according to the Free Software Foundation, they are philosophically very different things and practically the same thing. I'd suggest "source-available" and "freeware" to cover the alternative meanings. Commented Apr 15, 2011 at 16:11

3 Answers 3


When the philosophical differences come up in any sort of web forum, the result is usually flame wars with misinformation flying around, at least in my experience. We don't want that here.

There are definitions for "Free Software" and "Open Source" that are different from what the FSF and OSI define them as, but using them is just going to cause confusion, and confusion is likely to cause flame wars over definitions, according to what I've seen.

Therefore, there is no functional difference between "open source" and "free software", and we may as well merge the tags. Since the communities typically don't like to be confused, I'd keep "foss" and merge "open source" and "free software" into it.

  • Agreed, if the community doesn't agree on the distinctions laid out by Sn0rfus (it has upvotes, but the comment by TZHX does too) then there is no meaningful difference to P.SE.
    – Nicole
    Commented Apr 12, 2011 at 15:48
  • Agreed... though it's possible "free software" could be used (mistakenly) by some to mean freeware (couple of questions where this seems to be done), so could we have a freeware tag also?
    – TZHX
    Commented Apr 13, 2011 at 14:36
  • @TZHX: "Free Software" has nothing formally to do with "Freeware", although most Free Software is available for no charge. "Freeware" also has the advantage of being readily understood. I think it's fine as a tag. Commented Apr 13, 2011 at 17:05
  • I think 'foss' is the best compromise.
    – user131
    Commented Apr 15, 2011 at 8:17
  • yes, I know this. I was just commenting on previous incorrect usage of the tag 'free-software' to describe freeware.
    – TZHX
    Commented Apr 15, 2011 at 22:54
  1. open source = give away the source
  2. free-software = don't have to pay to use it (but don't necessarily get the source)
  3. foss = free software with source (ie. 1 + 2)
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    fine, but make sure this is in the tag wiki for each tag so people have that guidance when tagging their questions! see programmers.stackexchange.com/tags/open-source/info et al Commented Apr 12, 2011 at 5:13
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    "free software" == free as in free speech, not as in free beer. mmm... free beer.
    – TZHX
    Commented Apr 12, 2011 at 7:40
  • 4
    "Free Software" and "Open Source" have meanings defined by the Free Software Foundation and the Open Source Initiative respectively. Those aren't the only possible meanings, but defining them as something else on a programming site will only cause confusion. Putting confusing definitions on the tag wiki is worse than writing bad code and trying to fix it with comments. Commented Apr 12, 2011 at 14:14

The distinction between Open Source and Free Software is an important one. You start to split hairs pretty soon after that though.

Perhaps we need 'Libre' and 'FLOSS' as categories as well. :-)

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