Thursday, August 15, 2013

Further Defining 'Free' and/or 'Open Source' Software

The battle continues over the correct definitions of 'Free' and/or 'Open Source' Software (FOSS). For many readers who don't follow this issue closely, it's time to take another look at the subject.

According to the GNU organization and the Free Software Foundation (FSF)'Free' Software is not about price – it's about liberty and freedom..

'Free' Software means that the software's users have certain freedoms - the freedom to run, copy, distribute, study, change and improve the software. With these freedoms, the users control the software programs and what they do for them.

'Free' Software means program users have the following four essential freedoms: 

• The freedom to run the program, for any purpose.
• The freedom to study how the program works, and change it so it does your computing as you wish. Access to the source code is a precondition for this.
• The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbor.
• 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. Again, access to the source code is a precondition for this.

While a lot of 'Free' Software is often acquired and shared at no cost -  it can also be made available for commercial use, commercial development, and commercial distribution. But regardless of how people acquire copies of the software, they always have the freedom to copy, change, and share the software - they can even sell copies of the software, if they so choose.

Another camp within the Free & Open Source Software (FOSS) movement has focused on the use of the term 'open source' in contrast to the emphasis GNU and FSF organizations have placed on the term 'free software'.  Read "A Brief History of Open Source Software in Modern Times".

No matter which camp you're in, think carefully about the difference between 'closed' proprietary software programs and 'free' and open source solutions and which best fits you or your organization's needs.

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