Why the distinction between free software and GPL software is important

Matthew Flaschen matthew.flaschen at gatech.edu
Thu Apr 26 22:35:36 UTC 2007

Mark Wallace wrote:
> The reason why the distinction between free and GPL software

GPL software /is/ free software as the free software community means it.
 I am free to read the source, modify it, and redistribute it (modified
or unmodified).  Adobe Acrobat Reader is /not/, because I can't do those
things; costing $0 does not make software free.  However, other software
is free without being GPL.  For instance, OpenSolaris is available under
CDDL, which is also a free license.  The Apache web server is under the
Apache 2.0 license, and it's free too.

> someone could get into a lot of trouble is they took
> Reader and  used it as a basis to reverse engineer a product that 
> would compete with the Acrobat full suite.

How do you think XPDF and other free PDF libraries were made?

> A software writer would want to GPL it so that the larger community 
> would help him develop it.

That's not the only reason.  Many people believe all software should be
free as in freedom, whether or not it results in people helping you develop.

> Sun Microsystems could see that it didn't have the resources to make Star
> Office competitive with Microsoft Word, so they went GPL.

That's doubtful, since they still do the vast majority of the work on
OpenOffice.org/Sun .  More likely, they wanted the favorable publicity
from releasing a major product as free/open source software, and
realized it would help them sell the proprietary StarOffice.

> So they went open source so that the geeks in the world would make 
> improvements in it.

Again, Netscape employees are still the biggest contributors to Mozilla.

> The last version of Netscape still wasn't GPL, 
> it was free.

Not as in freedom.

>  But the GPL product was virtually identical.

You're focusing too much on the GPL.  Mozilla wasn't even originally
released under it, but rather the Mozilla Public License, another free
license.  Now it's under MPL/GPL/LGPL.

> The same is true for Star Office today.  You can pay $35 for it in a 
> store.  Why, I don't know, but some people aren't really price 
> conscious.

True, though StarOffice does have proprietary addons.  But free software
*isn't about money*.  I have donated to OpenOffice.org myself.

Matt Flaschen

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