Software is deeply involved in all aspects of our lives, and invisibly integrated into the basic fabric of society. With our reliance on software being increasingly pronounced, how can we ensure that the software we use every day is taking its orders from you, rather than unjustly controlled by Big Tech?
Free software gives everybody the freedom to use, study, modify and distribute software. These rights enable us to understand and improve software, while also helping support other fundamental rights such as freedom of speech, privacy, and right to repair.
What is Free Software?
We believe that, for any program, it must provide you with the freedoms to:
- Use it.
You have the freedom to run the program however you wish, for any purpose, and without any restrictions.
- Modify it.
You are free to study the source code of the program, and make your own modifications to it.
- Share it.
You have the freedom to redistribute copies of the programs so you can help others.
- Collaborate on it.
You can share improvements to the program with others, and build better software through joint effort.
When a program upholds the four essential freedoms, it is free software. If any of the four freedoms is missing, it is proprietary software, or nonfree software.
The Injustice of Proprietariness
Proprietary software, or nonfree software, denies you the freedom to use, study, modify and/or share software. In practice, proprietary software often risks your privacy and security by hiding the source code and prohibiting you from modifying the program.
Microsoft Windows, as soon as it boots, and without asking any permission, automatically sends data to many online servers. Their web browser Edge leaks the sites the user visits to Bing and sends images the user views to Microsoft.
The e-commerce giant Pinduoduo exploits vulnerablities of mobile phones to make its Android malware hard to remove, snooping on other apps and taking control of them. TikTok injects keylogger-like scripts into its iOS in-app browser that can track every tap and input by the user.
These are just a few instances where proprietary programs are designed to harm the users. Besides they go out of many other ways to spy on the users, restrict them, censor them, and abuse them.
Why Free Software?
Privacy and Security
With the availability of source code, anyone can check how the software works and make sure it doesn't compromise your privacy and meet expected security.
Freedom to Use
There is no restriction on the use of free software of any kind, such as time ("30 days trial period"), purpose ("For research and non-commercial use only"), or place ("Licensed for one computer only").
You are free to make modifications to the program as you need, and have your own modified version installed. This also underlies the right to repair movement.
Kickstarting the Journey to Freedom
Using free software is no longer a hard thing today. We have written a series of guides to help you through replacing proprietary programs in your computers (and cellphones) with free ones, step by step.
Are you a developer? You can provide even greater help by participating in free software development.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do I know whether a program is free software or not?
According to applicable law, a program is free software only when it explicitly gives you the four essential freedoms. The four freedoms are granted through a legal document known as a license. In other words, whether a program is free or not depends on the terms and conditions of its license.
For general users, though, you don't necessarily need to read through the terms of a license. A program is usually free software when it introduced itself as "libre" or "open source" software.
The term "free software", however, can be a little bit tricky -- it's often used by many to simply refer to software that can be obtained free of charge which may or may not give you the four essential freedoms. When a program advertises itself as "free" software, you should double check whether it's really free as in freedom, or just free as in free beer.
How does free software differ from "open source" software?
Free software is often referred to by many as "open source" software. While both terms refer to basically the same thing, they are each based on different values.
The free software movement was started by the Free Software Foundation in 1985 to promote computer user freedom and defend the rights of all software users. In 1998, some people splintered off from the free software movement and, with the aim of attracting more business intrest, launched the Open Source Initiative. The term "open source" has since gained widespread use as a marketing term of free software, underming the ideas of user freedom.
In order to stay neutral, some people use the term FLOSS (Free/Libre and Open Source Software) to refer to the two movements as a whole. Some others would choose to say FOSS (Free and Open Source Software). If neutrality is your goal, we suggest saying FLOSS.
As lovers of software freedom, we prefer the term "free software" to "open source". Language is important because it frames how people think about a subject. While both terms describe almost the same range of software, free software is more about your freedom and not just an open way of building software. We hope you support our views as well and make the same choice.
Is free software free of charge? Can it be commercialized?
When we speak of free software, we are referring to freedom, not price. Think of "free" as in "free speech", not as in "free beer". By saying this, however, we don't mean that free software is not gratis, but that it has nothing to do with price.
You may purchase a copy of free software and give it away. You may also get a copy at no charge and sell it to someone else. Here, what we are focusing on is the freedom that the software you've obtained gives you. Whether you purchased the program or obtained it at no charge, as long as it gives you the four freedoms, nobody can restrict the way you distribute it, no matter its gratis or paid distriution.
For these reasons, collecting royalties for distrubiting copies of free software, has become an unfeasible thing for free software developers -- they have therefore explored other ways of commercialization. Commercialization? Many would think it being unacceptable. However, commercialization is not a bad thing; it instead turns development of free software from a hobby to an income, which in turn encourages proliferation of free software in general. What is unacceptable is the practice of commercialization that aims to make more profit by compromising user freedom, typically by selling software that prohibits free distribution and modification.
With profiting from distribution of copies being no longer feasible, free software developers have come up with other ways of commercialization while also ensuring user freedom. Some examples are providing paid technical support for free software, and developing and modifying free software in exchange for money.