Why the distinction between free software and GPL software is important

Graham gct3 at blueyonder.co.uk
Sat Apr 28 12:43:44 BST 2007


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Art Alexion wrote:

[snipped]
> When referring to an object -- like software-- rather than a living thing, 
> most native English speakers probably presume free of cost unless context 
> dictates the contrary.

Most people understand the concept of "free speech" as being speech
without restriction, the "free" being understood as freedom.

Free software is about that same freedom, software as you wish to use
unrestricted.  As Richard Stallman has so often pointed out, the clear
and unequivocal position of the Free Software Movement has been obscured
by calling free software "open source software"; free software may be
open source software, but that doesn't mean open source software can
always be used with the freedoms called for in free software, and
therefore it is not free of constraint.

The GPL was contrived to place a legal framework by which free software
could exercise those freedoms in perpetuity, and others could not take
those freedoms away.  Its a practical means of championing an ethical
issue, and not merely a contrivance of words.

Windows has lots of "freeware" programs, but you would only regard them
as being free in the sense of no cost.  They are not free software
because they use an Operating system to make them work that is not free
as in freedom.

Whether you agree with the stand or not, the modern era of computing and
the internet started with people wishing to co-operate and share, and
the community of Linux users has grown because of it.  I think its
important to keep the philosophy of free software to the forefront,
because that keeps reminding us WHY we're going somewhere and keeps us
from taking the path of least resistance to get there (and taking away
some of our freedoms in the process).

I'll leave as your description of software being an object and not a
"living thing", as there are many in the field of AI who would disagree
with you :-)

Graham

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