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Is that software really free?

by: Steve Blampied
If you search the 'net for "Free Software" you'll alway come up with links to the Free Software Foundation or something called a GNU, rather than software that doesn't cost anything.

You see, "Free Software" it doesn't always refer to software that is free of charge. It actually refers to the software being "Free" as in "Freedom" !

Just so that you understand the difference, here is the definition of free software from

"A program is free software, for you, a particular user, if:

You have the freedom to run the program, for any purpose.
You have the freedom to modify the program to suit your needs. (To make this freedom effective in practice, you must have access to the source code, since making changes in a program without having the source code is exceedingly difficult.)
You have the freedom to redistribute copies, either gratis or for a fee.
You have the freedom to distribute modified versions of the program, so that the community can benefit from your improvements.
Since "free" refers to freedom, not to price, there is no contradiction between selling copies and free software.

In fact, the freedom to sell copies is crucial: collections of free software sold on CD-ROMs are important for the community, and selling them is an important way to raise funds for free software development. Therefore, a program which people are not free to include on these collections is not free software.

Because of the ambiguity of "free", people have long looked for alternatives, but no one has found a suitable alternative. The English Language has more words and nuances than any other, but it lacks a simple, unambiguous, word that means "free," as in freedom--"unfettered," being the word that comes closest in meaning. Such alternatives as "liberated", "freedom," and "open" have either the wrong meaning or some other disadvantage."

"Free Software" is often but not always free-of-charge but it does have other benefits. Often the software is written by people who are doing it for the challenge or simply because they enjoy writing it, or to solve a particular problem, and this approach can produce really useful programs without the usual commercial undercurrent.

Also because the source code is normally freely available it is also likely that many people from the software community will have had a hand in the creation or debugging of the finished article.

More information and a large quantity of Free Software is available from

About the author:
Steve Blampied lives in Jersey in the Channel Islands and has been an independent IT consultant for around 10 years and has a small IT company in Jersey.

He is currently putting together a web site solely about free software.