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Snippet from Wikipedia: Free software

Free software or libre software is computer software distributed under terms that allow users to run the software for any purpose as well as to study, change, and distribute it and any adapted versions. Free software is a matter of liberty, not price: users—individually or in cooperation with computer programmers—are free to do what they want with their copies of a free software (including profiting from them) regardless of how much is paid to obtain the program. Computer programs are deemed free if they give users (not just the developer) ultimate control over the software and, subsequently, over their devices.

The right to study and modify a computer program entails that source code—the preferred format for making changes—be made available to users of that program. While this is often called "access to source code" or "public availability", the Free Software Foundation recommends against thinking in those terms, because it might give the impression that users have an obligation (as opposed to a right) to give non-users a copy of the program.

Although the term "free software" had already been used loosely in the past, Richard Stallman is credited with tying it to the sense under discussion and starting the free-software movement in 1983, when he launched the GNU Project: a collaborative effort to create a freedom-respecting operating system, and to revive the spirit of cooperation once prevalent among hackers during the early days of computing.

, an operating system composed entirely of free software]] Free software<ref>Also referred to as software libre or libre software. (See

)</ref> is computer software that is distributed along with its source code, and is released under terms that guarantee users the freedom to study, adapt/modify, and distribute the software.<ref>Free Software Movement (</ref><ref name=philo>Philosophy of the GNU Project (</ref><ref name=def>What is free software (</ref><ref>Free Software Free Society: Selected Essays of Richard M. Stallman, 2nd Edition</ref><ref name=“softwarefreedom”/> Free software is often developed cooperatively by volunteer computer programmers as part of an open-source software development project.

Free software differs from proprietary software (such as Microsoft Windows), which to varying degrees does not give the user freedoms to study, modify and share the software, and threatens users with legal penalties if they do not conform to the terms of restrictive software licenses. Proprietary software is usually sold as a binary executable program without access to the source code, which prevents users from modifying and patching it, and results in the user becoming dependent on software companies (vendor lock-in) to provide updates and support. Free software is also distinct from freeware, which does not require payment for use, but includes software where the authors or copyright holders of freeware have retained all of the rights to the software, so that it is not necessarily permissible to reverse engineer, modify, or redistribute freeware.<ref name=“Dixon”/><ref name=“Graham”/> Thus, free software is primarily a matter of liberty, not price: users are free to do whatever they want with it – this includes the freedom to redistribute the software free-of-charge, or to sell it (or related services such as support or warranty) for profit.<ref>Selling Free Software (</ref>

The term “free software” was coined in 1985 by Richard Stallman, during the founding of the GNU project (a collaborative effort to create a freedom-respecting operating system) and the Free Software Foundation (FSF). The FSF's Free Software Definition<ref name=def /> states that users of free software are “free” because they do not need to ask for any permission; and they are not restricted in activities through restrictive proprietary licenses (e.g. copy-restriction), or requirements of having to agree to restrictive terms of others (e.g. non-disclosure agreements), and they are not already restricted from the outset (e.g. through deliberate non-availability of source code).<ref name=“initial-announcement”/>


, founder of the Free Software Movement]] From the 1950s up until the early 1970s, it was normal for computer users to have the software freedoms associated with free software. Software was commonly shared by individuals who used computers and by hardware manufacturers who welcomed the fact that people were making software that made their hardware useful. Organizations of users and suppliers, for example, SHARE, were formed to facilitate exchange of software. By the early 1970s, the picture changed: software costs were dramatically increasing, a growing software industry was competing with the hardware manufacturer's bundled software products (free in that the cost was included in the hardware cost), 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 “free” software bundled with hardware product costs. In United States vs. IBM, filed January 17, 1969, the government charged that bundled software was anticompetitive.<ref name=“Fisher”/> 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, the software industry began using technical measures (such as only distributing binary copies of computer programs) to prevent computer users from being able to study and modify software. In 1980 copyright law was extended to computer programs. 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 began in January 1984, and the Free Software Foundation (FSF) was founded in October 1985. He developed a free software definition and the concept of “copyleft”, designed to ensure software freedom for all. Some non-software industries are beginning to use techniques similar to those used in free software development for their research and development process; scientists, for example, are looking towards more open development processes, and hardware such as microchips are beginning to be developed with specifications released under copyleft licenses (see the OpenCores project, for instance). Creative Commons and the free culture movement have also been largely influenced by the free software movement. In the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, it was far more common for computer users to have the freedoms that are provided by free software. Software, including source code, was commonly shared by individuals who used computers. Most companies had a business model based on hardware sales, and provided or bundled the software free of charge.<ref>

}}</ref> 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.<ref>

</ref> 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 only distributing 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 (Pub. L. No. 96-517, 94 Stat. 3015, 3028) was extended to computer programs in the United States.<ref>Computer Software 1980 Copyright Act, Pub. L. No. 96-517, 94 Stat. 3015, 3028.</ref>

1980s: Foundation of the GNU project

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.<ref>William 2002</ref> Software development for the GNU operating system began in January 1984, and the Free 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 “copyleft” ideas.

1990s: Release of the Linux kernel

The Linux kernel, started by Linus Torvalds, was released as freely modifiable source code in 1991. The first licence wasn't a free or open-source software licence. However, with version 0.12 in February 1992, he relicensed the project under the GNU General Public License.<ref>

</ref> Much like Unix, Torvalds' kernel attracted the attention of volunteer programmers. FreeBSD and NetBSD (both derived from 386BSD) were released as free software when the USL v. BSDi lawsuit was settled out of court in 1993. OpenBSD forked from NetBSD in 1995. Also in 1995, The Apache HTTP Server, commonly referred to as Apache, was released under the Apache License 1.0. Without a kernel, an operating system doesn't exist. Without programs, a kernel is useless.


The FSF recommends using the term “free software” rather than “open-source software” because, as they state in a paper on Free Software philosophy, the latter term and the associated marketing campaign focuses on the technical issues of software development, avoiding the issue of user freedoms. The FSF also notes that “Open Source” has exactly one specific meaning in common English, namely that “you can look at the source code.” Stallman states that while the term “Free Software” can lead to two different interpretations, one of them is consistent with FSF definition of Free Software so there is at least some chance that it could be understood properly, unlike the term “Open Source”.<ref name=“misses-the-point”/> Stallman has also stated that considering the practical advantages of free software is like considering the practical advantages of not being handcuffed in that it is not necessary for an individual to consider practical reasons in order to realize that being handcuffed restricts their freedom.<ref>

</ref> “Libre” is often used to avoid the ambiguity of the word “free” in English language; see ''Gratis'' versus ''libre''. <!– someone should add a note here explaining how others disagree and that “open source” is better because that is what the licenses have in common. For example the GPL is often cited as free when only the FSF views as “free” not everyone. But everyone agrees that it is open source –>


The first formal definition of free software was published by FSF in February 1986.<ref name=“bull6”/> That definition, written by Richard Stallman, is still maintained today and states that software is free software if people who receive a copy of the software have the following four freedoms.<ref name=“free-sw”/> (The numbering begins with zero since many computer systems use zero-based numbering.)

  • Freedom 0: The freedom to run the program for any purpose.
  • Freedom 1: The freedom to study how the program works, and change it to make it do what you wish.
  • Freedom 2: The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbor.
  • Freedom 3: The freedom to improve the program, and release your improvements (and modified versions in general) to the public, so that the whole community benefits.

Freedoms 1 and 3 require source code to be available because studying and modifying software without its source code can range from highly impractical to nearly impossible.

Thus, free software means that computer users have the freedom to cooperate with whom they choose, and to control the software they use. To summarize this into a remark distinguishing libre (freedom) software from gratis (zero price) software, the Free Software Foundation says: “Free software is a matter of liberty, not price. To understand the concept, you should think of 'free' as in 'free speech', not as in 'free beer

.<ref name=“free-sw”/> See ''Gratis'' versus ''libre''.

In the late 1990s, other groups published their own definitions that describe an almost identical set of software. The most notable are Debian Free Software Guidelines published in 1997,<ref name=“Perens”/> and the Open Source Definition, published in 1998.

The BSD-based operating systems, such as FreeBSD, OpenBSD, and NetBSD, do not have their own formal definitions of free software. Users of these systems generally find the same set of software to be acceptable, but sometimes see copyleft as restrictive. They generally advocate permissive free software licenses, which allow others to use the software as they wish, without being legally forced to provide the source code. Their view is that this permissive approach is more free. The Kerberos, X11, and Apache software licenses are substantially similar in intent and implementation.



(version 7.1, “Wheezy”) with the GNOME desktop environment, Firefox browser, Tor anonymity software, the Gedit text editor, and VLC media player running. Thousands of other free desktop applications are available on the Internet. Users can easily download and install this free software via a simple package manager that comes with most Linux distributions.]]

The Free Software Directory maintains a large database of free software packages. Some of the best-known examples include the Linux Kernel, the BSD and GNU/Linux operating systems, the GNU Compiler Collection and C library; the MySQL relational database; the Apache web server; and the Sendmail mail transport agent. Other influential examples include the emacs text editor; the GIMP raster drawing and image editor; the X Window System graphical-display system; the LibreOffice office suite; and the TeX and LaTeX typesetting systems.


All free software licenses must grant users all the freedoms discussed above. However, unless the applications' licenses are compatible, combining programs by mixing source code or directly linking binaries is problematic, because of license technicalities. Programs indirectly connected together may avoid this problem.

The majority of free software falls under a small set of licenses. The most popular of these licenses are:

The Free Software Foundation and the Open Source Initiative both publish lists of licenses that they find to comply with their own definitions of free software and open-source software respectively:

The FSF list is not prescriptive: free licenses can exist that the FSF has not heard about, or considered important enough to write about. So it's possible for a license to be free and not in the FSF list. The OSI list only lists licenses that have been submitted, considered and approved. All open-source licenses must meet the Open Source Definition in order to be officially recognized as open source software. Free software on the other hand is a more informal classification that does not rely on official recognition. Nevertheless, software licensed under licenses that do not meet the Free Software Definition cannot rightly be considered free software.

]] Apart from these two organizations, the Debian project is seen by some to provide useful advice on whether particular licenses comply with their Debian Free Software Guidelines. Debian doesn't publish a list of approved licenses, so its judgments have to be tracked by checking what software they have allowed into their software archives. That is summarized at the Debian web site.<ref name=“Debian”/>

It is rare that a license announced as being in-compliance with the FSF guidelines does not also meet the Open Source Definition, although the reverse is not necessarily true (for example, the NASA Open Source Agreement is an OSI-approved license, but non-free according to FSF).

There are different categories of free software.

  • Public domain software: the copyright has expired, the work was not copyrighted, or the author has released the software onto the public domain (in countries where this is possible). Since public-domain software lacks copyright protection, it may be freely incorporated into any work, whether proprietary or free.
  • Permissive licenses, also called BSD-style because they are applied to much of the software distributed with the BSD operating systems: these licenses are also known as copyfree as they have no restrictions on distribution.<ref name=“copyfree”/> The author retains copyright solely to disclaim warranty and require proper attribution of modified works, and permits redistribution and any modification, even closed-source ones.
  • Copyleft licenses, with the GNU General Public License being the most prominent: the author retains copyright and permits redistribution under the restriction that all such redistribution is licensed under the same license. Additions and modifications by others must also be licensed under the same “copyleft” license whenever they are distributed with part of the original licensed product. This is also known as a Viral license. Due to the restriction on distribution not everyone considers this type of license to be free.<!– this last one 404ed at the original source so a quoted copy works –><ref name=“charvolant”/><ref name=“sunsetbrew”/>

Security and reliability

can only affect the Microsoft Windows operating system,<ref name=“mookhey-2005”>

</ref><ref name=“toxen-2003”>

</ref><ref name=“noyes-2010”>

</ref> but antivirus software such as ClamAV (shown here) is still provided for Linux and other Unix-based systems, so that users can scan files to detect malware that might infect Windows hosts]] There is debate over the security of free software in comparison to proprietary software, with a major issue being security through obscurity. A popular quantitative test in computer security is to use relative counting of known unpatched security flaws. Generally, users of this method advise avoiding products that lack fixes for known security flaws, at least until a fix is available.

Free software advocates say that this method is biased by counting more vulnerabilities for the free software, since its source code is accessible and its community is more forthcoming about what problems exist,<ref name=“cnet”/> (This is called “Security Through Disclosure”<ref name=“albion”/>) and proprietary software can have undisclosed flaws discoverable by or known to malicious users. As users can analyse and trace the source code, many more people with no commercial constraints can inspect the code and find bugs and loopholes than a corporation would find practicable. According to Richard Stallman, user access to the source code makes deploying free software with undesirable hidden spyware functionality far more difficult than for proprietary software.<ref name=“rms-fs-2006-03-09”/> As examples, he named two aspects of Windows XP that reveal information to Microsoft, which were discovered in spite of the estimated 50 million or more lines of Windows code having not been available to individual users for personal auditing.

Some quantitative studies have been done on the subject.<ref name=“Wheeler”/><ref name=“Delio”/><ref name=“fuzz-revisited”/><ref name=fuzz-macos/>

, OpenBSD, and FreeBSD have more secure default installation configurations than Microsoft Windows, resulting in far fewer compromised systems. Furthermore, users of free operating systems have access to a wide array of free security software, such as the packet analyzer Wireshark (shown here), which they can use to secure their operating systems and networks]]

Binary blobs and other proprietary software

In 2006, OpenBSD started the first campaign against the use of binary blobs, in kernels. Blobs are usually freely distributable device drivers for hardware from vendors that do not reveal driver source code to users or developers. This restricts the users' freedom effectively to modify the software and distribute modified versions. Also, since the blobs are undocumented and may have bugs, they pose a security risk to any operating system whose kernel includes them. The proclaimed aim of the campaign against blobs is to collect hardware documentation that allows developers to write free software drivers for that hardware, ultimately enabling all free operating systems to become or remain blob-free.

The issue of binary blobs in the Linux kernel and other device drivers motivated some developers in Ireland to launch gNewSense, a Linux based distribution with all the binary blobs removed. The project received support from the Free Software Foundation and stimulated the creation, headed by the Free Software Foundation Latin America, of the Linux-libre kernel.<ref name=“FreeGNULinuxDistributions”/> As of October 2012, Trisquel is the most popular FSF endorsed GNU/Linux distribution ranked by Distrowatch (over 12 months).<ref name=“DW02”/>

Business model

Since free software may be freely redistributed, it is generally available at little or no fee. Free software business models are usually based on adding value such as applications, support, training, customization, integration, or certification. At the same time, some business models that work with proprietary software are not compatible with free software, such as those that depend on the user to pay for a license in order to lawfully use the software product.

Fees are usually charged for distribution on compact discs and bootable USB drives, or for services of installing or maintaining the operation of free software. Development of large, commercially used free software is often funded by a combination of user donations, corporate contributions, and tax money. The SELinux project at the United States National Security Agency is an example of a federally funded free software project.

In practice, for software to be distributed as free software, the source code, a human-readable form of the program from which an executable form is produced, must be accessible to the recipient along with a document granting the same rights to free software under which it was published. Such a document is either a free software license or the release of the source code into the public domain.

Selling software under the BSD license is permissible and commercial use of the project is part of the intent of the license.<ref name=“linfo”/><ref name=“bsdl-gpl”/>

The Free Software Foundation encourages selling free software. As the Foundation has written, “Distributing free software is an opportunity to raise funds for development. Don't waste it!”.<ref name=“selling”/> For example the GNU GPL that is the Free Software Foundation's license states that ”[the user] may charge any price or no price for each copy that you convey, and you may offer support or warranty protection for a fee.“<ref name=“GPLsection4”/>

It is a common misbelief however that consumers shouldn't or aren't allowed to redistribute software under the GPL for profit,

and some opposing parties state such notions. For example Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer stated in 2001 that “Open source is not available to commercial companies. The way the license is written, if you use any open-source software, you have to make the rest of your software open source.”<ref name=“suntimes”/> This misunderstanding is based on a requirement of copyleft licenses (like the GPL) that if one distributes modified versions of software, they must release the source and use the same license. This requirement does not extend to other software from the same developer. The claim of incompatibility between commercial companies and Free Software is also a misunderstanding. There are several large companies, e.g. Red Hat and IBM, which do substantial commercial business in the development of Free Software.

Economical aspects and adoption

.</ref> The world's second fastest computer is the Oak Ridge National Laboratory's Titan supercomputer (illustrated), which uses the Cray Linux Environment.<ref>


}} Free software played a significant part in the development of the Internet, the World Wide Web and the infrastructure of dot-com companies.<ref name=“Web Server Survey”/><ref name=“Apache Strategy”/> Free software allows users to cooperate in enhancing and refining the programs they use; free software is a pure public good rather than a private good. Companies that contribute to free software can increase commercial innovation amidst the void of patent cross licensing lawsuits.

(See mpeg2 patent holders.)


</ref>}} The economic viability of free software has been recognized by large corporations such as IBM, Red Hat, and Sun Microsystems.<ref name=“ibm”/><ref name=“Hamid”/><ref name=“l-erick”/><ref name=“gpl-java”/><ref name=“MERIT-floss”/> Many companies whose core business is not in the IT sector choose free software for their Internet information and sales sites, due to the lower initial capital investment and ability to freely customize the application packages.

Under the free software business model

, free software vendors may charge a fee for distribution and offer pay support and software customization services. Proprietary software uses a different business model, where a customer of the proprietary software pays a fee for a license to use the software. This license may grant the customer the ability to configure some or no parts of the software themselves. Often some level of support is included in the purchase of proprietary software, but additional support services (especially for enterprise applications) are usually available for an additional fee. Some proprietary software vendors will also customize software for a fee.<ref name=“Dornan”/>

Free software is generally available at no cost and can result in permanently lower TCO costs compared to proprietary software.<ref name=“eprints”/> With free software, businesses can fit software to their specific needs by changing the software themselves or by hiring programmers to modify it for them. Free software often has no warranty, and more importantly, generally does not assign legal liability to anyone. However, warranties are permitted between any two parties upon the condition of the software and its usage. Such an agreement is made separately from the free software license.

A report by Standish Group estimates that adoption of free software has caused a drop in revenue to the proprietary software industry by about $60 billion per year.<ref name=“standishgroup”/> In spite of this, Eric S. Raymond argues that the term free software is too ambiguous and intimidating for the business community. Raymond promotes the term open-source software as a friendlier alternative for the business and corporate world.<ref name=“esr”/>

See also


</ref> <ref name=“free-sw”>

</ref> <ref name=“initial-announcement”>

</ref> <ref name=“softwarefreedom”>

</ref> <ref name=“Dixon”>

</ref> <ref name=“Graham”>

</ref> <ref name=“Fisher”>

</ref> <ref name=“misses-the-point”>

</ref> <ref name=“Perens”>

</ref> <ref name=“Debian”>

</ref> <ref name=“copyfree”>Copyfree: Unfetter your ideas</ref> <ref name=“charvolant”></ref> <ref name=“sunsetbrew”></ref> <ref name=“cnet”>

</ref> <ref name=“albion”>The Benefits of Open Source<!-- Bot generated title --></ref> <ref name=“rms-fs-2006-03-09”>

</ref> <ref name=“Wheeler”>David A. Wheeler: Why Open Source Software / Free Software (OSS/FS, FLOSS, or FOSS)? Look at the Numbers! 2007</ref> <ref name=“fuzz-revisited”>

</ref> <ref name=fuzz-macos>

</ref> <ref name=“Delio”>Michelle Delio: Linux: Fewer Bugs Than Rivals 2004</ref> <ref name=“linfo”></ref> <ref name=“bsdl-gpl”></ref> <ref name=“selling”>Selling Free Software</ref> <ref name=“GPLsection4”>GNU General Public License, section 4.</ref> <ref name=“suntimes”>Ballmer calling open source a 'cancer', saying it's "not available to commercial companies" Chicago Sun-Times, 2001</ref> <ref name=“Web Server Survey”>

</ref> <ref name=“Apache Strategy”>

</ref> <ref name=“ibm”>

</ref> <ref name=“Hamid”>

</ref> <ref name=“l-erick”>

</ref> <ref name=“gpl-java”>

</ref> <ref name=“MERIT-floss”>

</ref> <ref name=“Dornan”>

</ref> <ref name=“eprints”>Total cost of ownership of open source software: a report for the UK Cabinet Office supported by OpenForum Europe</ref> <ref name=“standishgroup”>

</ref> <ref name=“FreeGNULinuxDistributions”>[[Linux] distributions we know of which consist entirely of free software, and whose main distribution sites distribute only free software.]</ref> <ref name=“DW02”>

</ref> <ref name=“esr”>

</ref> }}

Further reading

;Definition and philosophy



Free software Software licenses

free_software.txt · Last modified: 2020/03/12 18:34 (external edit)