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Free software movement

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Title: Free software movement  
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Subject: Open source, Free software, Free Software Foundation, Creative Commons, Hacker ethic
Collection: Copyleft Media, Free Software Culture and Documents, Free Software Foundation, Gnu Project, Social Movements
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Free software movement

Richard Stallman, founder of the GNU Project and the free software movement

The free-software movement is a social movement[1] with the goal of obtaining and guaranteeing certain freedoms for software users, namely the freedom to run the software, to study and change the software, and to redistribute copies with or without changes. Although drawing on traditions and philosophies among members of the 1970s hacker culture, Richard Stallman formally founded the movement in 1983 by launching the GNU Project.[2]

Stallman founded the Free Software Foundation in 1985 to support the movement.


  • Philosophy 1
  • Actions 2
    • Writing and spreading free software 2.1
    • Building awareness 2.2
    • Ethical equality 2.3
  • Legislation 3
  • Subgroups and schisms 4
    • Open source 4.1
    • Stallman and Torvalds 4.2
  • Measures of progress 5
  • Criticism and controversy 6
    • Should principles be compromised? 6.1
    • How will programmers get paid? 6.2
  • See also 7
  • References 8
  • Further reading 9
  • External links 10


The philosophy of the movement is that the use of computers should not lead to people being prevented from cooperating with each other. In practice, this means rejecting "proprietary software", which imposes such restrictions, and promoting free software,[3] with the ultimate goal of liberating everyone "in cyberspace"[4] – that is, every computer user. Stallman notes that this action will promote rather than hinder the progression of technology, since "it means that much wasteful duplication of system programming effort will be avoided. This effort can go instead into advancing the state of the art".[5]

Members of the free-software movement believe that all users of software should have the freedoms listed in The Free Software Definition. Many of them hold that it is immoral to prohibit or prevent people from exercising these freedoms and that these freedoms are required to create a decent society where software users can help each other, and to have control over their computers.[6]

Some adherents to the free-software movement do not believe that proprietary software is strictly immoral.[7]

"While social change may occur as an unintended by-product of technological change, advocates of new technologies often have promoted them as instruments of positive social change." This quote by San Jose State professor Joel West explains much of the philosophy, or the reason that the free source movement is alive. If it is assumed that social change is not only affected, but in some points of view, directed by the advancement of technology, is it ethical to hold these technologies from certain people? If not to make a direct change, this movement is in place to raise awareness about the effects that take place because of the physical things around us. A computer, for instance, allows us so many more freedoms than we have without a computer, but should these technological mediums be implied freedoms, or selective privileges? The debate over the morality of both sides to the free software movement is a difficult topic to compromise respective opposition.[8]

The Free Software Foundation also believes all software needs free documentation, in particular because conscientious programmers should be able to update manuals to reflect modification that they made to the software, but deems the freedom to modify less important for other types of written works.[9] Within the free software movement, the Floss manuals foundation specialises on the goal of providing such documentation. Members of the free software movement advocate that works which serve a practical purpose should also be free.[10]


Writing and spreading free software

The core work of the free software movement focused on software development. The free software movement also rejects proprietary software, refusing to install software that does not give them the freedoms of free software. According to Stallman, "The only thing in the software field that is worse than an unauthorised copy of a proprietary program, is an authorised copy of the proprietary program because this does the same harm to its whole community of users, and in addition, usually the developer, the perpetrator of this evil, profits from it."[11]

Building awareness

Some supporters of the free-software movement take up public speaking, or host a stall at software-related conferences to raise awareness of software freedom. This is seen as important since people who receive free software, but who are not aware that it is free software, will later accept a non-free replacement or will add software that is not free software.[12]

Ethical equality

Margaret S. Elliot, a researcher in the Institute for Software at the University of California Irvine, not only outlines many benefits that could come from a free software movement, she claims that it is inherently necessary to give every person equal opportunity to utilize the Internet, assuming that the computer is globally accessible. Since the world has become more based in the framework of technology and its advancement, creating a selective internet that allows only some to surf the web freely is nonsensical according to Elliot. If there is a desire to live in a more coexistent world that is benefited by communication and global assistance, then globally free software should be a position to strive for, according to many scholars who promote awareness about the free software movement. The ideas sparked by the GNU associates are an attempt to promote a "cooperative environment" that understands the benefits of having a local community and a global community.[13]


A lot of lobbying work has been done against software patents and expansions of copyright law. Other lobbying focusses directly on use of free software by government agencies and government-funded projects.

The Venezuelan government implemented a free software law in January 2006. Decree No. 3,390 mandated all government agencies to migrate to free software over a two-year period.[14]

Congressmen Edgar David Villanueva and Jacques Rodrich Ackerman have been instrumental in introducing in Republic of Peru bill 1609 on "Free Software in Public Administration".[15] The incident immediately invited the attention of Microsoft Inc, Peru, whose General Manager wrote a letter to Dr Edgar David Villanueva. Dr Villanueva's response received worldwide attention and is still seen as a classical piece of argumentation favouring use of free software in Governments.[16]

In the USA, there have been efforts to pass legislation at the state level encouraging use of free software by state government agencies.[17]

Subgroups and schisms

Like many social movements, the free software movement has ongoing internal conflict between personalities and between supporters of compromise versus strict adherence to values.

Open source

In 1998, a strategy session was held to develop a business case for free software which would focus on technology rather than ethics.[18] After this Eric Raymond and Bruce Perens founded the Open Source Initiative (OSI), to promote the term "open-source software" as an alternative term for free software. OSI did not agree with the free software movement's position that non-free software is a social problem or that it is unethical, arguing instead that open-source is a superior model for software development.[19]

By 2005, Richard Glass considered the differences to be a "serious fracture" but "vitally important to those on both sides of the fracture" and "of little importance to anyone else studying the movement from a software engineering perspective" since they have had "little effect on the field".[20]

Some free software advocates use the term free and open-source software (FOSS) as an inclusive compromise, drawing on both philosophies to bring both free software advocates and open-source software advocates together to work on projects with more cohesion. Some users believe that a compromise term encompassing both aspects is ideal, to promote both the user's freedom with the software and also to promote the perceived superiority of an open source development model.

While some people prefer to link the two ideas of "open-source software" and "free software" together, it is important to understand the difference because they offer two separate ideas and values. This ambiguity began in 1998 when people started to use the term "open-source software" rather than "free software". People in the community of free software used these separate terms as a way to differentiate what they did. The open-source movement addresses software being open as a practical question as opposed to an ethical dilemma. In other words, it focuses more on the development. The open-source movement ultimately determines that non-free software is not the solution of best interest.

On the other hand, the free-software movement views non-free software as a social issue and free software as the solution to the problem. Those who work within the free-software community have searched for less ambiguous terms in efforts to refine their definition so there is no confusion, but struggle to find words that do not yield vagueness in English (most other languages do not have this problem). Although the movements have separate values and goals, people in both the open-source community and free-software community collaborate when it comes to practical projects.[21]

The switch from the free-software movement to the open-source movement has had negative effects on the progression of community,according to Christopher Kelty who dedicates a scholarly chapter to the free-software movements in "Theorizing Media and Practice". The open-source movement denies that selectivity and the privatization of software is unethical. Although the open-source movement is working towards the same social benefits as the free software movement, Kelty claims that by disregarding this fundamental belief of the free-software advocates, one is destroying the overall argument. If it can be claimed that it is ethical to limit the internet and other technology to only users who have the means to use this software, then there is no argument against the way things are at the moment; there is no need to complain if all morality is in affect.[22]

Stallman and Torvalds

The two most prominent people attached to the movement, Richard Stallman and Linus Torvalds, may be seen as representatives of the value based versus apolitical philosophies, as well as the GNU versus Linux coding styles. Paradoxically as it seems, it is the symbiosis of their works that make up a complete operating system known as GNU/Linux, or just Linux. In the GNU/Linux naming controversy the FSF argues for the term GNU/Linux because GNU was a longstanding project to develop a free operating system, of which they say the kernel was the last missing piece.[23]

Measures of progress

Ohloh, a web service founded in 2004 and launched in 2006, monitors the development activity in the free-software community, providing detailed metrics and quantitative analyses on the growth and popularity of projects and programming languages.

Criticism and controversy

Should principles be compromised?

Eric Raymond criticises the speed at which the free-software movement is progressing, suggesting that temporary compromises should be made for long-term gains. Raymond argues that this could raise awareness of the software and thus increase the free-software movement's influence on relevant standards and legislation.[24]

Richard Stallman, on the other hand, sees the current level of compromise as a greater cause for worry.[25][26]

How will programmers get paid?

Stallman said that this is where people get the misconception of "free": there is no wrong in programmers' requesting payment for a proposed project. Restricting and controlling the user's decisions on use is the actual violation of freedom. Stallman defends that in some cases, monetary incentive is not necessary for motivation since the pleasure in expressing creativity is a reward in itself (such as music and art).[5]

See also


  1. ^ Richard Stallman on the nature of the Free software movement in 2008 on emacs-devel mailing list.
  2. ^ "Announcement of the GNU project". 
  3. ^ "Use Free Software". 
  4. ^ "Stallman interviewed by Sean Daly". Groklaw. 2006-06-23. 
  5. ^ a b "The GNU Manifesto". 
  6. ^ "Why free software?". 
  7. ^ "Copyleft: Pragmatic Idealism". 
  8. ^ "The Effect of Computerization Movements Upon Organizational Adoption of Open Source". San Jose State University. 
  9. ^ "Free Software and Free Manuals". 
  10. ^ Stallman, Richard. "Why Open Source Misses the Point of Free Software". GNU Operating System. Free Software Foundation. Retrieved 11 February 2013. 
  11. ^ "Transcript of Stallman on Free Software". FSFE. 2006-03-09. 
  12. ^ "Transcript of Stallman speaking at WSIS".  
  13. ^ "Mobilization of software developers". Institute for Software Research. 
  14. ^ "Free software liberates Venezuela".  
  15. ^ "An English translation of the Free Software bill proposed in Peru". 
  16. ^ "Peruvian Congressman Edgar Villanueva writing to Microsoft about free software.". Archived from the original on 2007-08-29. 
  17. ^ "Open source's new weapon: The law?". 
  18. ^ "History of the OSI". 
  19. ^ "Open Source misses the point". 
  20. ^ Richard Glass (2005), "Standing in Front of the Open Source Steamroller", in Joseph Feller, Brian Fitzgerald, Scott A. Hissam, Karim R. Lakahani, Perspectives on Free and Open Source Software, MIT Press, p. 89,  
  21. ^ """Why "Free Software" is better than "Open Source. 
  22. ^ theorizing media and practice. anthropology of media. 
  23. ^ "Linux and GNU - GNU Project - Free Software Foundation (FSF)". Retrieved 2012-08-13. 
  24. ^ "ESR's "World Domination 201", on the need for more compromise by the free software movement". 
  25. ^ "RMS on the progress of the movement and his worry about compromise". 
  26. ^ """Richard Stallman on "World Domination 201. I cannot agree to that compromise, and my experience teaches me that it won't be temporary. ... What our community needs most is more spine in rejection of non-free software. It has far too much willingness to compromise. ... To "argue" in favor of adding non-free software in GNU/Linux distros is almost superfluous, since that's what nearly all of them have already done. 

Further reading

  • David M. Berry, Copy, Rip, Burn: The Politics of Copyleft and Open Source, Pluto Press, 2008, ISBN 0-7453-2414-2
  • Johan Soderberg, Hacking Capitalism: The Free and Open Source Software Movement, Routledge, 2007, ISBN 0-415-95543-2

External links

  • What is Free Software? - Essay by Karl Fogel.
  • The Free Software Movement and the Future of Freedom, a 2006 lecture by Richard Stallman
  • Free Software Movement intro by FSF
  • The GNU Project Philosophy Directory, containing many defining documents of the free software movement
  • An interview with Stallman, "Free Software as a social movement"
  • Christian Imhorst, Anarchy and Source Code - What does the Free Software Movement have to do with Anarchism?, (licence: GFDL), 2005
  • An anti-DRM campaign - by Bill Xu and Richard Stallman
  • The Codebreakers - a freely redistributable movie
  • Stallman's Free Software Song
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