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  4. <title>What is Free Software? – FSFE</title>
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  7. <h1>What is Free Software?</h1>
  8. <p>Free in Free Software is referring to freedom, not price. Having been used
  9. in this meaning since the 80s, the first documented complete definition
  10. appears to be the <a href="">GNU's
  11. Bulletin, vol. 1 no. 1</a>, published February 1986. In particular, four
  12. freedoms <a href="">define</a> Free
  13. Software:</p>
  14. <ul>
  15. <li><h3>The freedom to run the program, for any purpose.</h3>
  16. <p> <em>Placing restrictions on the use of Free Software, such
  17. as time ("30 days trial period", "license expires January 1st, 2004")
  18. purpose ("permission granted for research and non-commercial
  19. use", "may not be used for benchmarking") or
  20. geographic area ("must not be used in country X") makes a program
  21. non-free.</em></p>
  22. </li>
  23. <li><h3>The freedom to study how the program works, and adapt it to
  24. your needs.</h3>
  25. <p> <em>Placing legal or practical restrictions on the
  26. comprehension or modification of a program, such as mandatory purchase
  27. of special licenses, signing of a Non-Disclosure-Agreement (NDA) or -
  28. for programming languages that have multiple forms or representation
  29. - making the preferred human way of comprehending and editing a program
  30. ("source code") inaccessible also makes it proprietary (non-free).
  31. Without the freedom to modify a program, people will remain at the mercy
  32. of a single vendor.</em></p>
  33. </li>
  34. <li><h3>The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your
  35. neighbor.</h3>
  36. <p> <em>Software can be copied/distributed at virtually no
  37. cost. If you are not allowed to give a program to a person in need,
  38. that makes a program non-free. This can be done for a charge, if you so
  39. choose.</em></p>
  40. </li>
  41. <li><h3>The freedom to improve the program, and release your
  42. improvements to the public, so that the whole community
  43. benefits.</h3>
  44. <p> <em>Not everyone is an equally good programmer in all
  45. fields. Some people don't know how to program at all. This freedom
  46. allows those who do not have the time or skills to solve a problem to
  47. indirectly access the freedom to modify. This can be done for a
  48. charge.</em></p>
  49. </li>
  50. </ul>
  51. <p>These freedoms are rights, not obligations, although respecting these
  52. freedoms for society may at times oblige the individual. Any person can
  53. choose to not make use of them, but may also choose to make use of all of
  54. them. In particular, it should be understood that Free Software does not
  55. exclude commercial use. If a program fails to allow commercial use and
  56. commercial distribution, it is not Free Software. Indeed a growing number of
  57. companies base their business model completely or at least partially on Free
  58. Software, including some of the largest proprietary software vendors. Free
  59. Software makes it legal to provide help and assistance, it does not make it
  60. mandatory.</p>
  61. <h2 id="terminology">Terminology</h2>
  62. <p>Free Software is the original term for software that respects freedom, and
  63. there are <a href="/documents/whyfs.html">important reasons</a> why this
  64. terminology continues to be used today. Free Software connotes freedom, and
  65. when translated there is a clear distinction between freedom and price. In
  66. French, Free Software becomes "logiciels libre", "software libre" in Spanish,
  67. "software libero" in Italian, and "Fri Software" in Danish.</p>
  68. <h3>Open Source</h3>
  69. <p>On February 3rd 1998, in the wake of Netscapes announcement to release their
  70. browser as Free Software, a group of people met in Palo Alto in the Silicon
  71. Valley and proposed to start a marketing campaign for Free Software using the
  72. term ``Open Source.'' The goal was to seek fast commercialisation of Free
  73. Software and acceptance of Free Software by the companies and venture
  74. capitalists of the booming new economy. As a means to this end, they made a
  75. conscious decision to leave aside all long-term issues (such as philosophy,
  76. ethics and social effects) related to Free Software, feeling these posed
  77. obstacles in the way of rapid acceptance by economy. They proposed to focus
  78. on technical advantages only<a class="fn" href="#fn">1</a>.</p>
  79. <p>Often used in good faith by people who refer to what Free Software stands
  80. for, the term "Open Source" - originally defined to mean the same thing as
  81. Free Software in terms of licenses and implementation - has seen inflationary
  82. usage. Nowadays, it is regularly used for everything between Free Software
  83. and the highly proprietary "Governmental Security Program" (GSP) by
  84. Microsoft<a class="fn" href="#fn">2</a>.</p>
  85. <h3>Libre Software</h3>
  86. <p> When the European Commission started dealing with Free Software on a
  87. regular basis, they sought to avoid the ambiguity of the English word "Free
  88. Software" and the misunderstandings of "Open Source" alike, which led to
  89. the adoption of a third term which has popped up occasionally since around
  90. 1992: "Libre Software." This term has proven resistant to inflationary usage
  91. and is still used in an identical way to Free Software. So it may pose a
  92. solution for those who fear being misunderstood when speaking English.</p>
  93. <h2 id="fn">Footnotes</h2>
  94. <ol id="refs">
  95. <li>
  96. For reference, see <a href="">OSI
  97. FAQ</a>
  98. : <em>"How is 'open source' related to 'free software'? The Open Source Initiative
  99. is a marketing program for free software. It's a pitch for 'free software'
  100. on solid pragmatic grounds rather than ideological tub-thumping. The
  101. winning substance has not changed, the losing attitude and symbolism
  102. have."</em> Outside this rather unkind FAQ item, the OSI
  103. and its supporters have generally avoided the term "Free Software".
  104. </li>
  105. <li>
  106. In this program
  107. governments and intergovernmental organisations pay substantial fees for a
  108. superficial look at some parts of Windows sourcecode in special Microsoft
  109. facilities. This may increase "perceived security" but is essentially useless -
  110. especially since they do not even know whether what they looked at is what
  111. they have on their computers. And of course it does not give them
  112. freedom.
  113. </li>
  114. </ol>
  115. <div class="related">
  116. <h2>Related content</h2>
  117. <ul>
  118. <li><a href="/freesoftware/basics/comparison.html">A comparison of the different terms for Free Software (Open Source, FOSS, FLOSS etc.)</a></li>
  119. <li><a href="/documents/whyfs.html">Why do we speak about Free Software</a></li>
  120. <li><a href="/freesoftware/basics/sourcecode.html">What is a 'source code'?</a></li>
  121. <li> <a href="/activities/os/os.html">What are 'Open Standards'?</a></li>
  122. <li><a href="/freesoftware/basics/4freedoms.html">How to explain the four freedoms of Free Software to children</a></li>
  123. <li><a href="/freesoftware/basics/gnuproject.html">What is the 'GNU project'?</a></li>
  124. <li><a href="/freesoftware/transcripts/rms-2009-05-22-eliberatica.html">Richard Stallman lecture on the meaning and importance of Free Software</a></li>
  125. <li><a href="/freesoftware/transcripts/rms-fs-2006-03-09.html">Richard Stallman lecture on the Free Software movement and the future of freedom</a></li>
  126. </ul>
  127. </div>
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  129. <timestamp>$Date$ $Author$</timestamp>
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