See this post on area51.

To some people, there is an important distinction between Free Software and Open Source Software, at a philosophical level. I'm not really interested in having that fight myself, but it's actually particularly for that reason that I think we should choose a name that doesn't implicitly take a side.

I'd like the site to have a tagline or other clarifying element indicating that the name isn't a statement in that debate and that the site is open to free, libre, open source software (and hardware) no matter what it's called.

For a comparable example, see Unix & Linux Stack Exchange, at https://unix.stackexchange.com/.

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    I'd like [floss.se] to work for a shortcut. Much shorter to type.
    – derobert
    Commented Jun 23, 2015 at 18:37
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    See also the discussion in the Area 51 proposal about this. Commented Jun 24, 2015 at 0:50
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    Now that there are opposing answers, votes on the answers can indicate people's preferences, and there will be no reason to downvote the question. My answer opposes your suggestion but I've upvoted the question because it is important to ask it. Commented Jun 24, 2015 at 1:00
  • @trichoplax Thanks!
    – mattdm
    Commented Jun 24, 2015 at 1:01
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    @trichoplax But just so everyone is clear, meta rules over area 51.
    – Zizouz212
    Commented Jun 24, 2015 at 14:46
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    @Zizouz212 definitely - thanks for emphasising that. I only linked to Area 51 so people can review the information that has already been presented in case it's relevant - it's what people write and vote on in meta that counts. Commented Jun 24, 2015 at 16:28
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    status-completed - the help center on-topic page clarifies.
    – ArtOfCode
    Commented Aug 16, 2015 at 12:32

6 Answers 6


This site is not solely about software.

I'm rather partisan of keeping it simple. Definitely keep “Open Source” as the site name. Mention somewhere in the description that this includes all free/libre/whatever-you-want-to-call-it software. And explicitly declare debates about terminology off-topic and have moderators kill them in the bud.

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    But this is about the description, not necessarily the title.
    – Zizouz212
    Commented Jun 24, 2015 at 1:55

Just so that there is some history here (cause everyone loves history, right!)

The term "free software" is older, and is reflected in the name of the Free Software Foundation (FSF), an organization founded in 1985 to protect and promote free software. The term "open source" was coined in 1998 by a group of people — the founders of the Open Source Initiative (OSI) — who also supported the development and distribution of free software, but who disagreed with the FSF about how to promote it, and who felt that software freedom was primarily a practical matter rather than an ideological one (see for example the entry "How is open source' related to free software'?" from the OSI's original 1998 FAQ page).

Following the coining of the term "open source", some of those who adopted it did so because they too had philosophical differences with the FSF about the reasons why to promote such software, while others who adopted the term did so because of differences of opinion with the FSF about tactically how to support such software, even while sharing an ideological motivation. These two groups can and do overlap, of course, and some people use both terms, choosing according to context and audience.

We should have a mention for this, because Free Software is pretty much open source. If people feel that this is a place to learn about how to find the next Free Photoshop, then we'll kick them out. We have resources available to make the message clear (help centre, tour page...) and having noticed many amazing community members active here as well as on other sites, we shouldn't have a problem policing the others who just don't seem to listen.

  • Open Source is more than just Free Software. Wouldn't noting this specific term unnecessary limit the scope of the site?
    – Mast
    Commented Jun 24, 2015 at 8:30
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    Not necessarily. But Free Software is like Open Source's parent. So we really should have a mention, but for other things to include, we should probably discuss that in a separate post. :D
    – Zizouz212
    Commented Jun 24, 2015 at 13:28
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    For those of us who share the FSF's creed, free software is not "pretty much open source". I understand and respect those who think that this is two sides of the same coin. But to me, the differences between the two in terms politics and philosophy far outweighs the practical similarities, Commented Aug 5, 2015 at 13:37
  • @FreeRadical I appreciate the concern, but we will not allow political debates on the site, no matter how fun-filled they may be. I raised this so that people could know the origins, and as such, make a well-informed decision
    – Zizouz212
    Commented Aug 10, 2015 at 16:10

Free software is the beginning of discussing the phenomenon as a concept (free software/open source software was existing before but wasn't noticed as such). The term open source was coined later and while it has many merits, free software does to. Mentioning it would not only acknowledging the heritage, it would also clearing up confusion of users, that may see a difference between the terms. So I think we should include it in the description.


Free/Libre Software and Open Source software are two groups which overlap rather a lot, but not entirely.

  • Any software licensed under the NASA Open Source Agreement is Open Source, but not Free.

  • The WTFPL and the CeCILL License v2 are approved by the Free Software Foundation, but not approved of by the OSI.

    • This lack of approval doesn't necessarily mean they're non-Open. The OSI doesn't like the WTFPL because it is "redundant": there are other licenses with the same effect. By my reading, that makes the WTFPL an Open Source licence which the OSI does not recommend you use. They don't like CeCILL because it has "unclear terms"; the FSF, by contrast, say that CeCILL is compatible with the GNU GPL, which the OSI do approve of.

So far, "Free & Open Source Software" looks like a decent name. However, this site is not only about software. Non-software creative works are also on topic. Creative works under Free/Open licenses are often known as "Open Content".

Free & Open Source Software and Open Content

Bit of a mouthful, isn't it?

I'm not sure there's a good answer here.

While in practical terms Free Software and Open Source software are almost the same thing (it's difficult, but not impossible, to find programs which fall into one camp but not the other), there are very strong philosophical differences. And that's a good reason to mention both, and not give one priority over the other (if possible).


I think we should definitely have "free" as well as "open" in the title and/or the description, and ideally also "libre".

This site is not about free/libre/open software and not about free/libre/open content. It’s about free/libre/open licenses and licensing, and maybe to some extent even the free/libre/open culture.

But the kind of work (software, music, poems, movies, …) and its quality (i.e., the actual content) only matter as far as the licensing is concerned. The lowest common denominator for all our questions is the license, which has to be free/libre/open. So why not put this in the title (or at least in the description)?

For example:

  • Free/libre/open licensing
  • Free/libre/open licenses
  • Free/open licensing
  • Free/open licenses
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    This makes a lot of sense. Adding libre to it should eliminate most of the confusions by people that others fear.
    – Zizouz212
    Commented Jun 25, 2015 at 11:15
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    This site is (and should be) about more than licensing.
    – RubberDuck
    Commented Aug 9, 2015 at 12:01

Software provided free of charge should not be on topic if its source is not available.

Software that is free in that it "gives users the freedom to run the software for any purpose as well as to study, modify, and distribute the original software and the adapted versions" should be on topic.

However, I'm not in favour of using the word "free" in the site description unless this distinction can be made very clear. Not everyone finding the site will happen to know this distinction, and we don't want to attract a lot of questions about software that happens to have no cost (or questions about versions of proprietary software that people have managed to obtain at no cost).

Finding a wording that happens to technically make the distinction clear won't necessarily avoid attracting questions from people who only read the word, rather than the sentence. We are going to have off topic questions no matter what we do, but I don't want a site description that makes this worse than it needs to be. I don't believe omitting the word "free" from the site description will prevent people with relevant questions from finding the site.

Anyone who knows what free software means will also know what open source software means. My guess is that the only people who will be put off using the site by the absence of the word "free" in the description are people who are looking for an argument rather than looking to ask a question. I would expect everyone who has an on topic question to find our site without the need for labeling it free.

As mattdm mentions in the comments, the help/on topic page should include clarification that free/libre software is on topic - that page is long enough to have a full and clear description of what is meant by free. People who click through to the on topic page are people who read carefully first. People who ask straight from the description page includes both people who read carefully and people who don't, so I don't want "free" to be presented in such a short format to those people who don't read carefully.

  • I can respect this view, as long as we have something in the site description as @Gilles mentioned.
    – mattdm
    Commented Jun 24, 2015 at 1:01
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    I'm specifically suggesting we don't include the word "free" in the site description either. Commented Jun 24, 2015 at 1:02
  • let me rephrase....
    – mattdm
    Commented Jun 24, 2015 at 1:02
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    It doesn't necessarily need to be in the banner, although I do think it should be in opensource.stackexchange.com/help/on-topic.
    – mattdm
    Commented Jun 24, 2015 at 1:03
  • I do think we need it to be clear that free software questions have just as much place here as any other, I just think putting it in the description will attract more cost-related off topic questions than necessary Commented Jun 24, 2015 at 1:03
  • @mattdm yes I definitely agree with that Commented Jun 24, 2015 at 1:04
  • The on topic page is long enough for a proper description of the meaning of free so it's clear to everyone, not just people already familiar. The site description just doesn't have room to avoid ambiguity. Commented Jun 24, 2015 at 1:05
  • I'd like to try putting it in the site description and banner, and have a custom Close reason for free-as-in-cost-only. My guess is that it'd just be a minor annoyance.
    – mattdm
    Commented Jun 24, 2015 at 1:09
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    "Open source" has a similar problem, in that some people mistake it to mean anything where source code is available — or worse, I've seen it used too frequently to mean anything that's available via web searches — data that can be sourced in the open. There's ambiguity in any short phrase that isn't complete jargon ("FLOSS"), but context helps.
    – mattdm
    Commented Jun 24, 2015 at 1:09
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    I don't really know what's best - I'm just adding answers so we can see what the community votes for... I guess we succeed by making lots of decisions and then changing the ones that we need to later. Commented Jun 24, 2015 at 1:15
  • I agree with people who thinks that "free" should be mentioned, and that there are very effective tools available to make it clear what is this all about and filter the questions off topic. As side note, and someone mentioned before this is not about software only, there is also free/open hardware which I haven't seen questions about yet, but I expect. @mattdm reference about U&L is a good one, can be aplied here.
    – E. Celis
    Commented Jun 24, 2015 at 3:53
  • @ecelis Perhaps this? opensource.stackexchange.com/questions/142/…
    – Zizouz212
    Commented Jun 24, 2015 at 14:15

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