What is free software?

Free software is a matter of the users' freedom to run, copy, distribute, study, change and improve the software. More precisely, it refers to four kinds of freedom, for the users of the software:

  • The freedom to run the program, for any purpose (freedom 0).
  • The freedom to study how the program works, and adapt it to your needs (freedom 1). Access to the source code is a precondition for this.
  • The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbor (freedom 2).
  • The freedom to improve the program, and release your improvements to the public, so that the whole community benefits (freedom 3). Access to the source code is a precondition for this.

For a more detailed definition check out GNU's Free Software Definition page.

How does non-free software impact me? I don't know how to modify or improve it! Why should I care?

There are many reasons you should care. We'll start with one very practical reason. Manufacturers that release free software with their devices generally have fewer problems. For instance USB flash drives with non-free software often fail on computers that aren't supported. Examples: Apple's Mac OS X, GNU/Linux, and even different versions of Microsoft Windows.

The ideas behind free software go farther however. Richard Stallman, the leader of the free software movement, has written numerous essays about the issues with non-free software and the ethical implications. One such essay on this subject is Why Software Should Not Have Owners.