Open source

Published on June 30th, 2017 | by Manisha Gehlot

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Libre’s NOT Gratis – Understand Free Software

What is Free Software?

There has always been a confusion regarding the term “Free” Software ever since it was coined.

Free software means software that respects your freedom and community. It means that the users have the freedom to run, copy, distribute, study, change and improve the software. Thus, “free software” is a matter of liberty, not price. To understand the concept, you should think of “free” as in “free speech,” not as in “free beer”.


In the nutshell, the word “free” here refers to another word “libre”, which means with very few limitations on distribution or improvement; including source code. It also means “at liberty” in French and Spanish. Another meaning is gratis or free of cost or without charge, which is irrelevant here. We are referring to the freedom and the liberty you get with Free software and not the cost or the price. Price is always a secondary aspect.

So, when we use Free/Libre Software, it stands for a software that liberates you and provide you with necessary freedoms.

But wait, What all freedom do you get with Free Software ?

A program is free software if the program’s users have the four essential 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 your neighbor (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.Lets go through the above one by one.

Freedom 0

Can we run a Free Software commercially? Yes.

Is it for Free? It is Free/Libre NOT Free/Gratis although most Free Software are also available free of cost online. Keep in mind that the developer of such Free Software has kids and a family just like you, try to contribute if you can.

How to get the license key? Free software does not come with a license key. It does not require any. Digital restriction in software is not a feature of Free Software if you would read the definition above. If you want to use restricted software without such liberties, you are at liberty to switch to a non-free software.

What is “non-free” software now? A software/program that do not provide you with the above stated freedom. When users don’t control the program, we call it a “non-free” or “proprietary” program.

But, we can run a proprietary freeware software that do not limit any sort of use? Most of them do limit you in one way or the other. They do not provide you with all/(any) necessary freedom as stated above and you can never be sure of your limitations.


Freedom 1

What is source code ? Ok, it is the recipe (source-code) for your dish(software).

How can I make sure that the software I am running is actually built from the source code? You can always build it yourself. As a Free Software supporter, you must actually try to build your apps from the source-code. Building is a process of compiling the source-code into an executable binary. Imagine cooking your recipe to prepare the final dish (ready to be served).

But I don’t even know how to read the source-code? No problem, the community is there for you. Most free software are well tested by the community from around the globe and issues/bugs are fixed once found in less time. Also, it is never late to start coding! Do participate in project and there are numerous ways to contribute.


Freedom 2

My neighbor is an old lady. Can I pass it on in my classroom instead ? Sure. You may share/redistribute copies to your friends/family/community/world-wide.

Tip: You can burn any free software on a DVD or copy it on a USB drive and share it. If you like it, teach it to others, see, you are already contributing by now. Yuppie!

Can I share Free Software Movies/Audio with my friends? Well, it is the license of the Free Software that makes it a free software to be frank. So if the movie or audio is under a Free License, you are at liberty to share it. Warning: Check the licensing terms carefully, if you are a minor, ask your parents about it or find help online (IRC etc) or at-least email me if you cannot find help elsewhere.

Can I make money selling copies of Free Software like games/office suite? Sure. You can charge for free software, since it is available free of cost online mostly, you can make money selling it on a disc or USB drive to others. You can even provide support/installations and earn. Warning: Kids! Talk to your parents before selling support or doing installations, OK?


Freedom 3

So, when know programming, can I change it and share it or sell it to others ? Sure, provided that you comply with the terms of the license, in plain text, you are bound by the Free License to share the code you have put in, along with the software. You may sell your source-code or software but you have to provide source-code at no cost other than the cost of the delivery of the source-code (mostly you physical deliver the source-code to the user).

What if, I keep it a secret? Do I have to upload the source-code to use it personally? No! You do not. You may share it within a small group or a few, and never give away the source-code/changes to it, provided that they all do not ask for it. I would always recommend you to share the code as much as possible.

Can I put non-free code in Free Software ? Only a few licenses allow it that too with exceptions. Mostly you may not. Thanks for asking. But you can always develop a Free Software with non-free stuff in it if you are the only user of it or a very small restricted group like your own office, a place where you can suppress the digital rights of your employees.

You are talking about Free Licenses, what is it? In order to make a Free/Libre Software happen, they wrote a license, GPL, General Public License used in the GNU Project, that guarantees all the four essential freedoms to a user of the program/software.

Hey, I found one Opensource definition online, is it the one? No. Opensource is a different but identical. All the Free Software are Opensource but not all Opensource software are Free/Libre. So, a free/libre software can be opensource, free of cost/gratis all at the same time. But Opensource misses the important part, the freedom of a user that you get only with a Free/Libre Software.

What should we use? I cannot force you, it is up to you to decide. As seen above, Free/Libre seems to be superior in terms of quality with ethical values, whereas, open-source software is just about the openness of the source code and not the freedom a free/libre license gives you.

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About the Author

I am a privacy, security, encryption and software freedom enthusiast. I am into VPNs, TLS security. Recently I also got into technical writings. I am working as a VPN support and consultant at some nordic VPN providers.



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