Software freedom is a term you’ll hear a lot in the “Linux world”, and it can be a little confusing. When it comes to software there are two definitions of ‘free’. The first is free as in free beer, which just means that no money changes hands. There’s lots of software out there that’s free in that sense, and you probably use some of it. Do you watch YouTube videos? If so, you’re probably using Adobe Flash Player, which is free as in free beer, but it’s not free in another sense of the word — the other sense of the word, in software.
When we talk about free in the software world, we usually mean free as in freedom. If software is free (in this sense), then you and anybody can do a lot of stuff with it, namely:
- Use it for whatever they want. Some free as in free beer software forbids commercial usage, so you could not use it for your business. That’s never the case for free as in freedom software.
- Copy and redistribute it. Install it wherever you want as many times as you want. You can even sell copies of free as in freedom software, although it’s usually always available for free somewhere. This is also the freedom which lets us make it possible for you to download software from or own repositories. Most free as in free beer software does not allow redistribution, which means we can’t hold a copy in our servers for you to download it. Lucky you, we still have a way to ease you the installation process with the Chakra Community Repository, which instead of hosting software copies, contains scripts, instructions so your system knows where to fetch the software you want and how to install it.
- Study and modify the source, and redistribute modifications. It’s perfectly understandable if you don’t get this point. Imagine we are talking about food instead of software. Free as in freedom software does not just give you the food, it also gives you the recipe (not just the ingredients!), and lets you modify it, publish the modifications, and even get profit from that modified recipe or the food cooked with it. Free as in free beer software is just food, nothing else, and guessing the recipe yourself is illegal, so be careful!
Adobe Flash Player is not free in the freedom. You can download and install it without having to pay for it. And you can even download it from our servers, at the moment it allows you to redistribute it for free. But from The Chakra Project we can not modify it, we can not fix it when it is not working properly, and we can not make it fit your system better. We could do jail time if we tried! It’s like a car you are given, but you are forbidden to ever look under the hood. If it does not work as it should, you can only tell Adobe, and hope they ever fix it.
Software that is free as in freedom isn’t necessarily free as in free beer, is quite usual, but some exceptions confirm the rule. Red Hat Linux, for example, costs money, even though you can get an absolutely free version (CentOS) which is identical to Red Hat except for the logos and artwork. Businesses still pay good money for Red Hat though. People pay them for software support.
The point is that money isn’t really a big hang-up in the free software world. Richard Stallman, founder of the Free Software Foundation and the GNU Project (an awful lot of the software on Chakra comes from GNU), encourages software developers to charge as much as they can in order to continue funding their projects. The big hang-up is over whether users are free to use the software in any way that they please.
Spreading to Arts and Beyond
Programming an application is not different from writing a novel, composing music or drawing a portrait in some ways. Similarities were probably what, at some point, lead the software freedom concept to spread beyond the field of software.
Also, developing an application needs more than programmers. Graphic designers are needed for the interface layout and the icons. Translators are needed to make the application available in several languages. And if your application is a game, you will also need writers, people to work on concept artwork, people to work on sounds and music, and more.
So, imagine you develop a free software application, but your icon has all rights reserved. That means your whole application, with the icon, is not free. And what is the point of making the code free software if in the end the whole application is not?<ref>Some projects actually do this, and it is common practice to create free software games using non-free data. Some of those projects later try to fix that situation, which is not an easy thing.</ref> So community defined what freedom was for any work.<ref>See freedomdefined.org for additional information.</ref>
So free software is no longer about programming, but it now involves also any kind of work. There is even free hardware out there!
Reasons to Create Free Software
Now that you understand what free software is (and from now on that includes free art and such), you might wonder why people create it. And there is no right answer to that question, because every single person in the world, and each free software developer have their own reasons.
- Some people consider it natural. Most people, when they are young, are taught that sharing is the right thing to do. And they find no reason to prevent people from using and changing their stuff for any purpose.
- Some people have been using free software for a long time, and want to give something back. Like returning a great favor the best way you can.
- Some people want their free software to do something different, and find out it can. Getting the software you use to do what you want it to, either by changing it yourself or by talking to the developers and explaining them the benefits, is a powerful thing after all.
- Some people want to feel useful to the world. You might not be able to cure cancer, but you can develop free software doctors can use.
- Some people see it as a way for their work to be actually valued. Contributing to free software can help you find a job!
- Some people do it to learn. When contributing to a project, you can usually learn from both your experience and others’.
- Some people want to develop something amazing but are not able to do it alone. Releasing stuff as free software is the best way to find more people interested in your project, to contribute to it in those fields you cannot.
- Some people believe non-free software is immoral. Ask Richard about that.
- Some people contribute translations so they are able to use software in their language. When non-free software companies translate software, they only do it for profit, and sadly some languages are more profitable than others.
- Some companies fork free software so it better fits their needs, and then give the changes back so they don’t have to maintain a separated branch, which is not cheap. For them, free software means profit.
- Some people watched the film Pay It Forward. They contribute just in case some day free software helps them when they most need it.
- Some people just do stuff for themselves, for private usage, and release it as free software later for any of the previous reasons.
The free software community is actually something all your economics textbooks say is impossible in the modern world: a gift economy. Everyone contributes freely, and everybody benefits. People contributing to free software soon realize the question should not be “Why would people create free software”, but “Why would people not create it?”. Although, for those of you who are still about to start using free software, the question probably is this: “What will be your reason?”.
You may also have heard the term open source, which means more or less the same thing as free.
Since the beginning, free software was a concept associated with a way of thinking, a philosophy. Many business men would probably imagine some hippies coding in a garage whenever they hear free software. So some people in the free software business coined the term open source mostly to make free software more attractive to the business community.
Some people combine the two terms with the acronym FOSS, which stands for Free And Open Source Software. But in the end, free software, open source, FOSS, etc. are just different points of views or ways to refer to the same concept.
Let Me See your License
In most legal systems, when you create some work, by default you own every possible right. Other people have no right to use it, copy it, redistribute it, sell it, change it, etc. while you don’t gave them permission expressly. So, when the free software concept was born, a license was needed to expressly give all people the rights free software should grant.
Since then, many different free software licenses were written, with different limitations, different goals, and different scopes. So now-a-days we have a lost of free software licenses we can use for our work.
The most prevalent license is the GNU GPL (GNU General Public License). Software that is released under the GPL ships with the source code, so that anyone can modify it for their own purposes, and no restrictions are placed on use, copying or redistribution. You can even sell it! Also, any software derived from a GPL application also has to be licensed under the GPL. Which means that, when someone releases a modified version of a GPL application, it will also be under the GPL license. But the GPL is hardly the only free software license out there.
The Firefox web browser and the Apache web server are two very prominent software packages shipped under non-GPL free software licenses. There are many, all different in some way: licenses to expressly release work under the public domain, licenses meant only for art works, and even funny (but real) licenses like the wild WTFPL. For a complete list, check out this comparison.
Free Software and The Chakra Project
But it is not our goal to make Chakra a distro free of proprietary software, like Trisquel or gNewSense. While you can use Chakra without non-free software, our repositories also contain non-free software you can install. So, while it will always be possible to have a Chakra with free software only, we also ship some very popular applications or drivers that our users request and our packagers can maintain (for example the nvidia drivers, steam, skype, dropbox, etc).
If you want to check the license of a package, you can do so with Pacman. Also, check if there is a folder called /usr/share/licenses/<package name> in your system; if so, it should contain license information for that package.
Our live media give you the choice to boot with free and non-free drivers, so you can check before installing which one you want to use.