Free Software is one category of software that provides liberties (freedoms) to the user, instead of preventing the user doing things with it. The Free Software Foundation, with Dr Richard Stallman as its creator, defines the four freedoms that should be granted by the license of a software so as to be Free Software :

  • 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. Access to the source code is a precondition for this;
  • Freedom 2: The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbor;
  • Freedom 3: The freedom to distribute copies of your modified versions to others. By doing this you can give the whole community a chance to benefit from your changes. Access to the source code is a precondition for this.

One license that is overwhelmingly used to publish Free Software is the General Public License (GPL ; currently at it third version). That license is used for very important projetcs like the GNU project or the Linux kernel (GPLv2).

Freedom, not price
Free Software is not software that is just free as in "free beer", it is software that is free the grand way, as in "free speech". This is why it is erroneous to mistake Freeware with Free Software. Freeware is software that you do not pay for, but that does not grant you the four freedoms above.

Empowering the user
Using Free Software allows the software users to take a peek into the source code if something does not work properly or if the program crashes. Each time I say this, people tell me that they are not developers, that they certainly won't go in the source code to fix it. This is certainly true for the first period dealing with Free Software, but with experience and time it will become natural to start scrutinizing the code or the configuration files for the program that behaves erratically. One day, by chance, you'll discover that you actually can think of a fix for the problem you are experiencing, and because you have the code you'll fix the program. Then you'll send the fix by mail to the program maintainer and you'll have performed your very first contribution to the Free Software ecosystem.

Privacy, forcing ethics onto the corporations
Getting access to the code is something that gets more and more critical in the world as we see it shape along the years : what aspect of our life, of our intimate life, is not already partly governed by software ? And the intermingling of our own private life with software is going to be more and more dense, more and more unavoidable. Software must be made privacy-friendly, liberty-friendly. This can not be achieved with software that has its code closed in black boxes. Moreover, if the code that is closed in black boxes is the result of a private company seeking more and more profit, then liberty-friendly and privacy-friendly code is almost certainly doomed.

Free Software is an answer to all the people who are concerned about ethics and privacy in today's computer-run world. Free Software allows to scrutinize its code. Freedom 1, described above, is extremely important in that respect.

Interoperability of computer systems
What Free Software brings with it is also the fact that it is developed with real computing in mind, that is, the fact that computing should make it easy---almost seamless---to interoperate between programs and operating systems. If computing is the processing of information, how about making sure everybody can interchange data freely without technical restrictions? When you want to share a document, how about making sure that all the addressees will be able to read it? This is what we had more than twenty years ago when computing was still a subject of research. Since the advent of personal computing, document interchange quickly became the target of profit-making editors who aimed at capturing (and keeping) a slice of the consumers.

Vendor lock-in If an editor makes a software with the aim of capturing consumers, then it needs to capitalize on these consumers. How ? By making marketing decisions that aim at locking-in the consumer. That concept is the basis of proprietary computing which is embodied by the making of proprietary file formats. If only your software vendor can read and write documents of any specific format, then all the addressees of you documents will have to buy the software from your vendor, otherwise they won't be able to read the documents you sent to them. Further, the day you'll want to change software vendor because another vendor has a better software solution, you won't be able to do that : all the documents you have produced over the years using the first vendor's specific proprietary format won't be usable with the software from the new vendor. This is exactly what happened with the governmental administrations of almost all the countries in the world, over the last twenty years. Thousands of millions of documents have been saved for decades. In order to continue to access these documents, the governments still depend on Microsoft, although there is alternative Free Software office software that could be used freely today. Governments still have to deal with horrid Microsoft licenses and fees to access all the mountains of proprietary file format documents stored during decades. What a shame!

Free Software has absolutely no interest in restricting the distribution of documents. On the contrary, it envisions software as a means to easily share content... That is the basis of the idea that computer platforms should enhance interoperativity and the not the contrary.


Free Software


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