The Free Software Definition

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The Free Software Definition written by Richard Stallman and published by the Free Software Foundation (FSF), defines free software as being software that ensures that the end users have freedom in using, studying, sharing and modifying that software. The term "free" is used in the sense of "free speech," not of "free of charge." [1] The earliest-known publication of the definition was in the February 1986 edition [2] of the now-discontinued GNU's Bulletin publication by the FSF. The canonical source for the document is in the philosophy section of the GNU Project website. As of April 2008, it is published in 39 languages. [3] The FSF publishes a list of licences which meet this definition.

Contents

The Four Essential Freedoms of Free Software

The definition published by the FSF in February 1986 had two points: [2]

The word "free" in our name does not refer to price; it refers to freedom. First, the freedom to copy a program and redistribute it to your neighbors, so that they can use it as well as you. Second, the freedom to change a program, so that you can control it instead of it controlling you; for this, the source code must be made available to you.

In 1996, when the gnu.org website was launched, "free software" was defined referring to "three levels of freedom" by adding an explicit mention of the freedom to study the software (which could be read in the two-point definition as being part of the freedom to change the program). [4] [5] Stallman later avoided the word "levels", saying that all of the freedoms are needed, so it is misleading to think in terms of levels.

Finally, another freedom was added, to explicitly say that users should be able to run the program. The existing freedoms were already numbered one to three, but this freedom should come before the others, so it was added as "freedom zero". [6] [7]

The modern definition defines free software by whether or not the recipient has the following four freedoms: [8]

Freedoms 1 and 3 require source code to be available because studying and modifying software without its source code is highly impractical.

Later definitions

In July 1997, Bruce Perens published the Debian Free Software Guidelines. [9] A definition based on the DFSG was also used by the Open Source Initiative (OSI) under the name "The Open Source Definition".

Comparison with The Open Source Definition

Despite the philosophical differences between the free software movement and the open-source-software movement, the official definitions of free software by the FSF and of open-source software by the OSI basically refer to the same software licences, with a few minor exceptions. While stressing these philosophical differences, the Free Software Foundation comments:

The term "open source" software is used by some people to mean more or less the same category as free software. It is not exactly the same class of software: they accept some licences that we consider too restrictive, and there are free software licences they have not accepted. However, the differences in extension of the category are small: nearly all free software is open source, and nearly all open source software is free.

Free Software Foundation [10]

See also

Related Research Articles

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">GNU Lesser General Public License</span> Free-software license

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The Open Source Initiative (OSI) is the steward of the Open Source Definition, the set of rules that define open source software. It is a California public-benefit nonprofit corporation, with 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status.

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Richard Stallman</span> American free software activist, and founder of GNU Project

Richard Matthew Stallman, also known by his initials, rms, is an American free software movement activist and programmer. He campaigns for software to be distributed in such a manner that its users have the freedom to use, study, distribute, and modify that software. Software that ensures these freedoms is termed free software. Stallman launched the GNU Project, founded the Free Software Foundation (FSF) in October 1985, developed the GNU Compiler Collection and GNU Emacs, and wrote the GNU General Public License.

This comparison only covers software licenses which have a linked Wikipedia article for details and which are approved by at least one of the following expert groups: the Free Software Foundation, the Open Source Initiative, the Debian Project and the Fedora Project. For a list of licenses not specifically intended for software, see List of free-content licences.

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The GNU Affero General Public License is a free, copyleft license published by the Free Software Foundation in November 2007, and based on the GNU General Public License, version 3 and the Affero General Public License.

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">GNU Free Documentation License</span> Copyleft license primarily for free software documentation

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References

  1. "What is free software? - GNU Project - Free Software Foundation". Gnu.org. 2013-06-18. Retrieved 2013-10-03.
  2. 1 2 Stallman, Richard M. (February 1986). "GNU's Bulletin, Volume 1 Number 1". Gnu.org. p. 8. Retrieved 2019-02-08.
  3. "The Free Software Definition - Translations of this page". Free Software Foundation Inc. Retrieved 2013-10-03.
  4. "What is Free Software? - GNU Project - Free Software Foundation (FSF)". Ru.j-npcs.org. 1997-03-20. Retrieved 2013-10-03.[ permanent dead link ]
  5. "What is Free Software? - GNU Project - Free Software Foundation (FSF)". Archived from the original on January 26, 1998. Retrieved 2013-10-03.
  6. Free Software Foundation (2018-07-21). "What is free software? - GNU Project - Free Software Foundation (Footnote)". The reason they are numbered 0, 1, 2 and 3 is historical. Around 1990 there were three freedoms, numbered 1, 2 and 3. Then we realized that the freedom to run the program needed to be mentioned explicitly. It was clearly more basic than the other three, so it properly should precede them. Rather than renumber the others, we made it freedom 0.
  7. "The Four Freedoms". 23 January 2014. I [Matt Mullenweg] originally thought Stallman started counting with zero instead of one because he's a geek. He is, but that wasn't the reason. Freedoms one, two, and three came first, but later he wanted to add something to supersede all of them. So: freedom zero. The geekness is a happy accident.
  8. Stallman, Richard. "The Free Software Definition". Free Software Foundation. Retrieved 2013-10-15.
  9. Bruce Perens. "Debian's "Social Contract" with the Free Software Community". debian-announce mailing list.
  10. "Categories of Free and Nonfree Software - GNU Project - Free Software Foundation".