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The free software movement is a social movement with the goal of obtaining and guaranteeing certain freedoms for software users, namely the freedoms to run, study, modify, and share copies of software.[1][2] Software which meets these requirements, The Four Essential Freedoms of Free Software, is termed free software.

Although drawing on traditions and philosophies among members of the 1970s hacker culture and academia, Richard Stallman formally founded the movement[3] in 1983 by launching the GNU Project.[4] Stallman later established the Free Software Foundation in 1985 to support the movement.


The philosophy of the Free Software Movement is based on promoting collaboration between programmers and computer users. This process necessitates the rejection of proprietary software and the promotion of free software.[5] Stallman notes that this action would not hinder the progression of technology, as he states, "Wasteful duplication of system programming effort will be avoided. This effort can go instead into advancing the state of the art."[6]

Members of the Free Software Movement believe that all software users should have the freedoms listed in The Free Software Definition. Members hold the belief that it is immoral to prohibit or prevent people from exercising these freedoms, and that they are required in creating a community where software users can help each other and have control over their technology.[7] Regarding proprietary software, some believe that it is not strictly immoral, citing increased profitability in the business models available for proprietary software, along with technical features and convenience.[8]

The Free Software Foundation espouses the principle that all software needs free documentation, as programmers should have the ability to update manuals to reflect modifications made to the software.[9] Within the movement, the FLOSS Manuals foundation specializes in providing such documentation.


GNU and Tux mascots around free software supporters at FISL 16

Writing and spreading free software

The core work of the free software movement is focused on software development. The free software movement also rejects proprietary software, refusing to install software that does not give them the freedoms of free software. According to Stallman, "The only thing in the software field that is worse than an unauthorised copy of a proprietary program, is an authorised copy of the proprietary program because this does the same harm to its whole community of users, and in addition, usually the developer, the perpetrator of this evil, profits from it."[10]

Building awareness

Some supporters of the free software movement take up public speaking, or host a stall at software-related conferences to raise awareness of software freedom. This is seen as important since people who receive free software, but who are not aware that it is free software, will later accept a non-free replacement or will add software that is not free software.[11]


Main article: List of free and open-source software organizations



North America

South America



Legislation and government

A lot of lobbying work has been done against software patents and expansions of copyright law. Other lobbying focuses directly on the use of free software by government agencies and government-funded projects.



In June 1997, the Society for Study, Application, and Development of Free Software was established under the China Software Industry Association in Beijing. Through this organization, the website was developed, though the website is currently inaccessible on IP addresses located in the United States. The use of open-source software Linux in China has moved beyond government and educational institutions and has extended to other organizations such as financial institutions, telecommunications, and public security. Several Chinese researchers and scholars have claimed that the existence of FOSS in China has been important in challenging the presence of Microsoft, which Guangnan Ni, a member of the Chinese Academy of Engineering stated, "The monopoly of (Microsoft Windows) is even more powerful in China than other places in the world".[12] Yi Zhou, a professor of mathematics at Fudan University, has also alleged that, "Government procurement of FLOSS for a number of years in China has compelled Microsoft to cut its prices of Office software substantially" [12]


Government of India had issued Policy on Adoption of Open Source Software for Government of India in 2015 to drive uptake within the government. With the vision to transform India as a Software Product Nation, National Policy on Software Products-2019 was approved by the Government.[13]


Free and Open Source Software (Foss) is crucial for countries such as Pakistan which is set up by Union of Information Technology. For the case of Pakistan, Pakistan Software Export Board (PSEB) aids in the creation and advocate of FOSS usage in various government departments in addition to curbing illegality of copying that is software piracy.Promotion of adoption of FOSS is essential however it comes with problems of proprietary anti competition software practices including indulging in bribing and corruption by government departments.Pakistan works on the introduction  of usage of open type  basis of source Solutions in the curricula  in schools and colleges. This is because of FOSS uniqueness in terms of political, democratic and social varieties of aspect regarding  information communication and technology.[14]

North America

United States

In the United States, there have been efforts to pass legislation at the state level encouraging the use of free software by state government agencies.[15]

On January 11, 2022, two bills were shown on the New Hampshire legislating floor. The first bill called "HB 1273" was introduced by Democratic New Hampshire representative Eric Gallager, the bill prioritized "replacing proprietary software used by state agencies with free software." Gallager stated that to an extent, the proposed legislation will help distinguish "free software" and "open-source software", this will also put these two into state regulation. The second bill called "HB 1581" was proposed by Grafton Republican representative Lex Berezhny. The bill would've restored a requisite forcing "state agencies to use proprietary software" and as Lex put it, "when it is the most effective solution." He also said that requisite was happening between 2012 and 2018. According to the Concord Monitor, the state of New Hampshire had an already "thriving open source software community" with a view of "live free or die" but they had difficulty getting that notion with the state.[16]

South America


Congressmen Edgar David Villanueva and Jacques Rodrich Ackerman have been instrumental in introducing free software in Peru, with bill 1609 on "Free Software in Public Administration".[17] The incident invited the attention of Microsoft, Peru, whose general manager wrote a letter to Villanueva. His response received worldwide attention and is seen as a classic piece of argumentation favouring use of free software in governments.[18]


Uruguay has a sanctioned law requiring that the state give priority to free software. It also requires that information be exchanged in open formats.[19]


The Government of Venezuela implemented a free software law in January 2006. Decree No. 3,390 mandated all government agencies to migrate to free software over a two-year period.[20]

Europe is a campaign launched demanding a legislation requiring that publicly financed software developed for the public sector be made publicly available under a Free and Open Source Software licence. If it is public money, it should be public code as well.[21]


The French Gendarmerie and the French National Assembly utilize the open source operating system Linux.[22]

United Kingdom keeps a list of "key components, tools and services that have gone into the construction of GOV.UK".[23][title needed]


Main article: List of free-software events

Free Software events happening all around the world connects people to increase visibility for Free software projects and foster collaborations.


The free software movement has been extensively analyzed using economic methodologies, including perspectives from heterodox economics. Of particular interest to economists[who?] is the willingness of programmers in the free software movement to work, often producing higher-quality than proprietary programmers, without financial compensation[citation needed].

In his 1998 article "The High-Tech Gift Economy", Richard Barbrook suggested that the then-nascent free software movement represented a return to the gift economy building on hobbyism and the absence of economic scarcity on the Internet.[24]

Gabriella Coleman has emphasized the importance of accreditation, respect, and honour within the free software community as a form of compensation for contributions to projects, over and against financial motivations.[25]

The Swedish Marxian economist Johan Söderberg has argued that the free software movement represents a complete alternative to capitalism that may be expanded to create a post-work society. He argues that the combination of a manipulation of intellectual property law and private property to make goods available to the public and a thorough blend between labor and fun make the free software movement a communist economy.[26]

Subgroups and schisms

Since its inception, there is an ongoing contention between the many FLOSS organizations (FSF, OSI, Debian, Mozilla Foundation, Apache Foundation, etc.) within the free software movement, with the main conflicts centered around the organization's needs for compromise and pragmatism rather than adhering to founding values and philosophies.[27]

Open source

Main article: Open-source-software movement

The Open Source Initiative (OSI) was founded in February 1998 by Eric Raymond and Bruce Perens to promote the term "open-source software" as an alternative term for free software. The OSI aimed to address the perceived shortcomings and ambiguity of the term "free software", as well as shifting the focus of free software from a social and ethical issue to instead emphasize open source as a superior model for software development.[28][29][30][31] The latter became the view of Eric Raymond and Linus Torvalds, while Bruce Perens argued that open source was meant to popularize free software under a new brand and called for a return to basic ethical principles.[32]

Some free software advocates use the terms "Free and Open-Source Software" (FOSS) or "Free/Libre and Open-Source Software" (FLOSS) as a form of inclusive compromise, which brings free and open-source software advocates together to work on projects cohesively. Some users believe this is an ideal solution in order to promote both the user's freedom with the software and the pragmatic efficiency of an open-source development model. This view is reinforced by fact that majority of OSI-approved licenses and self-avowed open-source programs are also compatible with the free software formalisms and vice versa.[33]

While free and open source software are often linked together, they offer two separate ideas and values. Richard Stallman has referred to open source as "a non-movement", as it "does not campaign for anything".[34]

"Open source" addresses software being open as a practical question rather than an ethical dilemma – non-free software is not the best solution but nonetheless a solution. The free software movement views free software as a moral imperative: that proprietary software should be rejected, and that only free software should be developed and taught in order to make computing technology beneficial to the general public.[35]

Although the movements have differing values and goals, collaborations between the Free Software Movement and Open Source Initiative have taken place when it comes to practical projects.[36] By 2005, Richard Glass considered the differences to be a "serious fracture" but "vitally important to those on both sides of the fracture" and "of little importance to anyone else studying the movement from a software engineering perspective" since they have had "little effect on the field".[37]

Criticism and controversy

Principle compromises

Eric Raymond criticises the speed at which the free software movement is progressing, suggesting that temporary compromises should be made for long-term gains. Raymond argues that this could raise awareness of the software and thus increase the free software movement's influence on relevant standards and legislation.[38]

Richard Stallman, on the other hand, sees the current level of compromise as a greater cause for worry.[27][5][39]

Programmer income

Main article: Business models for open-source software

Stallman said that this is where people get the misconception of "free": there is no wrong in programmers' requesting payment for a proposed project, or charging for copies of free software.[40] Restricting and controlling the user's decisions on use is the actual violation of freedom. Stallman defends that in some cases, monetary incentive is not necessary for motivation since the pleasure in expressing creativity is a reward in itself.[6] Conversely, Stallman admits that it is not easy to raise money for free software projects.[41]

"Viral" copyleft licensing

The free software movement champions copyleft licensing schema (often pejoratively called "viral licenses"). In its strongest form, copyleft mandates that any works derived from copyleft-licensed software must also carry a copyleft license, so the license spreads from work to work like a computer virus might spread from machine to machine. Stallman has previously stated his opposition to describing the GNU GPL as "viral". These licensing terms can only be enforced through asserting copyrights.[42]

Critics of copyleft licensing challenge the idea that restricting modifications is in line with the free software movement's emphasis on various "freedoms", especially when alternatives like MIT, BSD, and Apache licenses are more permissive.[43][44] Proponents enjoy the assurance that copylefted work cannot usually be incorporated into non-free software projects.[45] They emphasize that copyleft licenses may not attach for all uses and that in any case, developers can simply choose not to use copyleft-licensed software.[46][47]

License proliferation and compatibility

Main article: Comparison of free and open-source software licenses

FLOSS license proliferation is a serious concern in the FLOSS domain due to increased complexity of license compatibility considerations which limits and complicates source code reuse between FLOSS projects.[48] The OSI and the FSF maintain their own lists of dozens of existing and acceptable FLOSS licenses.[49] There is an agreement among most that the creation of new licenses should be minimized and those created should be made compatible with the major existing FLOSS licenses. Therefore, there was a strong controversy around the update of the GNU GPLv2 to the GNU GPLv3 in 2007,[50][51] as the updated license is not compatible with the previous version.[52][53][54] Several projects (mostly of the open source faction[51] like the Linux kernel[55][56]) decided to not adopt the GPLv3 while almost all of the GNU project's packages adopted it.

See also


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  2. ^ Richard Stallman on the nature of the Free software movement Archived 2017-05-13 at the Wayback Machine in 2008 on emacs-devel mailing list.
  3. ^ Corrado, Edward M.; Moualison Sandy, Heather; Mitchell, Erik T. (2018-07-03). "Nullis in Verba: The Free Software Movement as a model for Openness and Transparency". Technical Services Quarterly. 35 (3): 269–279. doi:10.1080/07317131.2018.1456849. ISSN 0731-7131. S2CID 196159979. Archived from the original on 2023-07-10. Retrieved 2022-05-03.
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  11. ^ "Transcript of Stallman speaking at WSIS". Ciarán O'Riordan. Archived from the original on 2008-12-21. Retrieved 2006-10-07.
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  26. ^ Söderberg (2007), p. 153-4.
  27. ^ a b Pragmatism in the History of GNU, Linux and Free/Open Source Software Archived 2016-02-17 at the Wayback Machine Jun 9, 2015 Christopher Tozzi
  28. ^ Eric S. Raymond. "Goodbye, "free software"; hello, "open source"". Archived from the original on 2020-01-02. Retrieved 2016-03-22. The problem with it is twofold. First, ... the term "free" is very ambiguous ... Second, the term makes a lot of corporate types nervous.
  29. ^ Kelty, Christpher M. (2008). "The Cultural Significance of free Software - Two Bits" (PDF). Duke University press - durham and london. p. 99. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2008-08-27. Retrieved 2016-03-22. Prior to 1998, Free Software referred either to the Free Software Foundation (and the watchful, micromanaging eye of Stallman) or to one of thousands of different commercial, avocational, or university-research projects, processes, licenses, and ideologies that had a variety of names: sourceware, freeware, shareware, open software, public domain software, and so on. The term Open Source, by contrast, sought to encompass them all in one movement.
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  48. ^ OSI and License Proliferation Archived 2016-02-20 at the Wayback Machine on by Martin Michlmayr "Too many different licenses makes it difficult for licensors to choose: it's difficult to choose a good license for a project because there are so many. Some licenses do not play well together: some open source licenses do not inter-operate well with other open source licenses, making it hard to incorporate code from other projects. Too many licenses makes it difficult to understand what you are agreeing to in a multi-license distribution: since a FLOSS application typically contains code with different licenses and people use many applications which each contain one or several licenses, it's difficult to see what your obligations are." (on August 21st, 2008)
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  50. ^ Mark (2008-05-08). "The Curse of Open Source License Proliferation". Archived from the original on 2015-12-08. Retrieved 2015-11-30. Currently the decision to move from GPL v2 to GPL v3 is being hotly debated by many open source projects. According to Palamida, a provider of IP compliance software, there have been roughly 2489 open source projects that have moved from GPL v2 to later versions.
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  55. ^ Kerner, Sean Michael (2008-01-08). "Torvalds Still Keen On GPLv2". Archived from the original on 2015-02-12. Retrieved 2015-02-12. "In some ways, Linux was the project that really made the split clear between what the FSF is pushing which is very different from what open source and Linux has always been about, which is more of a technical superiority instead of a -- this religious belief in freedom," Torvalds told Zemlin. So, the GPL Version 3 reflects the FSF's goals and the GPL Version 2 pretty closely matches what I think a license should do and so right now, Version 2 is where the kernel is."
  56. ^ corbet (2006-10-01). "Busy busy busybox". Archived from the original on 2016-01-07. Retrieved 2015-11-21. Since BusyBox can be found in so many embedded systems, it finds itself at the core of the GPLv3 anti-DRM debate. [...]The real outcomes, however, are this: BusyBox will be GPLv2 only starting with the next release. It is generally accepted that stripping out the "or any later version" is legally defensible, and that the merging of other GPLv2-only code will force that issue in any case

Further reading