Free software

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Concept map around free software

Free software ( freedom granting software , English free software or also libre software ) refers to software that focuses on the freedom of computer users. Free software is defined by the fact that a user receives the usage rights with the receipt of the software and these are not withheld or restricted.

In particular it means

  • the freedom of control over the software (namely unrestricted freedom of control and independence by preserving the exact source code to allow analysis and changes to the software),
  • the social freedom of collaboration in order to be able to actively cooperate with any other users and developers (the software may be copied and passed on, in the original or with changes).

With regard to the software, you can optionally offer commercial activities (software adaptations, maintenance contracts, support, service and warranty services, etc.). Desired analysis and changes (see freedom of control) may be carried out by anyone - including independent third parties of their own choice - due to the collaboration that has been granted.

These freedoms allow the user to have self-control and privacy over the software and their own data processing or to become part of a (public or own) group of users (community) who control the software (collaboration is possible) and for themselves use.

This is in contrast to proprietary software (software that deprives of liberty), in which the developers and distributors of the software explicitly revoke the named freedoms from the end users, for example by deliberately not delivering source text or prohibitions and restrictions through contractual regulations or confidentiality agreements .


Official logo of the FSF

The four freedoms

Richard Stallman (2014), FSF founder

The Free Software Foundation (FSF), founded by Richard Stallman in 1985, defines software as free software if the recipient is granted the following freedoms by license:

“Freedom 0”: The freedom to run the program however you want, for any purpose.
"Freedom 1": The freedom to examine how the program works and to adapt it to your own data processing needs. *
"Freedom 2": The freedom to distribute the program and thus to help others.
"Freedom 3": The freedom to improve the program and share those improvements with the public for the benefit of the entire community. *

* Access to the source code is a prerequisite for Freedoms 1 and 3, as otherwise changing a program is difficult or even impossible.

For more information, see the “Definition” section .


The free software movement emerged from the hacking community. Their vision of freedom manifests itself in the GNU project that has existed since September 1983 , the free software and the open source movement that emerged 15 years later . A characteristic of a hacker is not the activity itself, but the way it is carried out. For example, someone who develops for a free software project is not automatically a hacker, but the hacker community is closely linked to these movements. Within the early hacking community of the 1960s and 1970s, it was natural at US academic institutions such as MIT , Stanford , Berkeley, and Carnegie Mellon to disclose source code and share their own software improvements with other programmers. At the time, software was seen as an addition to (expensive) hardware. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, IT companies began commercializing software and keeping the source code secret. Richard Stallman is a prominent hacker who has made significant contributions to the self-image of the academic hacker culture , among other things by opposing this development.

Free software existed as public domain software until the 1980s . In addition, software was freely distributed as printed source text in computer magazines and books. The hacker community and the intellectual climate surrounding the “AI” computer at MIT inspired Richard Stallman significantly to create the GNU project. The aim was initially to create a free operating system. In 1985 the FSF was founded, a foundation to promote such projects, which published the first definition of free software in February 1986 . Where "free" means the freedoms for society that such a licensed product offers .

For more information, see the sections “Developments in advance” and “The emergence of Free Software” .



Free Beer -Sales at iSummit 2008 illustrated Free as in Freedom, not free as in free beer : recipe and label of the beer are available under the CC-BY-SA , that is free as in freedom, but it is not free like free beer because it sells for 500  yen .

The English word free has two different meanings and stands in the term freeware, which has been used since 1982, for “free of charge” (more precisely for “free software”); in Free Software (English Free Software ) is there (more precisely for "freedom granted Software") for "freedom." English-language activists make the distinction with free as in free beer ( "free as free beer ") and Free as in Freedom ( "free as in freedom") significantly.

Freeware does not grant the user the freedoms listed by the Free Software Foundation , but those of the individual license agreement with the author. Therefore it is considered “unfree” software.

Free software, on the other hand, contains the aforementioned freedoms and can, but does not have to be, free.

Open source

The term Open Source (in German “open source”) was introduced in 1998 by the founders of the Open Source Initiative (OSI): Eric S. Raymond , Bruce Perens and Tim O'Reilly . They wanted to focus on the more pragmatic approach of such software, instead of relying on a (from their point of view) potentially daunting, morally charged and polarizing free software idea. They describe open-source software as an advantageous development model, whereby the question of whether software should be open-source is a purely practical and not an ethical question.

With the emphasis on the superiority of the development process, the OSI reflects the developer's point of view, while the FSF focuses on the user's point of view. The FSF sees non-free software as a social problem. In their eyes, the decision for or against Free Software is therefore primarily an ethical and social decision; the practical benefit is secondary. Since the OSI's presentation of the freedom that Free Software gives users is not mentioned, the FSF accuses the OSI of distracting from the essential points.

These two different movements with different perspectives are linked by a common appreciation for open source code and the goal of building a free software ecosystem, which results in numerous projects in which they work together. Alternative compromise terms such as "Free and open source software" (FOSS) or " Free / Libre Open Source Software " (FLOSS), which are accepted by supporters of both positions, are intended to emphasize the similarities.

For more information, see the section “Comparison with the Open Source Definition” .

Semi-free software

Because of concerns regarding the commercial exploitation or amoral use of one's own software, there have been and still are efforts not to grant unreservedly all the freedoms from the definition of free software in your license. Will the freedoms listed by the FSF reduced by the commercial distribution (but the other kept unchanged), it was until 2011 dismissive of the FSF as a semi-free software (English semi-free software ) refers.

The FSF has not made this distinction since 2012 and counts software with such adapted licenses as "non-free" software.

Non-free software (proprietary)

If one or more of the conditions of the freedoms listed by the FSF are not met, the software is designated as proprietary or "unfree" (in the sense of a lack of freedoms).

Free hardware

Free Hardware ( English free hardware , also known as open hardware or open source hardware ) is the free-software and open-source movement close to or goes back to this. This is hardware that is manufactured according to free construction plans .


The earliest known publication of the definition, dated February 1986, comes from the (now discontinued) "GNU's Bulletin Publication" of the FSF. The source for this document can be found in the Philosophy section of the GNU Project website . The definition initially referred to two points:

Quote: “The word 'free' in our name does not refer to price; it refers to freedom.
  • First the freedom to copy a program and redistribute it to your neighbors, so that they can use it as well as you.
  • Second, the freedom to change a program so that you can control it instead of it controlling you; for this, the source code must be made available to you. "
In German: “The word 'free' in our name does not refer to the price; it relates to freedom.
  • First, the freedom to copy a program and give it to your neighbors so that they can use the program as you can.
  • Second, the freedom to modify a program so that you control the program and not the program yourself; for this purpose the source text must be made available to you. "
- FSF, 1986

In 1996 free software was defined on the website by referring to the “three levels of freedom” and explicitly adding that one must also have the freedom to study the software. This can also be seen in the older two-point definition as part of the freedom to change the program, but is not emphasized there so clearly. Stallman later avoided the word “level” because you need all freedom and the word is a bit misleading for it.

Finally, a freedom was added that explicitly states that users should be able to run the program however they want, for any purpose. The existing freedoms were already numbered from one to three, but that freedom should come before the others; therefore it was added as "Freedom 0".

The modern definition defines free software by the four freedoms listed above . In summary, it defines free software as software that guarantees end users the freedom to use, review / study, share and modify the software.

Since April 2008 the definition has been published in 39 languages ​​on the FSF website. The FSF also publishes a list of licenses that meet the requirements of this definition on its website.

More Definitions of Free Software

In July 1997 Bruce Perens published the Debian Free Software Guidelines .

Comparison with the open source definition

The differences to free software have already been made clear above in the section on the differentiation from open source software . In contrast, there are also many similarities. For example, the “Debian Free Software Guidelines” were used by the Open Source Initiative (OSI) under the name “Open Source Definition”; the only change is the replacement of the term “free software” with “open source software”. The FSF commented the following:

Quote: “ The term open source software is used by some to mean more or less the same category as free software. It's not exactly the same category of software: some licenses have been accepted [by the OSI] that we consider too restrictive, and there are Free Software licenses that have not been accepted [by the OSI]. However, the differences in the expansion of the category are small:
all free software is publicly available source code and all open source software is almost free . "

Different perspectives on free software

Freedom and rights

The stated goals of Free Software, the freedom to control one's own data processing and cooperation, are achieved by granting the following rights: users are allowed to execute, copy, distribute, examine, change and improve Free Software; these freedoms are granted and not withdrawn (as with proprietary software). The decisive factor is therefore not the avoidance of costs, but the freedom of the end user. The right of control over the software is guaranteed by the fact that a user of Free Software always has the associated source code available or can at least obtain it afterwards (which enables it to be examined and modified), and by the fact that a user can choose to do so by granting cooperation Can let others perform.

Free software can be recognized by its license. This includes the GNU General Public License and other free software licenses. A basic social and ethical principle behind the upheld rights to and with Free Software is that its developers value and respect the freedom and the community of end users because the terms of use of Free Software allow users and developers alike to create an environment of independence, community, To create and shape cooperation, ethics, solidarity and exchange.

The term "free software" and its exact definition as well as the distinction to proprietary software as well as the specific idea of ​​freedom go back decisively to the beginning of the GNU project around programmer activists like Richard Stallman and the associated establishment of the Free Software Foundation (FSF) in 1985.

The open source movement , which is closely related in terms of aspirations and objectives, was not identical and independent in its choice of ways and means, and emerged only later (1998) and in a different personnel environment. The difference between the approaches of free software and open source lies primarily in the respective weighting of the values ​​that are represented in principle: In the sense of open source, the main focus is on practical use and development methods, while the focus of the free software community on ethical, social and political implications.

The users of Free Software include private users, companies and public institutions, such as governments (mainly because of the independence, freedom and control of their own data processing), research centers ( CERN ), universities, the New York Stock Exchange , Wikipedia , the United States Department of Defense States .

The focus of free software is therefore the freedom of the user to share, copy and modify and opposes the usual restrictions of proprietary software ("non-free software" - in the sense of a lack of freedom): With proprietary software, developers try, end users and end users -Market control and monopolize (for example through restrictive end-user license agreements , confidentiality agreements , product activations , dongles , copy locks , proprietary formats or the distribution of binary executable programs without source code) and thus force users to become dependent on the respective developer company. Free software, on the other hand, differs in the freedom it grants: use, share, modify.

The self-image of the granted freedoms is that they are seen as necessary for the promotion of the social and ethical cause, which respects and values ​​the freedom and community of the users (in the area of ​​computer use and data processing) by giving free software active cooperation and Cooperation enables: Users have the opportunity to found a community of benevolence and ethical honesty using their computers and data processing . Free software can be used for any purpose (with no need to be tied to any particular social or ethical value), but the FSF and the GNU Project actively promote the values ​​of freedom, community, collaboration, and ethical solidarity that Free Software enables.

Due to its principles, free software has a strong focus on collaboration and helping together in a community: Anyone can participate in publicly managed free software projects. This does not preclude commercial and industrial use as this freedom is not restricted. The word free in free software refers to freedom , not free ; Free software has nothing to do with monetary costs or money. Free software is usually free, but there are no such restrictions. Free software may be used commercially, sold or redistributed at any price and is still free software as long as the rights of freedom are guaranteed. However, the most frequently used GPL does not allow GPL software to be sold compiled and a separate high price to be charged for the source code provision (above a low creation fee, e.g. medium), which means that GPL software can be commercialized in the Can restrict practice.

The freedoms in dealing with free software are legally anchored in free software licenses and can therefore be guaranteed. Such licenses include the GNU General Public License (GPL), which, through the copyleft principle, states that users of edited and republished versions of the software must be given the same freedoms. But permissive licenses like the BSD license (which do not require copyleft) are also accepted as free software licenses.

In contrast to proprietary software, in which there may be code for unnoticed spying / monitoring, for restricted use of media through digital restriction management and back doors for unnoticed remote control of changes (unwanted, unnoticed "updates"), free software offers through its investigability a software from which any undesirable and harmful properties can be removed and therefore usually do not exist in the first place.

Philosophy Considerations of Free Software

Free software is about giving users freedom for the software they receive: primarily the source code (so that they can make changes).

  • Software can easily be changed or duplicated (as opposed to physical objects). Software users should be able to make use of it, not just the original developers.
  • Cooking recipes are sometimes used as an analogy for free software: A cooking recipe allows freedom if a recipient is allowed to pass it on (with or without changes).
This does not mean that supporters of the free software movement demand the recipe of a meal ordered when they go to a restaurant, or insist on the recipe being disclosed. The reason is that the food is the result of cooking, not a variant of the recipe. (A meal is ordered when visiting a restaurant, not the “steps that lead to the meal”). In the same way, free software movement supporters, upon receipt of a document, do not insist on disclosing the software used to create the document. However, members of the free software movement will reject data formats that would force them to use a proprietary program to read / use (or modify) a document.
  • When a user receives software, the executable program is a direct transformation of the source text: The steps in the program are a direct transformation (or variant) of the steps / descriptions in the source text. In software licenses that grant freedom, such as the GNU GPL, this is referred to as the "corresponding source": corresponding source code. If software is passed on as free software, a recipient must be given the right to receive the corresponding source text (this is usually delivered immediately), as this grants the right to be free to change the software in an adequate manner can. Without the source code (e.g. only as a binary executable program) it is often almost impossible to make meaningful changes to the software. This is mostly due to the machine code, which is very strange for human readers, to which the source text is compiled in many programming languages ​​in order to then be executable on a computer. This form of software (machine code), which is difficult to change, is not a new product or an artifact that is difficult to create due to a lack of resources if the source code is used as the starting point. Instead, it is a convenient direct transformation of the source code. The free software movement advocates receiving the source text as well, as this is the only way to adequately analyze, change and control.
  • Members of the free software community pay attention to freedom in choosing software packages for reasons of their own freedom . They often refuse to use proprietary software. They do not refuse, for example, to "use subways if they have computers with Windows, or to make phone calls if the call is routed through distributors that use proprietary software, or to establish Internet connections if these are routed through routers that run proprietary software," or to order T-shirts because the manufacturer could use Windows to make T-shirts. ”For members of the free software community, it is primarily about freedom in their own data processing. Some (like the FSF or FSFE ) are involved in public relations work in order to bring other people closer to the relevant aspects of freedom in data processing.

Free software and aspects of availability

Freedom-granting software (free software) says nothing about the availability of the software: Some are developed as a public project (and are therefore available to everyone), others are developed in a customer-specific development order specifically for companies, organizations, governments or even individual users (and is therefore only available to them, unless they use their right to disclosure). However, with the receipt of the software, all recipients have received the freedoms of Free Software.

Software that can be used by a large number of users (programs for word processing, web browsing) is usually developed in public projects for software that ensures freedom. These programs are free software that is publicly available. Free Software rights allow users to make changes to this software or distribute those changes without notifying the original developers. However, the changes / improvements are usually made available to the original project. As a result, the improvements can become a fixed part of the public software (in that case they do not always have to be added by the community, as any contributions will then be maintained by the community. However, this first requires that the coordinators of the public project have decided to use the to include and maintain specific improvements or changes); in addition, improvements benefit the general public, in which the software can improve through various contributions. Since there can be differences of opinion in public projects (often on a purely technical level, where different technical goals can be pursued), a public project is forked and henceforth in two or more different separate ones Variants is publicly available. This is based on the right that free software is modifiable (and the modified version is republishable).

Freedom-granting software that allows a recipient to withdraw their freedom when it is subsequently passed on is called permissive software . Freedom-granting software that ensures that freedoms received must be passed on when the software is passed on is called copyleft software. Both are considered free software (copyleft secures freedoms for everyone, in which the freedoms may not be withdrawn if passed on, as is the case with revealing software.)

Programmers who make substantial software available to the public as free software often choose (as the author) a copylefted software license that guarantees freedom, as they can prevent the software from being picked up by companies and parts of it being processed into proprietary software, which would deprive users of their freedoms. Others choose a dual license concept where the software is available to the public e.g. B. is available as copyleft, but the software is available against payment on different terms. Some publish programs under permissive licenses (that is, without copyleft); especially when the aim is to make a program usable as widely as possible (even for proprietary software developers) (when it comes to promoting a new protocol or a new library).

Free software and commercial aspects

Free software can be commercial software (commercial and proprietary are not the same thing). Free software may be sold and passed on commercially and commercial activities (e.g. support) may be offered. Of course, this can also be done free of charge , usually with waiver of warranty . Free software is never proprietary, however, in that it forbids users or makes it impossible to modify and redistribute them.

Private or custom software that has been developed (usually for a fee) for a specific user (usually an organization) and is not publicly available can be free software. This is the case when the sole user of the software (the sole recipient of the software) has nevertheless received the four freedoms.

The free software movement rejects the thesis that programmers are entitled to deprive users of freedoms in order to make a profit. Instead, the free software movement values ​​the right to freedom of users higher than a financial gain from programmers or software companies if this is at the expense of the freedom of others (self-control and / or community, or privacy). This is why the most frequently used GPL allows commercialization, but does not allow you to charge more for the source text than for the compiled program (with the exception of additional preparation fees, e.g. for the medium), which can make the commercialization of GPL software more difficult.

However, the free software movement is definitely in favor of paying programmers if they respect the freedom of users, as well as for all business opportunities related to free software (support, maintenance, care). Richard Stallman describes possible scenarios of a software tax that could be used by a government to provide money for the development of software for the general public (which also grants freedoms).

Free software from a social perspective

Contribution to the discussion about the economic order

Some people see approaches to the free software movement as showing the possibilities for overcoming capitalism . In Germany, the Oekonux project is addressing this issue. Others see free software as just another competitor within the market economy . The freedom to translate the software into other languages ​​is of particular benefit to those language groups for whom a translation was previously not commercially interesting.

Contribution to reducing the digital divide

The freedom of software is recognized by the UN World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) as worthy of protection. It is one of the elementary demands of civil society with which the " digital divide " is to be overcome. The “digital divide” refers to the division into regions of the world that can afford the creation of IT infrastructure and, above all, participation in the Internet , and those that cannot. In contrast to proprietary software, when using free software, no money flows into foreign countries where the providers of proprietary software have their corporate headquarters. All resources that are available on site for IT can therefore flow directly into the IT economy on site.

“Free software gives developers in other cultural areas the freedom to adapt programs to their language and circumstances in order to then pass them on commercially or non-commercially. In the case of proprietary software, this is generally prohibited and at the manufacturer's discretion "

- Georg Greve , then President of the Free Software Foundation Europe and representative of the civil society WSIS coordination group in the German government delegation, 2003


Developments in advance

In 1931, Thomas J. Watson Sr. from IBM founded a Methods Research Department in order to collect knowledge about the operation of its data processing procedures and to effectively share it with its customers, what IBM has done with the user groups SHARE (Society to Help Avoid Redundant Effort) and GUIDE for its mainframe -Programming continued. Until 1970, software from IBM was made available free of charge and including source code. Between 1960 and 1970 a “ hacker culture” was established at US academic institutions ( Stanford , Berkeley , Carnegie Mellon and MIT ) , for which it was a matter of course to share one's own software improvements with other programmers. Programmers freely shared the software with one another and often passed the corresponding source code on. This was particularly common in large user groups such as the DEC User Group (DECUS). It was common practice to include the source code for the software that came with computer systems. As a result, many suggestions for improvements and bug fixes came back to the computer manufacturers. Software was seen as an addition to computers in order to make them usable.

On June 23, 1969, IBM announced new rules for the use and maintenance of its software, separate from the hardware terms and conditions. Copyright protection in connection with license agreements was introduced for software. The previously free service for the maintenance and further development of software was charged separately, which established a separate economic market for this service sector. In the late 1970s, other companies also began to introduce "software licenses," which limited the utility, distribution, and the ability to modify the programs. In addition, many programs were no longer supplied in the source code, but only in machine-readable form, to protect the software as a trade secret, which made changes almost impossible. In addition, with the advent of affordable microcomputers from IBM , Apple , Atari or Commodore, it became common practice to sell software separately from computer hardware and to hide the source code from the competition. The software thus became proprietary. More and more hackers were hired by software companies, and the freedoms previously exercised were severely restricted, software became an artificially scarce commodity.

During this time Richard Stallman worked at the "AI Lab" (department for artificial intelligence ) of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology . When proprietary software was also introduced in the laboratories there, Stallman tried to prevent a monopoly of proprietary providers by programming alternative software. In doing so, he followed his principles of scientific cooperation, which provided for a free and unhindered exchange of software.

“With the loss of my community, it was impossible to continue as before. Instead, I was faced with an entirely moral choice.

 The easy choice would have been to join the proprietary software world, sign confidentiality agreements, and promise not to help my fellow hackers. Most likely, I would develop software that would be distributed under nondisclosure agreements, thereby increasing the pressure on other people to betray their comrades too.

 I could have made some money that way and maybe had fun writing code. But I knew that at the end of my career I would look back on years of building walls; Walls that separate people from one another. I would then feel like I had spent my life making the world a worse place. [...]

 Another option that would have been straightforward but unpleasant was not to bother with computers at all. That way my abilities would not have been abused, but they would also have been wasted. I wouldn't have been to blame for computer users to be separated and restricted from one another, but I wouldn't have prevented it either.

 So I looked for a way that a programmer could do something good. I asked myself: is there a program or programs that I could write to make community possible again? "

- Richard Stallman

The emergence of Free Software

The company AT & T decided in 1983, a proprietary version of its Unix to bring to the market: UNIX System V . In September 1983 Richard Stallman founded the GNU Project with the aim of developing a free, UNIX-like operating system called "GNU".

So that the idea of ​​freedom would also be legally secured, free licenses had to be devised. Stallman developed the copyleft principle, which means that everyone who redistributes the software (with or without changes) must give the freedom to pass it on and change it. The copyleft guarantees that all users have freedom. The licenses of the GNU software are based on this principle.

An organizational basis for GNU and Free Software in general is the non-profit Free Software Foundation (FSF) founded in 1985 . In the early and mid-eighties, there were still individual licenses for software projects. Stallman combined the framework points into a single license and in 1989 published the GNU General Public License (GNU GPL). This is the most widespread license for free software today.

In 1991 the GNU operating system was complete except for the kernel . Some people realized that Linux , then a proprietary kernel for Minix , could work well with GNU. After the developers placed the Linux kernel under the “GNU GPL”, a completely free operating system could be expanded for the first time. With the rapid development and spread of GNU and Linux that followed, more and more people used free software.

Defense of Free Software

There were two major processes by which companies sought exclusive ownership of free software:

In 1992 AT&T sued the University of California for the rights to the UNIX sources. As it turned out, AT&T had taken over the entire free university production into its inventory and only removed the copyright information. In a settlement, AT&T was granted exclusive rights to three of approximately 18,000 disputed files.

In 2003 SCO sued IBM for the rights to the Linux sources. SCO justified their move with alleged violations of UNIX copyright. IBM would have illegally transferred sources from UNIX to Linux. However, SCO could not substantiate his claim in the process. The proceedings ended when it was discovered that SCO did not own UNIX copyrights, but that they were with Novell.

Well-known examples



In July 2007 more than 5000 software packages were registered in the “FSF / UNESCO Free Software Directory” , which also started in 1999 as a project of the FSF.

A study from 2015 shows that most free software projects on the GitHub web service depend on a few or just a single developer.

Business models

According to the four freedoms, free software can usually be copied and passed on in almost any way. Free software can be sold at any high price, but it is almost always available free of charge on the Internet, and so its sales value on data carriers is usually not much higher than the cost . A notable exception is the GNU Project , which offers free software at a significant profit margin and earned a significant portion of its income from software sales in the 1980s. At that time, however, the GNU project had a special role due to its central role in the development of free software and the low prevalence and efficiency of the Internet, which no longer exists today.

Some business models that have to do with free software therefore concentrate on the service aspect of software development, further development and adaptation. Maintenance and customization of the software as well as training and technical support are priorities for customers. Companies that have chosen these services as their business strategy include MySQL AB , Red Hat and Qt Development Frameworks . Free software is not subject to any rivalry and is not subject to exclusion , it is therefore a purely public good and consequently cannot be subject to normal market developments. Nonetheless, proprietary software publishers consider them a serious threat to their licensing business model and try to discourage potential customers from using free software. Nonetheless, manufacturers of proprietary software are active users of free software and support the availability of proprietary software on platforms that are based on free software.

As arguments for their products, manufacturers of proprietary software cite more guarantees, better quality - especially with regard to user friendliness and better services. Richard M. Stallman has repeatedly attacked such arguments, which counter the promises of open source, not of free software, as being tendentious and thematically wrong; In his eyes, the decision for or against Free Software is primarily an ethical and social decision, from which quality discussions must not be distracted.


There are several types of software licenses that meet the criteria of free software:

  • Copyleft licenses, the GNU General Public License ( GNU GPL ) is the most common. The author retains the copyright and there are clauses stating that changed and redistributed software remains free. The source code must also be made available.
  • In the case of BSD-like licenses , the author retains the copyright. This license, following the principle of “honor where honor is due”, contains the name of the author and often also a limitation of liability . Modification and distribution in any form is permitted, that is, it can also be incorporated into proprietary software. The Apache license and the MIT license fall into this class .
  • Public domain . The author waives the copyright. Everyone can do anything with the software, for example, incorporate it into their own programs, sell it or turn it into proprietary software again. However, the public domain is not a license; a work in the public domain is not owned. In countries in which no software in the public domain is possible (e.g. in parts of the European Union ) because, for example, copyright laws do not allow a conscious transfer to the public domain and the protection periods after the death of an author are so long that no public domain has ever been written Software has occurred, a license is used instead of the public domain that does not impose any obligations on the licensee and exempts him from all restrictions imposed by the general copyright regulations (for example the Do What The Fuck You Want To Public License (WTFPL) or the CC0 ).

See also:

Free software threats

Proprietary interfaces

Hardware manufacturers are increasingly switching to keeping the interface specifications secret in order to prevent the competition from imitating technical solution approaches. The reason for this lies in the increasing competitive pressure and in the fact that it is cheaper and faster to technically incorporate such protection than to reserve the intellectual property for yourself through a patent. If it is not publicly documented how the devices are to be controlled, the hardware support of free operating systems by means of free drivers suffers a serious setback, since it can only be started by reverse engineering .

On the other hand, the manufacturers have recognized the users of the more important free operating systems (above all GNU / Linux - where Linux and the X.Org server in particular are relevant) as customer groups. However, many of them provide proprietary drivers. These drivers are met with very divided opinions among supporters of free software: some are happy that they have won the "support" of hardware manufacturers and that their hardware is now more or less supported by the operating system they prefer, others reject proprietary drivers basically off.

The users of free operating systems would certainly benefit from a general release of interfaces. In addition to the ideological questions of system stability come into play here. If, for example, a proprietary Linux network card driver regularly leads to system crashes, the Linux developers would be powerless to counter this and it would depend on the manufacturer's discretion whether the error is corrected.

Software patents

The software patents that regularly appear in the headlines have a particularly serious influence on free software, because in some cases it is not even legally possible to meet the patent requirements with free software. In some cases, these insist on a fee per copy put into circulation, but free software precisely requires that the publisher has no influence over it. Even if he were to pay the license fees through donations, for example, he would have to be able to provide an exact number of the copies that are in circulation, so that it would no longer be free software.

Trusted Computing

Trusted Computing can clearly identify changes to a computer platform and thus clearly identify both external software attacks and changes by the user, configurations, malfunctions, security gaps or from application programs. The reaction to such a change can (but does not have to) be carried out by an appropriate, secure operating system. Trusted Computing can therefore also be used to secure digital rights management (DRM) and for copy protection .

From a political point of view , free software must always be replaceable and changeable by the user. Software that has to be certified in binary form is not. From a technical point of view , nothing in the binary code of free software can be concealed from the user because the source code must be accessible to everyone. This means that the encryption, with which the data is "saved" from the user, can be more easily evaded.

Another incompatibility arises with the copy protection of DVDs: Since the copyright reforms that were gradually established around the world around the turn of the millennium (in the USA the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA)), circumventing effective copy protection measures is only possible with the consent of the rights holder allowed. This prohibition extends to the production or distribution of programs that can circumvent these measures, so that free playback software for copy-protected DVDs cannot be legally written - out of their natural interests, the rights holders would never give their consent, because it would make the sense of the Measures would be reduced to absurdity .

If hardware manufacturers such as Intel or AMD should implement function-restricting procedures in chipsets or processors, free software could possibly only develop the full range of functions on free hardware .

See also


Web links

Portal: Free Software  - Overview of Wikipedia content on the subject of Free Software
Definition and philosophy

Individual evidence

  1. Free Software Movement (
  2. a b c Philosophy of the GNU Project (
  3. a b What is Free Software? (
  4. Free Software Free Society: Selected Essays of Richard M. Stallman, 2nd Edition
  5. Free Software may commercially sold and passed on to and commercial activities (support, etc.) may not be offered for free software. (Of course, all of this can be done for free, then usually with waiver of warranty ) But free software is never proprietary. Proprietary software is one that prohibits users from the freedom to modify and redistribute or make it impossible . (Commercial and proprietary are not the same thing.) Commercial Free Software
    Statement . Examples of commercial offers (maintenance contracts, support, service and warranty, software adjustments, etc.), all around free software: Debian Consulting , FSF Service Directory
  6. Richard Stallman: Free software protects private life (FuturMag)
  7. a b What is Free Software? ; Free software definition (
  8. ^ A b Steven Levy: Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution. Doubleday 1984, ISBN 0-385-19195-2 .
  9. a b Boris Grondahl: Hacker. In: Rotbuch 3000. ISBN 3-434-53506-3 .
  10. a b see under Open Source Yearbook 2005 ( Memento from October 7, 2006 in the Internet Archive )
  11. Markos Themelidi: Open Source - the hackers' vision of freedom. Books on Demand, 2005, ISBN 978-3-8334-2883-8 .
  12. ^ Tom Shea: Free software - Free software is a junkyard of software spare parts . In: InfoWorld . InfoWorld Media Group, Inc., 1983, p. 31 (English, ): “In contrast to commercial software is a large and growing body of free software that exists in the public domain. Public-domain software is written by microcomputer hobbyists (also known as 'hackers') many of whom are professional programmers in their work life. [...] Since everybody has access to source code, many routines have not only been used but dramatically improved by other programmers. "
  13. ^ David Ahl: David H. Ahl biography from Who's Who in America; Program printouts were distributed, for example, in computer magazines such as Creative Computing, Byte etc. and books such as the bestseller “BASIC computer games” . Retrieved November 23, 2009.
  14. Lawrence Lessig : Free, as in beer , Wired . September 2006. Retrieved March 18, 2009. “In June, a Copenhagen artists' collective called Superflex released version 3.0 of a new beer called - you guessed it - Free Beer. 'Free beer?' you ask. 'Think free,' Superflex members helpfully explained at the launch, 'as in free software.' "  
  15. History of OSI ( English ) Retrieved on February 11, 2016: "" conferees decided it was time to dump the moralizing and confrontational attitude that had been associated with "free software" in the past and sell the idea strictly on the same pragmatic, business-case grounds ""
  16. Eric S. Raymond : Goodbye, "free software"; hello, "open source" . February 8, 1998. Retrieved August 13, 2008: "" After the Netscape announcement broke in January I did a lot of thinking about the next phase - the serious push to get "free software" accepted in the mainstream corporate world. And I realized we have a serious problem with "free software" itself. Specifically, we have a problem with the term "free software", itself, not the concept. I've become convinced that the term has to go. ""
  17. ^ A b Mission of the Open Source Initiative
  18. a b Why open source misses the goal of free software (
  19. Why free software is better than open source software ;
  20. ^ Categories of free and nonfree software , GNU Project, Free Software Foundation, accessed March 3, 2012
  21. a b GNU's Bulletin, Volume 1 Number 1, page 8 . Retrieved October 3, 2013.
  22. What is Free Software? - GNU Project - Free Software Foundation (FSF) . March 20, 1997. Archived from the original on December 4, 2013. Retrieved October 3, 2013.
  23. What is Free Software? - GNU Project - Free Software Foundation (FSF) . Archived from the original on January 26, 1998. Retrieved October 3, 2013.
  24. ^ The Four Freedoms .: "I [Matt Mullenweg] originally thought Stallman started counting with zero instead of one because he's a geek. He is, but that wasn't the reason. Freedoms one, two, and three came first, but later he wanted to add something to supersede all of them. So: freedom zero. The geekness is a happy accident. "
  25. ^ Richard Stallman: The Free Software Definition . Free Software Foundation. Retrieved October 15, 2013.
  26. The Free Software Definition - Translations of this page . Free Software Foundation Inc. Retrieved October 3, 2013.
  27. ^ Bruce Perens: Debian's "Social Contract" with the Free Software Community . In: debian-announce mailing list .
  28. Free Software Foundation to differentiate between Open Source and Free Software
  29. Various licenses and comments (
  30. a b "Free software is not just a technical, but an ethical, social and political question. It's a human rights issue that software users should have. Freedom and collaboration are essential values ​​of Free Software. The GNU system realizes these values ​​and the principle of sharing, since sharing is good and useful for human progress. ” Free Software and Education (
  31. a b “These freedoms are crucial. They are not only important for the well-being of the individual, but also for society as a whole, because they promote social solidarity - i.e. exchange and cooperation. They are all the more important as ever larger areas of our culture and our lives are being digitized. In a world of digital sounds, images and words, free software is becoming more and more important for freedom in general. ”According to Why Open Source Misses the Goal of Free Software (
  32. a b “Using free software means making a political and ethical decision about your right to learn and what you learn to share with others.” (translation from here )
  33. a b As our society grows more dependent on computers, the software we run is of critical importance to securing the future of a free society. Free software is about having control over the technology we use in our homes, schools and businesses, where computers work for our individual and communal benefit, not for proprietary software companies or governments who might seek to restrict and monitor us. " Free Software Foundation - About
  34. a b Transcript of a speech by Richard Stallman on the free software movement ; March 9, 2006
  35. Categories of free and non-free software - GNU Project - Free Software Foundation (FSF)
  36. Open source categories of free and non-free software (
  37. What is "free software" and is it the same as "open source"? Open Source Initiative FAQ.
  38. Actions Governments Can Take to Promote Free Software by Richard Stallman (
  39. Who's using free software? (
  40. Non-free software […] The use, redistribution or modification of which is prohibited or required that permission must be asked for, or is so restricted that it cannot be freely done effectively. according to non-free software (
  41. a b Selling Free Software (
  42. a b GNU GENERAL PUBLIC LICENSE Version 3, June 29, 2007 - Conveying Non-Source Forms. ( English ) June 29, 2007. Retrieved June 17, 2015: "(1) a copy of the Corresponding Source for all the software in the product that is covered by this License, on a durable physical medium customarily used for software interchange, for a price no more than your reasonable cost of physically performing this conveying of source, or (2) access to copy the corresponding source from a network server at no charge. "
  43. a b Selling Free Software . June 17, 2015. Accessed June 17, 2015: “High or low prices and the GNU GPL - […] the GNU GPL obliges to provide the source code on further request. Without a limit on the price of the source code, they would be able to set a price that would be too high for anyone to pay - like a billion euros - and thus pretend to release the source code even though they are actually hiding it. That is why we have to limit the price for the source code in this case in order to guarantee the freedom of the users. "
  44. Why Software Should Be Free (Richard Stallman)
  45. hpr1116 :: Interview with Richard Stallman (see audio interview from 30:58)
  46. We can put an end to Word attachments
  47. GNU General Public License
  48. ^ Obstructing Custom Adaptation of Programs
  49. Appendix A: A Note on Software Free Software, Free Society
  50. Richard Stallman's comment Re: Announcing GNOME's official GitHub mirror
  51. ^ Network Services Aren't Free or Nonfree; They Raise Other Issues (Richard Stallman)
  52. a b Private Software
  53. "You should also have the freedom to make modifications and use them privately in your own work or game without even mentioning their existence. If you publish the changes, you shouldn't need to notify anyone in particular or in any particular way. ” What is Free Software
  54. Non-free software (in the sense of a lack of freedom), also called proprietary software
  55. “Shouldn't a programmer be able to ask for a reward for his creativity?”
  56. Commercial software
  57. GNU Manifesto
  58. Freedom of software is finally recognized by the UN as worthy of protection ( Memento of March 26, 2014 in the Internet Archive ) , article by the New Media Network, September 26, 2003.
  59. ^ EW Pugh: Origins of software bundling . In: IEEE Annals of the History of Computing . tape 24 , no. 1 (Jan.-March), 2002, ISSN  1058-6180 , pp. 57-58 , doi : 10.1109 / 85.988580 .
  60. ^ L. Johnson: A view from the 1960s: How the software industry began . In: IEEE Annals of the History of Computing . tape 20 , 1 (Jan.-March), 1998, ISSN  1058-6180 , pp. 36-42 , doi : 10.1109 / 85.646207 .
  61. ^ L. Johnson: A view from the 1960s: How the software industry began. In: IEEE Annals of the History of Computing. Volume 20, No. 1 (January-March) 1998, Conclusion, last paragraph.
  62. B. Degree: A personal recollection: IBM's unbundling of software and services . In: IEEE Annals of the History of Computing . tape 24 , 1 (Jan.-March), 2002, ISSN  1058-6180 , pp. 64-71 , doi : 10.1109 / 85.988583 .
  63. ^ WS Humphrey: Software unbundling: a personal perspective . In: IEEE Annals of the History of Computing . tape 24 , 1 (Jan.-March), 2002, ISSN  1058-6180 , pp. 59-63 , doi : 10.1109 / 85.988582 .
  64. ^ Richard Stallman: The GNU Project on, October 22, 2006
  65. ^ Richard Stallman: Initial Announcement on net.unix-wizards, net.usoft, September 27, 1983
  66. FSF / UNESCO Free Software Directory on the FSF website, 2007
  67. Guilherme Avelino, Marco Tulio Valente, Andre Hora: What is the Truck Factor of popular GitHub applications? A first assessment . In: PeerJ Preprints . 2015, doi : 10.7287 / peerj.preprints.1233v1 .


  1. It doesn't matter how the software is received: commercial development contract, purchase or public download. With some licenses, the provision as a service on a server already counts, see AGPL
  2. This includes the freedom to run the changed software version - if only the manufacturer is allowed to run changed versions, this is referred to as tivoization and seen as a restriction of freedom.
  3. free or by sale
  4. exclusively within the organization
  5. optionally private (purely in-house)
This version was added to the list of articles worth reading on December 25, 2005 .