Ramblings of a Professional Computer Geek

September 18, 2008

Free? Or Freedom?

Filed under: Linux — Padma @ 2:01 pm
Tags: , , , , , ,

Linux (or Gnu/Linux, as RMS would have me say) is Free Software. That is to say, the Gnu tools, the Linux Kernel, and most of the rest of the software, is licensed under the GPL (the Gnu General Public License, sometimes called a copyleft), which is considered a “Free” license. (Technically, a given copy of the Linux kernel may not be entirely Free, as it may contain some proprietary binary “blobs” to aid in wireless network connectivity and certain video card drivers.) Indeed, several totally “Free” distros exist,and several popular distros also provide Free versions.

But what is Free Software? I could just point you to the Gnu Free Software Definition, but I will summarize a little, here. Free software is software that you have the source code to, that you can run, just like any program, you can study how it works, you can redistribute it, and you can modify it, and redistribute that to the benefit of the entire community. Free Software is about Freedom. It is a matter of liberty, not price.

How about Open Source? It’s the same as Free Software, isn’t it? Not exactly. Free Software (licensed under the GPL or a compatible license) is definitely Open Source. But the Open Source Initiative approves some licenses that are not compatible with the GPL. It is really a difference of philosophy. Free Software is concerned with the user’s freedom. Open Source is concerned with making the source code available.

But what does it matter? I can download it all for free, right? Again, not exactly. Free and Open Source Software is usually available on the internet, or from a friend, or wherever, for no cost. But there is also no restriction on charging for the same.  RMS even encourages charging a fee.  He has said, “Distributing free software is an opportunity to raise funds for development. Don’t waste it!” Of course, don’t charge too much, or either no one will buy it, or some person (or group) will buy it, and then redistribute it, legally, for less.  This is why you many sites can charge you for a CD/DVD, if you want to go that route.  And why not?  They should at least be allowed to recoup their own costs.

Of course, even in the Linux world you have some proprietary and /or commercial software.  How about those Windows wifi drivers that you need ndiswrapper to run?  One of the “blobs” in the kernel is for nVidia drivers.  There are other commercial/proprietary applications available for Linux.  CrossOver Linux comes to mind.   I have also purchased ported Windows games.  There are other, often specialized, applications available.  But these are anathema to Free Software, and have no place on a pure, free, Gnu/Linux box.

So, what camp am I in?  As much as I appreciate what RMS, Gnu, and the Free Software Foundation have done, and as much as I encourage them to continue, to not give up until All Software Is Free, I cannot, in good conscience, claim their moral high ground.  In the harsh reality of my world, I am getting older.  I want to use things that work, today, not sometime in the future.  I want my laptop to connect via my wireless router.  I want to watch those flash animations.  I want to play Civilization.  And I don’t want to be forced to use Windows to do it.



  1. I’m installing Ubuntu on my laptop right now. Just thought you might like to know. 🙂

    Comment by WildWeazel — September 27, 2008 @ 10:37 pm | Reply

  2. Sounds fine to me, Travis.

    As Texstar says, if it’s Linux, it’s all good.

    I meant to ask, did you do your summer code stuff on *nix systems, or was it all done in Windows? I hate to think they forced you to use Windows for all that high-powered programming stuff…. 😉

    Comment by Padma — September 28, 2008 @ 8:50 pm | Reply

  3. Nah, it was all Windows. There were some Red Hat boxes in the lab, but I rarely saw anyone using them. The libraries we used are open-source and available for Linux though.

    Comment by WildWeazel — September 30, 2008 @ 7:32 pm | Reply

  4. That’s all right. It tells me that the developers of the libraries knew what they were doing. 😉

    Comment by Padma — September 30, 2008 @ 8:45 pm | Reply

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