Free Software

In the 1950s, 1960s, and until the early 1970s, it was normal for computer users to have the software freedoms associated with free software. Software was commonly shared by individuals who used computers and by hardware manufacturers who welcomed the fact that people were making software that made their hardware useful.

By the early 1970s, the picture changed: software costs were dramatically increasing, a growing software industry was competing with the hardware manufacturer’s bundled software products, leased machines required software support while providing no revenue for software, and some customers able to better meet their own needs did not want the costs of free software bundled with hardware product costs.

In 1983, Richard Stallman, longtime member of the hacker community at the MIT Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, announced the GNU project, saying that he had become frustrated with the effects of the change in culture of the computer industry and its users. Software development for the GNU operating system began in January 1984, and the Free Software Foundation (FSF) was founded in October 1985. He developed a free software definition and the concept of copyleft, designed to ensure software freedom for all.

The first formal definition of free software was published by FSF in February 1986, and states that software is free software if people who receive a copy of the software have the following four freedoms –

  • 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.
  • Freedom 2: The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbor.
  • Freedom 3: The freedom to improve the program, and release your improvements (and modified versions in general) to the public, so that the whole community benefits.

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

Licensing

A free software license is a software license which grants recipients extensive rights to modify and redistribute, which would otherwise be prohibited by copyright law. To qualify as a free software license, the license must grant the rights described in The Free Software Definition or one of the similar definitions based on this.he majority of free software falls under a small set of licenses. The most popular of these licenses are:

There are different categories of free software :

  • Public domain software: the copyright has expired, the work was not copyrighted, or the author has released the software onto the public domain (in countries where this is possible). Since public-domain software lacks copyright protection, it may be freely incorporated into any work, whether proprietary or free.
  • Permissive licenses, also called BSD-style because they are applied to much of the software distributed with the BSD operating systems: these licenses are also known as copyfree as they have no restrictions on distribution.The author retains copyright solely to disclaim warranty and require proper attribution of modified works, and permits redistribution and any modification, even closed source ones.
  • Copyleft licenses, with the GNU General Public License being the most prominent: the author retains copyright and permits redistribution under the restriction that all such redistribution is licensed under the same license. Additions and modifications by others must also be licensed under the same “copyleft” license whenever they are distributed with part of the original licensed product. This is also known as a Viral license. Due to the restriction on distribution not everyone considers this type of license to be free.

Some the well known examples –  Linux Kernel, the BSD and Linux operating systems, the GNU Compiler Collection and C library; the MySQL relational database; the Apache web server. Other influential examples include the emacs text editor; the GIMP raster drawing and image editor;  the LibreOffice office suite; and the TeX and LaTeX typesetting systems.

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