Free Software

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"Free Software" is the term used and preferred by the idea's originator, Richard Stallman, and designer of the first FOSS license the GPL License. Stallman likes the word "free" in particular because he says the point is to protect crucial freedoms, in the sense of rights, for all users of software. He frequently points out it means "free speech not free beer". That is, it does not mean "zero price", and the GPL specifically permits anyone to sell a copy of a free software package, if of course the market will bear it, i.e. they provide some added value and people actually pay for it. Stallman's GNU license has three main requirements:

  • If the unreadable binary code - the translated software that runs on a computer - is distributed, then the modifiable source must also be made available at no more than the cost of postage.
  • The source code may be changed by others anyway they wish.
  • The original and modified code may be redistributed by anyone under the same license.

The idea of "free software" is strongly related to the concept that "information should be free" fundamental to many other movements, such as Project Gutenberg, which distributes free soft-copy of books, and public Wiki's with open content licenses (like this Wiki).

Stallman does not support the term "Open Source", developed because it was thought common misunderstandings about the word "free" was holding back wider adoption, because he says it does not support the wider philosophical foundations of the free software movement. He does however support the phrases FOSS & FLOSS, although he prefers FLOSS, so common ground can be found again.