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In The Public Eye

The term "free software" has caused a lot of confusion in the software marketplace. Free software is, as I've said, not necessarily free of charge, but is free of restrictions placed on the use and distribution of the software. But despite tons of articles on the subject, many people still confuse free software with public domain software, one reason the term Open Source software has come into vogue.

Public domain software is owned by the general public. Its copyright is in the public domain, and therefore, anyone has the right to copy the software and use it as they wish. In that sense, public domain software is similar to Open Source software. The two concepts are similar also in that anyone may collect public domain software and sell it, for example, on a CD-ROM. However, public domain software doesn't always come with source code.

Unlike public domain software, Open Source software is usually copyrighted by a company or an individual who retains the rights to that software. How that software is distributed, not the issue of ownership, is what gives the software its Open Source status.

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