Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Free or Open Source?

One of the aspects of technology I'm interested in is FLOSS: Free/Libre/Open Source Software. The Linux operating system is the best-known example of FLOSS. Linux is also the reason why I post photos of penguins in this blog (see here, here, and here); to be more specific, Tux the Linux penguin is the reason. This blog is currently hosted on a Linux server, according to a Netcraft webserver search.

Few people really like the term FLOSS. But some people strongly prefer free software, while others strongly prefer open source software. Yet others point out that the word libre denotes "free as in freedom" while avoiding the ambiguity of the word free, which can stand for "free as in beer." If we put all these terms together, we get FLOSS.

While writing a paper on the links between FLOSS and blogging, it occurred to me to wonder what term tends to be used in the blogosphere to denote FLOSS. As a test of this, I looked at how many blog posts are tagged with each term. So I used Technorati searches for each of the following tags: free; opensource; libre. I've linked each term to a search on it, so that you can click to see the most recent results available.

The results as of the time of this post are as follows. Free: 201 posts from 47 blogs. Opensource: 171 posts from 59 blogs. Libre: 8 posts from 4 blogs. It is difficult to interpret the results for the first of these searches. I expected difficulty due to the ambiguity of free. I didn't expect that most of the listed posts would be in alphabets I don't understand.

If I establish the eligibility conditition that in order for me to count it as referring to FLOSS, a post must clearly refer to software such as Apache, and must do so in a language I understand, then opensource seems to be the blogosphere's tag of choice.

I accept the criticism that this is very rough. I also realize that I may seem biased, since I refer above to Linux, while the free software folks would prefer the term GNU/Linux. So maybe it's worth running searches for the following tags: GNU; Linux; and, finally, FLOSS. The second of these is at the time of this writing one of the most widely-used tags, according to Technorati.

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