2.2 UsabilityTop2 Background2.1 Free Software



2.1 Free Software

2.1.1 Term

The word 'free' in the term Free Software (FS) is not related to the concept of monetary value ie. price, but derives its meaning from the idea of >>freedom<<.

Seen as thus, the term Free Software is defined by the following four freedoms [FSF Europe]:

  1. The freedom to run the program, for any purpose.
  2. The freedom to study how the program works, and adapt it to your needs.
  3. The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbor.
  4. The freedom to improve the program, and release your improvements to the public, so that the whole community benefits.

A program is defined as Free Software only when it provides the user with these four freedoms, otherwise it is defined as not free or proprietary. In this thesis, the use of the word >>Free<< in capital letters denotes software with the above-mentioned four characteristics ie. freedoms.

In 1985 Richard Stallman founded the Free Software Foundation (FSF) with the goal of advancing the concept of Free Software [Grassmuck 2004]. Free Software does not prohibit the commercial use of programs (as per Freedom 1). Actually, a market study conducted by the EU Commission in 2007 showed the economic significance of business models based on Free Software ie. Open Source [heise open]:

>>EU researchers predict that open-source related services will comprise 32 percent of IT services in 2010. Furthermore, the contribution of the open-source sector to the GDP could reach 4 percent by that year. Currently, the total IT infrastructure share of the European GDP is at 10 percent.<<

2.1.2 Free Software versus Open Source

Free Software is not the same as Open Source.

Background: The term Free Software is often misinterpreted because >>Free<< is understood in terms of price, not freedom (as per the FSF definition). This confusion was one of the reasons why the Open Source Initiative (OSI)1 started to use the term Open Source instead (1998). The main objective of this marketing campaign was to promote the commercialization and acceptance of Free software in the business sector. This development also resulted in a move away from focusing on the philosophical and ethical ideas behind Free software, and instead only emphasized the technical advantages of open source. [FSF Europe]. Seen this way, Open Source refers only to open source access, which is a decidedly weaker criteria compared to the concepts underlying Free Software [GNU-Projekt a].

2.1.3 Licensing Categories

Software licenses outline a user's rights to using a software. A Free software license is one which expressly bestows upon the user the four freedoms outlined in Section 2.1.1. They are however just as binding as licenses for proprietary software.

The licensing conditions apply when a software is distributed (with or without changes). Figure 2.1.3 classifies a number of Free software licenses (based on their strength of protection) into four categories [Reiter 2004]:

  1. Strong Protection
    e.g. GNU General Public License (GPL): A license who modifies a GNU GPL software agrees to distribute it under the same licensing conditions along with the corresponding source code.
  2. Weak Protection
    e.g. GNU Lesser General Public License (LGPL): GNU LGPL The software can be used in proprietary software, however the GNU LPGL source code must remain free.
  3. No Protection
    e.g. X11 (modified BSD): The software can be distributed without preserving the source code or Free Software freedoms; furthermore it can be used in proprietary software.
  4. GPL Non-Compatible or Imbalanced
    Includes all other Free Software licenses, ie. do not fit criteria outlined in (1) to (3); e.g. Netscape Public License
FS Licensing Categories (as per [Reiter 2004])

Software with numerous different licenses under (1) to (3) are protected by the strongest license [Reiter 2004]. Free Software licenses with protection are also referred to as Copyleft. Copyleft means that anyone distributing software (with or without modifications) confers to other users the right to further distribute or modify the softwre. Copyleft therefore guarantees this right for all users. The GNU project describes and compares the difference between Copyleft and Copyright in the following terms [GNU-Projekt b]:

»Developers of proprietary software use copyrights to limit the freedom of users whereas we guarantee it. As a result, we have changed the name 'Copyright' into 'Copyleft' to illustrate this difference.«

© June 1, 2007 | Emanuel Schütze | some rights reserved.
This work is licensed under the Creative Commons License Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Germany.

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