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Free Software

The Free Software Foundation defines free software as software which can be freely distributed to any individual wishing to use it, copy it, study it, modify it and even redistribute it without any restriction being placed on the person or any penalties to worry about. Free software is sometimes referred to by other names, those being open source software, FLOSS and libre software. Richard Stallman, the founder of the Free Software Movement came up with his own unique way of describing the concept behind free software. He said to understand it people should think of the word “free” in terms of “free speech” as opposed to “free beer.” To put it another way, free software allows computer users to both have the freedom to decide what software they choose to make use of as well as the freedom to cooperate with the specific uses of the software in question.

The license to use free software (or FSF for free software licenses) comes with four types of freedoms for users. These licenses are numbered from zero to three. Freedom zero, the first one states the user’s right to utilize the program of free software for whatever purpose he or she chooses; freedom one stipulates the user’s right to both study the makings of the particular program and then adapt or modify it as he or she sees fit; freedom two allows for the copy and redistributing of said program to be used by other individuals as well; and finally freedom three takes into account the computer user’s community at large. Freedom three allows for the option to make improvements to the computer program and then to spread the word to others in the neighborhood/community for the express use of everyone’s benefit.

Important to note is that freedoms one and three have a need for what is known as source code access. The reason for this is simple- both studying and changing software without the use of a source code is time consuming, frustrating and very often ineffective as compared to, for example, modifying a source code that is annotated.

In the 1960’s and 1970’s free software was considered to be an “add on” by vendors of mainframe computers who chose to “freely” share their software with other developers and programmers. In the late 1970’s software license agreements were put into effect as restrictions began to be applied to programmers. In 1983 Richard Stallman started what is known as the GNU Project and two years later, in 1985, founded the Free Software Foundation, making it possible for software freedom, as we know it today, to exist.

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