The free software movement is a social movement with the goal of obtaining and guaranteeing certain freedoms for software users, namely the freedom to run the software, to study and change the software, and to redistribute copies with or without changes. Although drawing on traditions and philosophies among members of the 1970s hacker culture and academia, Richard Stallman formally founded the movement in 1983 by launching the GNU Project. Stallman later established the Free Software Foundation in 1985 to support the movement.
The philosophy of the movement is that the use of computers should not lead to people being prevented from cooperating with each other. In practice, this means rejecting "proprietary software", which imposes such restrictions, and promoting free software, with the ultimate goal of liberating everyone in cyberspace – that is, every computer user. Stallman notes that this action will promote rather than hinder the progression of technology, since "it means that much wasteful duplication of system programming effort will be avoided. This effort can go instead into advancing the state of the art".
Members of the free software movement believe that all users of software should have the freedoms listed in The Free Software Definition. Many of them hold that it is immoral to prohibit or prevent people from exercising these freedoms and that these freedoms are required to create a decent society where software users can help each other, and to have control over their computers.
Some free software users and programmers do not believe that proprietary software is strictly immoral, citing an increased profitability in the business models available for proprietary software or technical features and convenience as their reasons.
The Free Software Foundation also believes all software needs free documentation, in particular because conscientious programmers should be able to update manuals to reflect modification that they made to the software, but deems the freedom to modify less important for other types of written works. Within the free software movement, the FLOSS Manuals foundation specialises on the goal of providing such documentation. Members of the free software movement advocate that works which serve a practical purpose should also be free.
Writing and spreading free software
The core work of the free software movement focused on software development. The free software movement also rejects proprietary software, refusing to install software that does not give them the freedoms of free software. According to Stallman, "The only thing in the software field that is worse than an unauthorised copy of a proprietary program, is an authorised copy of the proprietary program because this does the same harm to its whole community of users, and in addition, usually the developer, the perpetrator of this evil, profits from it."
Some supporters of the free software movement take up public speaking, or host a stall at software-related conferences to raise awareness of software freedom. This is seen as important since people who receive free software, but who are not aware that it is free software, will later accept a non-free replacement or will add software that is not free software.
Legislation and Government
A lot of lobbying work has been done against software patents and expansions of copyright law. Other lobbying focusses directly on use of free software by government agencies and government-funded projects.
Congressmen Edgar David Villanueva and Jacques Rodrich Ackerman have been instrumental in introducing free software in Peru, with bill 1609 on "Free Software in Public Administration". The incident invited the attention of Microsoft Inc, Peru, whose general manager wrote a letter to Villanueva. His response received worldwide attention and is seen as a classic piece of argumentation favouring use of free software in governments.
United States of America
In the United States, there have been efforts to pass legislation at the state level encouraging use of free software by state government agencies.
The free software movement has been extensively analyzed using economic methodologies, including perspectives from heterodox economics. Of particular interest to economists is the willingness of programmers in the free software movement to work, often producing higher-quality than commercial programmers, without financial compensation. In his 1998 article "The High-Tech Gift Economy," Richard Barbrook suggested that the then-nascent free software movement represented a return to the gift economy building on hobbyism and the absence of economic scarcity on the internet. E. Gabriella Coleman has emphasized the importance of accreditation, respect, and honour within the free software community as a form of compensation for contributions to projects, over and against financial motivations.
The Swedish Marxian economist Johan Söderberg has argued that the free software movement represents a complete alternative to Capitalism that may be expanded to create a post-work society. He argues that the combination of a manipulation of intellectual property law and private property to make goods available to the public and a thorough blend between labor and fun make the free software movement a communist economy.
Subgroups and schisms
Like many social movements, the free software movement has ongoing internal conflict between the many FOSS organizations (FSF, OSI, Debian, Mozilla Foundation, Apache Foundation etc.) and their personalities. For instance there is disagreement about the amount of compromises and pragmatism needed versus the need for strict adherence to values.
Although commercial free software was not uncommon at the time (see Cygnus Solutions for example), in 1998 after an announcement that Netscape would liberate their popular Web browser, a strategy session was held to develop a stronger business case for free software which would focus on technology rather than politics. After this, Eric Raymond and Bruce Perens founded the Open Source Initiative (OSI) to promote the term "open source software" as an alternative term for free software. OSI wanted to address the perceived shortcomings in ambiguous "free software" term, and some members of OSI in addition didn't follow the free software movement's focus on non-free software as a social and ethical problem; but instead focused on the advantages of open source as superior model for software development. The latter became the view of people like Eric Raymond and Linus Torvalds, while Bruce Perens argues that open source was simply meant to popularize free software under a new brand, and even called for a return to the basic ethical principles.
Some free software advocates use the terms "Free and Open-Source Software" (FOSS) or "Free/Libre and Open-Source Software" (FLOSS) as a form of inclusive compromise, drawing on both philosophies to bring both free software advocates and open-source software advocates together to work on projects with more cohesion. Some users believe that a compromise term encompassing both aspects is an ideal solution in order to promote both the user's freedom with the software and the pragmatic efficiency of an open-source development model. This eclectic view is reinforced by the fact that the overwhelming majority of OSI-approved licenses and self-avowed open-source programs are also compatible with the free software formalisms and vice versa.
While some people prefer to link the two ideas of "open-source software" and "free software" together, they offer two separate ideas and values. This ambiguity began in 1998 when people started to use the term "open-source software" rather than "free software". People in the community of free software used these separate terms as a way to differentiate what they did. Richard Stallman has called open source "a non-movement", because it "does not campaign for anything". Open source addresses software being open as a practical question as opposed to an ethical dilemma. In other words, it focuses more on the development. The open-source movement ultimately determines that non-free software is not the solution of best interest but nonetheless a solution.
On the other hand, the free software movement views free software as a moral imperative: that proprietary software should be rejected for selfish and social reasons, and that only free software should be developed and taught to cope with the task of making computing technology beneficial to humanity. It is argued that whatever economical or technical merits free software may have, those are byproducts stemming from the rights that free software developers and users must enjoy. An example of this would be the unlikelihood of free software being designed to mistreat or spy on users. At the same time, the benefits purveyed by the open-source movement have been challenged both from inside and outside the free software movement. It is unclear whether free and open-source software actually leads to more performant and less vulnerable code, with researchers Robert Glass and Benjamin Mako Hill providing statistical insight that this is usually not the case.
Regarding the meaning and misunderstandings of the word free, those who work within the free software camp have searched for less ambiguous terms and analogies like "free beer vs free speech" in efforts to convey the intended semantics, so that there is no confusion concerning the profitability of free software. The loan adjective libre has gained some traction in the English-speaking free software movement as unequivocally conveying the state of being in freedom that free software refers to. This is not considered schismatic; libre is seen as an alternative explanatory device. In fact, free software has always been unambiguously referred to as "libre software" (in translation) in languages where the word libre or a cognate is native. In India, where free software has gained a lot of ground, the unambiguous term swatantra and its variants are widely used instead of "free".
The free software movement rebuts that while "free" may be prone to confuse novices because of the duplicity of meanings, at least one of the meanings is completely accurate, and that it is hard to get it wrong once the difference has been learned. It is also ironically noted that "open source" isn't exempt of poor semantics either, as a misunderstanding arises whereby people think source code disclosure is enough to meet the open-source criteria, when in fact it is not.
The switch from the free software movement to the open-source movement has had negative effects on the progression of community, according to Christopher Kelty who dedicates a scholarly chapter to the free software movements in "Theorizing Media and Practice". The open-source movement denies that selectivity and the privatization of software is unethical. Although the open-source movement is working towards the same social benefits as the free software movement, Kelty claims that by disregarding this fundamental belief of the free software advocates, one is destroying the overall argument. If it can be claimed that it is ethical to limit the internet and other technology to only users who have the means to use this software, then there is no argument against the way things are at the moment; there is no need to complain if all morality is in effect.
Although the movements have separate values and goals, people in both the open-source community and free software community collaborate when it comes to practical projects. By 2005, Richard Glass considered the differences to be a "serious fracture" but "vitally important to those on both sides of the fracture" and "of little importance to anyone else studying the movement from a software engineering perspective" since they have had "little effect on the field".
Stallman and Torvalds
The two most prominent people associated with the movement, Richard Stallman and Linus Torvalds, may be seen as representatives of the value based versus apolitical philosophies, as well as the GNU versus Linux coding styles. In the GNU/Linux naming controversy the FSF argues for the term GNU/Linux because GNU is a longstanding project to develop a free operating system, of which they assert the kernel was the last missing piece.
Criticism and controversy
Should principles be compromised?
Eric Raymond criticises the speed at which the free software movement is progressing, suggesting that temporary compromises should be made for long-term gains. Raymond argues that this could raise awareness of the software and thus increase the free software movement's influence on relevant standards and legislation.
How will programmers get paid?
Stallman said that this is where people get the misconception of "free": there is no wrong in programmers' requesting payment for a proposed project. Restricting and controlling the user's decisions on use is the actual violation of freedom. Stallman defends that in some cases, monetary incentive is not necessary for motivation since the pleasure in expressing creativity is a reward in itself. On the other hand, Stallman admits that it is not easy to raise money for FOSS projects.
The free software movement champions copyleft licensing schema (often pejoratively called "viral licenses"). In its strongest form, copyleft mandates that any works derived from copyleft-licensed software must also carry a copyleft license, so the license spreads from work to work like a computer virus might spread from machine to machine. These licensing terms can only be enforced through asserting copyrights. Critics of copyleft licensing challenge the idea that restricting modifications is in line with the free software movement's emphasis on various "freedoms," especially when alternatives like MIT, BSD, and Apache licenses are more permissive. Proponents enjoy the assurance that copylefted work cannot usually be incorporated into non-free software projects. They emphasize that copyleft licenses may not attach for all uses and that in any case, developers can simply choose not to use copyleft-licensed software.
License proliferation and compatibility
FOSS license proliferation is a serious concern in the FOSS domain due to increased complexity of license compatibility considerations which limits and complicates source code reuse between FOSS projects. The OSI and the FSF maintain own lists of dozens of existing and acceptable FOSS licenses. There is an agreement among most that the creation of new licenses should be minimized at all cost and these created should be made compatible with the major existing FOSS licenses. Therefore, there was a strong controversy around the update of the GPLv2 to the GPLv3 in 2007, as the updated license is not compatible with the previous version. Several projects (mostly of the open source faction like the Linux kernel) decided to not adopt the GPLv3 while the GNU projects adopted the GPLv3.
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- History of free software
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- Free Software Foundation
- Open Source Initiative
- Software Freedom Conservancy
- Free Software Movement of India
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- Free Software Foundation Europe
- Free Software Movement Karnataka
- Free Software Foundation Tamil Nadu
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The problem with it is twofold. First, ... the term "free" is very ambiguous ... Second, the term makes a lot of corporate types nervous.
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Prior to 1998, Free Software referred either to the Free Software Foundation (and the watchful, micromanaging eye of Stallman) or to one of thousands of different commercial, avocational, or university-research projects, processes, licenses, and ideologies that had a variety of names: sourceware, freeware, shareware, open software, public domain software, and so on. The term Open Source, by contrast, sought to encompass them all in one movement.
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I cannot agree to that compromise, and my experience teaches me that it won't be temporary. ... What our community needs most is more spine in rejection of non-free software. It has far too much willingness to compromise. ... To "argue" in favor of adding non-free software in GNU/Linux distros is almost superfluous, since that's what nearly all of them have already done.
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RMS: I’m not gone to claim that I got a way to make it easier to raise money to pay people who write free software. We all know, that to some extent there are ways to do that, but we all know that they are limited, they are not as broad as we would like.
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No. Some of the requirements in GPLv3, such as the requirement to provide Installation Information, do not exist in GPLv2. As a result, the licenses are not compatible: if you tried to combine code released under both these licenses, you would violate section 6 of GPLv2. However, if code is released under GPL “version 2 or later,” that is compatible with GPLv3 because GPLv3 is one of the options it permits.
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Both LibreCAD and FreeCAD both want to use LibreDWG and have patches available for supporting the DWG file format library, but can't integrate them. The programs have dependencies on the popular GPLv2 license while the Free Software Foundation will only let LibreDWG be licensed for GPLv3 use, not GPLv2.
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