Free and open-source software
Free and open-source software (FOSS) is software that can be
classified as both free software and open-source software.[a] That is,
anyone is freely licensed to use, copy, study, and change the software
in any way, and the source code is openly shared so that people are
encouraged to voluntarily improve the design of the software. This
is in contrast to proprietary software, where the software is under
restrictive copyright and the source code is usually hidden from the
The benefits of using FOSS can include decreased software costs,
increased security and stability (especially in regard to malware),
protecting privacy, education, and giving users more control over
their own hardware. Free, open-source operating systems such as Linux
and descendants of
BSD are widely utilized today, powering millions of
servers, desktops, smartphones (e.g. Android), and other
Free software licenses and open-source licenses are
used by many software packages. The
Free software movement and the
open-source software movement are online social movements behind
widespread production and adoption of FOSS.
1.1 Free software
1.2 Open source
3.1 Benefits over proprietary software
Privacy and security
3.1.2 Personal control, customizability and freedom
3.1.3 Low costs or no costs
3.1.4 Quality, collaboration and efficiency
3.2 Drawbacks to proprietary software
3.2.1 Security and user-support
3.2.2 Hardware and software compatibility
3.2.3 Bugs and missing features
3.2.4 Less guarantees of development
3.2.5 Missing applications
3.2.6 Technical skills and user-friendliness
3.3 Adoption by governments
3.4 Adoption by supranational unions and international organizations
5 Issues and incidents
5.1 GPLv3 controversy
5.2 Skewed prioritization, ineffectiveness and egoism of developers
5.3 Commercial ownership of open-source software
5.4 Legal cases
5.4.1 Oracle v. Google
6 As part/driver of a new socioeconomic model
6.1 Benkler's new economy
7 See also
10 Further reading
Further information: Alternative terms for free software
Free and open source software is an umbrella term for software that is
free and open source software. Free and open source software allows
the user to inspect the source code and provides a high level of
control of the software's functions compared to proprietary software.
According to the Free
Software Foundation, "Nearly all open source
software is free software. The two terms describe almost the same
category of software, but they stand for views based on fundamentally
different values." Thus, the
Open Source Initiative
Open Source Initiative considers many
free software licenses to also be open-source. These include the
latest versions of the FSF's three main licenses: the GPL, the Lesser
General Public License (LGPL), and the GNU Affero General Public
License (AGPL). Thus, terminology of free and open source software
is intended to be neutral on these philosophical disagreements.
There are a number of related terms and abbreviations for free and
open source software (FOSS or F/OSS) or free/libre and open source
Richard Stallman's Free
Software Definition, adopted by the Free
Software Foundation (FSF), defines free software as a matter of
liberty, not price. The earliest known publication of the
definition of his free software idea was in the February 1986
edition of the FSF's now-discontinued GNU's Bulletin publication.
The canonical source for the document is in the philosophy section of
GNU Project website. As of August 2017, it is published there in
Open Source Definition is used by the
Open Source Initiative
Open Source Initiative to
determine whether a software license qualifies for the organization's
insignia for open-source software. The definition was based on the
Software Guidelines, written and adapted primarily by
Bruce Perens. Perens did not base his writing on the four
freedoms of free software from the Free
Software Foundation, which
were only later available on the web. Perens subsequently stated
that he felt Eric Raymond's promotion of open source unfairly
overshadowed the Free
Software Foundation's efforts and reaffirmed his
support for free software. In the following 2000s he spoke about
Open source again.
Main article: History of free and open-source software
This section appears to contradict the article History of free and
open-source software. Please see discussion on the linked talk page.
(June 2015) (Learn how and when to remove this template message)
In the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s to 1980s, it was common for computer
users to have the source code for all programs they used, and the
permission and ability to modify it for their own use. Software,
including source code, was commonly shared by individuals who used
computers, often as public domain software. Most companies had a
business model based on hardware sales, and provided or bundled
software with hardware, free of charge. Organizations of users and
suppliers were formed to facilitate the exchange of software; see, for
example, SHARE and DECUS.
By the late 1960s, the prevailing business model around software was
changing. A growing and evolving software industry was competing with
the hardware manufacturer's bundled software products; rather than
funding software development from hardware revenue, these new
companies were selling software directly. Leased machines required
software support while providing no revenue for software, and some
customers able to better meet their own needs did not want the costs
of software bundled with hardware product costs. In
United States vs.
IBM, filed 17 January 1969, the government charged that bundled
software was anticompetitive. While some software might always be
free, there would be a growing amount of software that was for sale
only. In the 1970s and early 1980s, some parts of the software
industry began using technical measures (such as distributing only
binary copies of computer programs) to prevent computer users from
being able to use reverse engineering techniques to study and
customize software they had paid for. In 1980, the copyright law was
extended to computer programs in the United States—previously,
computer programs could be considered ideas, procedures, methods,
systems, and processes, which are not copyrightable.
Early on, closed-source software was uncommon until the mid-1970s to
the 1980s, when
IBM implemented in 1983 a "object code only" policy
not handing out anymore the source code.
In 1983, Richard Stallman, longtime member of the hacker community at
the MIT Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, announced the GNU project,
saying that he had become frustrated with the effects of the change in
culture of the computer industry and its users. Software
development for the
GNU operating system
GNU operating system began in January 1984, and
Software Foundation (FSF) was founded in October 1985. An
article outlining the project and its goals was published in March
1985 titled the GNU Manifesto. The manifesto included significant
explanation of the GNU philosophy, Free
Software Definition and
Linux kernel, started by Linus Torvalds, was released as freely
modifiable source code in 1991. Initially,
Linux was not released
under a free or open-source software license. However, with version
0.12 in February 1992, he relicensed the project under the GNU General
Public License. Much like Unix, Torvalds' kernel attracted the
attention of volunteer programmers.
BSD and Net
BSD (both derived from 386BSD) were released as free
software when the
USL v. BSDi lawsuit was settled out of court in
BSD forked from Net
BSD in 1995. Also in 1995, The Apache
HTTP Server, commonly referred to as Apache, was released under the
Apache License 1.0.
In 1997, Eric Raymond published The Cathedral and the Bazaar, a
reflective analysis of the hacker community and free software
principles. The paper received significant attention in early 1998,
and was one factor in motivating Netscape Communications Corporation
to release their popular
Netscape Communicator Internet suite as free
software. This code is today better known as Mozilla
Netscape's act prompted Raymond and others to look into how to bring
the FSF's free software ideas and perceived benefits to the commercial
software industry. They concluded that FSF's social activism was not
appealing to companies like Netscape, and looked for a way to rebrand
the free software movement to emphasize the business potential of
sharing and collaborating on software source code. The new name they
chose was "open source", and quickly Bruce Perens, publisher Tim
O'Reilly, Linus Torvalds, and others signed on to the rebranding. The
Open Source Initiative
Open Source Initiative was founded in February 1998 to encourage use
of the new term and evangelize open-source principles.
Open Source Initiative
Open Source Initiative sought to encourage the use of the
new term and evangelize the principles it adhered to, commercial
software vendors found themselves increasingly threatened by the
concept of freely distributed software and universal access to an
application's source code. A
Microsoft executive publicly stated in
2001 that "open source is an intellectual property destroyer. I can't
imagine something that could be worse than this for the software
business and the intellectual-property business." This view
perfectly summarizes the initial response to FOSS by some software
corporations. However, while FOSS has historically
played a role outside of the mainstream of private software
development, companies as large as
Microsoft have begun to develop
official open-source presences on the Internet. IBM, Oracle, Google
and State Farm are just a few of the companies with a serious public
stake in today's competitive open-source market. There has been a
significant shift in the corporate philosophy concerning the
development of free and open-source software (FOSS).
Free software § Adoption, and
Open-source software § Adoption
Benefits over proprietary software
Privacy and security
Open-source software security, Surveillance capitalism,
Global surveillance disclosures (2013–present), and
Manufacturers of proprietary, closed-source software are sometimes
pressured to building in backdoors or other covert, undesired features
into their software. Instead of having to trust
software vendors users of FOSS can inspect and verify the source code
themselves and can put trust on a community of volunteers and
users. As proprietary code is typically hidden from public view,
only the vendors themselves and hackers may be aware of any
vulnerabilities in them while FOSS involves as many people as
possible for exposing bugs quickly.
Personal control, customizability and freedom
See also: Vendor lock-in
Users of FOSS benefit from the freedoms to making unrestricted use,
study, copy, modify, and redistribute such software. If they would
like to change the functionality of software they can bring about
changes to the code and, if they wish, distribute such modified
versions of the software or often − depending on the software's
decision making model and its other users − even push or request
such changes to be made via updates to the original
Low costs or no costs
FOSS is often free of charge although donations are often encouraged.
This also allows users to better test and compare software.
Quality, collaboration and efficiency
See also: § Bugs and missing features
FOSS allows for better collaboration among various parties and
individuals with the goal of developing the most efficient software
for its users or use-cases while proprietary software is typically
meant to generate profits. Furthermore, in many cases more
organizations and individuals contribute to such projects than to
proprietary software. It has been shown that technical superiority
is typically the primary reason why companies choose open source
software. Companies might build in artificial barriers,
inefficiencies or undesired functionality to increase monetary return.
Drawbacks to proprietary software
Security and user-support
See also: Common good, Public participation, and Proactive cyber
defence § Measures
Linus's Law the more people who can see and test a set of
code, the more likely any flaws will be caught and fixed quickly.
However, this does not guarantee a high level of participation. Having
a grouping of full-time professionals behind a commercial product can
in some cases be superior to FOSS. There also can be
undesired functionality be built intentionally into FOSS and not get
detected or fixed − e.g. due to no or few users checking the source
code, changes to the software getting denied or the source code being
Furthermore, publicized source code might make it easier for hackers
to find vulnerabilities in it and write exploits. This however assumes
that such malicious hackers are more effective than white hat hackers
which responsibly disclose or help fix the vulnerabilities, that no
code leaks or exfiltrations occur and that reverse engineering of
proprietary code is a hindrance of significance for malicious
In general it can be found that FOSS is more secure and has good
user-support with some exceptions of specific − especially niche or
obsolete − software solutions.
Hardware and software compatibility
Software incompatibility and System requirements
Often FOSS is not compatible with proprietary hardware or specific
software. This is often due to manufacturers obstructing FOSS such as
by not disclosing the interfaces or other specifications needed for
members of the FOSS movement to write drivers for their hardware −
for instance as they wish customers to run only their own proprietary
software or as they might benefit from
Bugs and missing features
See also: § Quality, collaboration and efficiency
While FOSS can be superior to proprietary equivalents in terms of
software features and stability, in many cases FOSS has more unfixed
bugs and missing features when compared to similar commercial
software.[additional citation(s) needed] This varies per case and
usually depends on the level of interest and participation in a FOSS
project. Furthermore, unlike with typical commercial software missing
features and bugfixes can be implemented by any party that has the
relevant motivation, time and skill to do so.[additional
Less guarantees of development
There is often less certainty in FOSS projects gaining the required
resources / participation for continued development than commercial
software backed by companies.[additional citation(s) needed]
However companies also often abolish projects for being unprofitable
and often large companies rely on and hence co-develop open source
As the FOSS operating system distributions of GNU/
Linux has a lower
market share of end users there are also fewer applications
Technical skills and user-friendliness
Linux may require more effort or technical knowledge to set up and
maintain. As many GNU/
Linux users make extensive use of the
command-line many applications lack user-friendliness such as a GUI.
Adoption by governments
Main article: Adoption of free and open-source software by public
See also: Sovereignty, National security, Cyber emergency response
team, and Global public good
This list is incomplete; you can help by expanding it.
In 2006, the Brazilian government has simultaneously encouraged the
distribution of cheap computers running
Linux throughout its poorer
communities by subsidizing their purchase with tax breaks.
In April 2008,
Ecuador passed a similar law, Decree 1014, designed
to migrate the public sector to Libre Software.
In March 2009, the French Gendarmerie Nationale announced it will
totally switch to Ubuntu by 2015. The Gendarmerie began its transition
to open source software in 2005 when it replaced
Microsoft Office with
OpenOffice.org across the entire organization. In September 2012,
the French Prime Minister laid down a set of action-oriented
recommendations about using open-source in the French public
administration. These recommendations are published in a document
based on the works of an inter-ministerial group of experts. This
document stops some orientations like establishing an actual
convergence on open-source stubs, activating a network of expertise
about converging stubs, improving the support of open-source software,
contributing to selected stubs, following the big communities,
spreading alternatives to the main commercial solutions, tracing the
use of open-source and its effects, developing the culture of use of
the open-source licenses in the developments of public information
systems. One of the aim of this experts groups is also to establish
lists of recommended open-source software to use in the French public
In the German City of Munich, conversion of 15,000 PCs and laptops
Microsoft Windows-based operating systems to a Debian-based Linux
LiMux spanned the ten years of 2003 to 2013. After
successful completion of the project, more than 80% of all computers
were running Linux. On November 13, 2017
The Register reported
that Munich is planning to revert to Windows 10 by 2020.
The Government of Kerala, India, announced its official support for
free/open-source software in its State IT Policy of 2001,[discuss]
which was formulated after the first-ever free software conference in
India, Freedom First!, held in July 2001 in Trivandrum, the capital of
Kerala. In 2009, Government of
Kerala started the International Centre
for Free and Open Source
Software (ICFOSS). In March 2015 the
Indian government announced a policy on adoption of open source
The Italian military is transitioning to LibreOffice and the Open
Document Format (ODF). The Ministry of Defence will over the next
year-and-a-half install this suite of office productivity tools on
some 150,000 PC workstations - making it Europe’s second largest
LibreOffice implementation. The switch was announced on September 15,
2015, by the LibreItalia Association. By June 23, 2016, 6 thousand
stations have been migrated. E-learning military platform.
In January 2010, the Government of
Jordan announced a partnership with
Ingres Corporation (now named Actian), an open source database
management company based in the United States, to promote open-source
software use, starting with university systems in Jordan.
Malaysia launched the "Malaysian Public Sector Open Source Software
Program", saving millions on proprietary software licenses until
In 2005 the Government of
Peru voted to adopt open source across all
its bodies. The 2002 response to Microsoft's critique is available
online. In the preamble to the bill, the Peruvian government stressed
that the choice was made to ensure that key pillars of democracy were
safeguarded: "The basic principles which inspire the Bill are linked
to the basic guarantees of a state of law."
In September 2014, the
Authority (NITA-U) announced a call for feedback on an Open Source
Strategy & Policy at a workshop in conjunction with the ICT
In February 2009, the
White House moved its website to
Linux servers using
Drupal for content management. In August 2016,
United States government announced a new federal source code
policy which mandates that at least 20% of custom source code
developed by or for any agency of the federal government be released
as open-source software (OSS). In addition, the policy requires
that all source code be shared between agencies. The public release is
under a three-year pilot program and agencies are obliged to collect
data on this pilot to gauge its performance. The overall policy aims
to reduce duplication, avoid vendor 'lock-in', and stimulate
collaborative development. A new website code.gov provides "an online
collection of tools, best practices, and schemas to help agencies
implement this policy", the policy announcement stated. It also
provides the "primary discoverability portal for custom-developed
software intended both for Government-wide reuse and for release as
OSS". As yet unspecified OSS licenses will be added to the
In 2004, a law in
Venezuela (Decree 3390) went into effect, mandating
a two-year transition to open source in all public agencies. As of
June 2009[update], the transition was still under way.[needs
Adoption by supranational unions and international organizations
"We migrated key functions from Windows to
Linux because we needed an
operating system that was stable and reliable -- one that would give
us in-house control. So if we needed to patch, adjust, or adapt, we
Official statement of the United Space Alliance, which manages the
computer systems for the
International Space Station
International Space Station (ISS), regarding
why they chose to switch from Windows to
Linux on the ISS.
In 2017, the
European Commission stated that "EU institutions should
become open source software users themselves, even more than they
already are" and listed open source software as one of the nine key
drivers of innovation, together with big data, mobility, cloud
computing and the internet of things.
This section is empty. You can help by adding to it. (July 2017)
Issues and incidents
This section provides insufficient context for those unfamiliar with
the subject. Please help improve the article with a good introductory
style. (February 2017) (Learn how and when to remove this template
While copyright is the primary legal mechanism that FOSS authors use
to ensure license compliance for their software, other mechanisms such
as legislation, patents, and trademarks have implications as well. In
response to legal issues with patents and the Digital Millennium
Copyright Act (DMCA), the Free
Software Foundation released version 3
of its GNU Public License in 2007 that explicitly addressed the DMCA
and patent rights.
After the development of the
GNU GPLv3 in 2007, the FSF (as copyright
holder of many pieces of the GNU system) updated many
of the GNU programs' licenses from GPLv2 to GPLv3. On the other hand,
the adoption of the new GPL version was heavily discussed in the FOSS
ecosystem, several projects decided against upgrading. For
instance the linux kernel, the BusyBox project,
AdvFS, Blender, and as also the
VLC media player
VLC media player decided
against adopting the GPLv3.
Apple, a user of GCC and a heavy user of both DRM and patents,
switched the compiler in its
Xcode IDE from GCC to Clang, which is
another FOSS compiler but is under a permissive license. LWN
speculated that Apple was motivated partly by a desire to avoid
GPLv3. The Samba project also switched to GPLv3, so Apple replaced
Samba in their software suite by a closed-source, proprietary software
Skewed prioritization, ineffectiveness and egoism of developers
See also: Issue tracking system
Leemhuis criticizes the prioritization of skilled developers who −
instead of fixing issues in popular applications and desktop
environments − create new, mostly redundant software to gain fame
He also criticizes notebook manufacturers for optimizing their own
products only privately or creating workarounds instead of helping fix
the actual causes of the many issues with GNU/
Linux on notebooks such
as the unnecessary power consumption.
Commercial ownership of open-source software
Mergers have affected major open-source software. Sun Microsystems
MySQL AB, owner of the popular open-source MySQL
database, in 2008.
Oracle in turn purchased Sun in January, 2010, acquiring their
copyrights, patents, and trademarks. Thus, Oracle became the owner of
both the most popular proprietary database and the most popular
open-source database. Oracle's attempts to commercialize the
MySQL database have raised concerns in the FOSS
community. Partly in response to uncertainty about the future of
MySQL, the FOSS community forked the project into new database systems
outside of Oracle's control. These include MariaDB, Percona, and
Drizzle. All of these have distinct names; they are distinct
projects and can not use the trademarked name MySQL.
Oracle v. Google
In August, 2010, Oracle sued Google, claiming that its use of Java in
Android infringed on Oracle's copyrights and patents. The Oracle v.
Google case ended in May 2012, with the finding that
Google did not
infringe on Oracle's patents, and the trial judge ruled that the
structure of the Java APIs used by
Google was not copyrightable. The
jury found that
Google infringed a small number of copied files, but
the parties stipulated that
Google would pay no damages. Oracle
appealed to the Federal Circuit, and
Google filed a cross-appeal on
the literal copying claim. Oracle won the appeal, but
a subsequent retrial in 2016.
As part/driver of a new socioeconomic model
See also: The Zeitgeist Movement, Open content, Open science,
Collaboration, Open Source Ecology, Open manufacturing, Sharing
economy, and Post-scarcity economy
By defying ownership regulations in the construction and use of
information − a key area of contemporary growth − the Free/Open
Software (FOSS) movement counters neoliberalism and
privatization in general.
By realizing the historical potential of an "economy of abundance" for
the new digital world FOSS may lay down a plan for political
resistance or show the way towards a potential transformation of
Benkler's new economy
According to Yochai Benkler, Jack N. and Lillian R. Berkman Professor
for Entrepreneurial Legal Studies at Harvard Law School, free software
is the most visible part of a new economy of commons-based peer
production of information, knowledge, and culture. As examples, he
cites a variety of FOSS projects, including both free software and
This new economy is already under development. To commercialize FOSS,
many companies move towards advertisement-supported software. In such
a model, the only way to increase revenue is to make the advertisement
Facebook was criticized in 2011 for using novel methods
of tracking users to accomplish this.
This new economy has alternatives. Apple's App Stores have proven very
popular with both users and developers. The Free
considers Apple's App Stores to be incompatible with its GPL and
complained that Apple was infringing on the GPL with its iTunes terms
of use. Rather than change those terms to comply with the GPL, Apple
removed the GPL-licensed products from its App Stores.
Free software community
Free software license
Graphics hardware and FOSS
List of free and open source software packages
List of formerly proprietary software
Outline of free software
^ FOSS is an inclusive term that covers both free software and
open-source software, which despite describing similar development
models, have differing cultures and philosophies. Free refers to
the users' freedom to copy and re-use the software. The Free Software
Foundation, an organization that advocates the free software model,
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Definition". GNU.org. Retrieved 4 February 2010. ) Free software
focuses on the fundamental freedoms it gives to users, whereas open
source software focuses on the perceived strengths of its peer-to-peer
development model. FOSS is a term that can be used without
particular bias towards either political approach.
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^ Vaughan-Nichols 2009.
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^ (in Spanish)
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to move from GPL v2 to GPL v3 is being hotly debated by many open
source projects. According to Palamida, a provider of IP compliance
software, there have been roughly 2489 open source projects that have
moved from GPL v2 to later versions.
^ Torvalds, Linus. "COPYING". kernel.org. Retrieved 13 August 2013.
Also note that the only valid version of the GPL as far as the kernel
is concerned is _this_ particular version of the license (ie v2, not
v2.2 or v3.x or whatever), unless explicitly otherwise stated.
^ Kerner, Sean Michael (2008-01-08). "Torvalds Still Keen On GPLv2".
internetnews.com. Retrieved 2015-02-12. "In some ways,
Linux was the
project that really made the split clear between what the FSF is
pushing which is very different from what open source and
always been about, which is more of a technical superiority instead of
a -- this religious belief in freedom," Torvalds told Zemlin. So, the
GPL Version 3 reflects the FSF's goals and the GPL Version 2 pretty
closely matches what I think a license should do and so right now,
Version 2 is where the kernel is."
^ corbet (2006-10-01). "Busy busy busybox". lwn.net. Retrieved
BusyBox can be found in so many embedded systems, it
finds itself at the core of the GPLv3 anti-DRM debate. [...]The real
outcomes, however, are this:
BusyBox will be GPLv2 only starting with
the next release. It is generally accepted that stripping out the "or
any later version" is legally defensible, and that the merging of
other GPLv2-only code will force that issue in any case
^ Landley, Rob (2006-09-09). "Re: Move GPLv2 vs v3 fun..." lwn.net.
Retrieved 2015-11-21. Don't invent a straw man argument please. I
BusyBox under GPLv3 to be useless, unnecessary,
overcomplicated, and confusing, and in addition to that it has actual
downsides. 1) Useless: We're never dropping GPLv2.
^ Press release concerning the release of the
AdvFS source code
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VLC media player
VLC media player to remain under GNU GPL
version 2". videolan.org. Retrieved 2015-11-21. In 2001, VLC was
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release by the Free
Software Foundation (FSF) of the new version 3 of
GNU General Public License
GNU General Public License (GPL) on the 29th of June 2007,
contributors to the VLC media player, and other software projects
hosted at videolan.org, debated the possibility of updating the
licensing terms for future version of the
VLC media player
VLC media player and other
hosted projects, to version 3 of the GPL. [...] There is strong
concern that these new additional requirements might not match the
industrial and economic reality of our time, especially in the market
of consumer electronics. It is our belief that changing our licensing
GPL version 3
GPL version 3 would currently not be in the best interest of
our community as a whole. Consequently, we plan to keep distributing
future versions of
VLC media player
VLC media player under the terms of the GPL version
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Wikibooks has a book on the topic of: FLOSS Concept Booklet
Wikibooks has a book on the topic of: FOSS A General Introduction
Free and open-source software
Alternative terms for free software
Comparison of open-source and closed-source software
Comparison of source code hosting facilities
Free software project directories
Gratis versus libre
Open-source software development
Content management systems
Free software movement
Open-source software movement
Software Foundation License
Comparison of free and open-source software licenses
Contributor License Agreement
Definition of Free Cultural Works
The Open Source Definition
Permissive software licence
Digital rights management
Mozilla software rebranding
The Cathedral and the Bazaar
Microsoft Open Specification Promise
Free culture and
Open source movements
Commons-based peer production
Gratis versus libre
Social peer-to-peer processes
Research and Science
Open notebook science
Open-door academic policy
Free and open-source software
Free and open-source software - FOSS
Open source hardware
Politics and Governance
Open Architecture Network
Open Rights Group
Open Source Initiative
Open Web Foundation
Free culture movement
Free software movement
Open Source Ecology
Open-source software movement
Free Cultural Works
Open Educational Resources
Open Music Model
Open Web movement