[conspire] What's wrong with "FLOSS" (was: Penguin Day - Demysitify FLOSS for Nonprofits)

Rick Moen rick at linuxmafia.com
Fri Apr 15 11:10:49 PDT 2005

Quoting my off-list mail to Katrin:

> It may be just me -- and no offence intended by my being blunt in
> this way -- but the term "FLOSS enthusiasts" (and "FLOSS" generally)
> connotes lightweight to me.  Real free software / open-source people
> seldom use that cutesy acronym.  They just don't.

First, I want to hasten to say that the furthest thing from my mind was
to _call_ anyone a lightweight.  (Not that being a lightweight is bad.  ;->) 
I was just being really blunt and up-front, because they asked me for my
honest assessment.

But it _wasn't_ my main point, anway.  My principal point is that it's a
really, REALLY _bad_, poorly choice term for explaining the concept of
open source to the uninitiated.  Please let me elaborate:

For about thirteen years, we had nothing but the term "free software"
for the concept.  That's fine for "preaching to the converted", i.e.,
talking to people who already get the concept, and who aren't going to
stumble over the English language's notorious confusion betwen
free=libre and free=gratis.  But it was an awful, abysmal failure as a
communication tool to reach the broader public.  

And don't tell me it wasn't, please.  I was there, and respect the GNU
Project more than most people alive, but it was a marketing disaster on
an epic scale.

So, around 1997, as has been related elsewhere, a bunch of people at a
restaurant in Palo Alto had the bright idea of inventing a new marketing
concept and set of terminology for the _same_ effort:  The licensing,
the code, and all the long-term aims would remain, but we'd try using
the term "open source" for it as a possibly better way to explain the

And it worked.  Suddenly, anyone with even moderate interest in the
concept was able to understand it, and the popularity of "open source" 
(aka free software) started to skyrocket and has kept going.

So, suddenly, out of nowhere over the last year, I started seeing the
term "FLOSS" being used, and I had to wonder why the hell someone would
try to float such a goofy thing.  It's supposed to stand for, what --
"Free, Libre, Open Source Software", right?

OK, _you_ sit down and try to make that make sense to someone without 
an existing interest in the subject.  You've just made your job about
five times harder -- and for what?  You sound like you're talking about
dental hygiene, or have dropped into some sort of impenetrable
acronym-ese like someone trying to sell $1000 toilet seats to the
Pentagon.  "Don't get stuck in the cavities of proprietary software; use

And it hadn't dawned on me, until I saw Katrin's mail, what was supposed
to be the big attraction of the term "FLOSS", anyway.  Here it is:  It's
supposed to be good because it's an ideological compromise.  That is, it
placates fans of both the "free software" and "open source" concepts.

That's apparently it.  That's why it's supposed to be good.

WTF?  Has everyone forgotten the _goal_?  The goal is to make this stuff
comprehensible to the public.  The goal is to be understood.  "FLOSS" is
about the most simultaneously goofy-sounding _and_ semantically
impenetrable expression I've heard all year.

The people who adopt it as an "ideological compromise" are throwing away
the lessons of the movement's past marketing disasters.  They are
deciding that avoiding complaints from ideologues is more important than 
the _primary_ goal of getting comprehensible information out to the

Well, it isn't.  Sorry, it's just a dumb idea.  Even dumber, now that I 
understand _why_ many people are using the term.

My opinion; yours for a small fee and disclaimer of reverse-engineering

Cheers,                                      Hardware:  The part you kick.
Rick Moen                                    Software:  The part you boot.
rick at linuxmafia.com

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