Free Software

Free Software

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Free software refers to software that can be freely used, modified, and distributed. The term “free” refers to freedom, not price, and is often clarified with the phrase “free as in freedom, not free beer.” This means that users have the freedom to run, copy, distribute, study, change, and improve the software.

The concept of free software is primarily associated with the Free Software Foundation (FSF) and the GNU Project. According to the FSF, free software should grant users four fundamental freedoms:

  1. The freedom to run the program as you wish, for any purpose (freedom 0).
  2. The freedom to study how the program works, and change it so it does your computing as you wish (freedom 1). Access to the source code is a precondition for this.
  3. The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help others (freedom 2).
  4. The freedom to distribute copies of your modified versions to others (freedom 3). 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.

This concept is distinct from “freeware”, which refers to software that is available at no cost but doesn’t necessarily provide the freedoms associated with free software. Free software is also different from open source software, although the two have similar points and are often conflated. While open source also involves making source code available, the philosophies and emphasis can be different. The open source movement focuses more on the practical benefits of making source code available, while the free software movement emphasizes user freedom. However, in practical terms, almost all free software is open source and vice versa.

Examples of free software include the GNU/Linux operating system, the Firefox web browser, and the LibreOffice office suite, among many others.

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