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Computing & Information Services Newsletter
Free Software
     
 

What is Free Software?

'Free software' is a matter of the users' freedom to run, copy, distribute, study, change and improve the software. The most common misconception is that free software is gratis. `Free software' does not mean "non-commercial". A free program must be available for commercial use, commercial development, and commercial distribution. The only preconditions for free software are accessibility of source code. More precisely, it refers to four kinds of freedom, for the users of the software:

  • The freedom to run the program, for any purpose.
  • The freedom to study how the program works, and adapt it to your needs.
  • The freedom to redistribute copies and share it with the community.
  • The freedom to improve the program, and release your improvements to the public, so that the whole community benefits.

A program is free software if users have all of these freedoms. Thus, you should be free to redistribute copies, either with or without modifications, either gratis or charging a fee for distribution, to anyone anywhere.

The History of Free Software

The concept of "Free Software" was first used in 1980s; however the software developers in 1970s were sharing the software they have developed in conformity with "Free Software" principles. In early 1980s, the companies developing software started to use license agreements that imposed several restrictions on users. Against this movement, Richard Stallman who was working in MIT then, was the first to succeed in formalizing the idea of free software, in form of four freedoms. He started to work on a project that he would call "Free Software" To support and realize this, Richard M. Stallman created the "Free Software Foundation" in 1984 and started the GNU-Project. Meanwhile, software was being developed for Unix operating system. "GNU General Public License (GPL)" and "copyleft" concepts were being defined for the first time. The term "copyleft" is derived from the word "copyright". Copyleft encourages freedoms as opposed to privatization and controls on software.

As the kernel - the biggest shortcoming of the system- (GNU Hurd) of GNU system was in the process of development; in 1991 Linus Torvalds announced the kernel he named after as 'Linux'. In1992, GNU/Linux, which represents the idea of Free Software, flourished with the help of GNU software. From the year 1992 up until today, with the remarkable contribution of GNU/Linux operating system, the development and use of "Free Software" has rapidly increased. For example; the 56.4% of the web pages accessed over Internet is provided by "Apache" web servers, which is free software. The numbers of GNU/Linux releases have exceeded a hundred.

Why Free Software?

There may be several reasons explaining why the users prefer "Free Software". This may vary according to the expectations of the users. The first reasons that come to mind are:

  • They are generally free of charge.
  • Software cannot be restricted with the monopoly of a person or organization.
  • It is certainly more reliable.
  • Source code is accessible.
  • Encourages learning.

In their inclination towards Free Software, the factors mentioned above are the main concerns of especially Universities, other institutions and even some of the countries in the world.

The same is applicable to the end user. The costly license fees that beat the hardware prices, unstable operating systems, and the unwanted applications running on these operating systems encourage the users to use samples of "Free Software".

Especially in Universities and Academic environments, where the spirit of learning, developing and creating is encouraged, "Free Software" provides the resourceful environment for all of them.

See you in the next article, "Free Software Development Tools".

Now, share and enjoy!

Ahmet Öztürk

 
     
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