Monday, August 3, 2009

Free Software?

Have you ever read Eric Raymond's book The Cathedral and the Bazaar? Have you ever read any of Richard Stallman's many articles on the subject of Free Software? You are probably aware that free is as in speech not as in beer. There are however a huge number of 'free' software licences available. Each has its own little clauses to catch us out. My problem is what is free!

The Free Software Foundation, an organisation that promotes and holds copywrite and started by Richard Stallman, provide us with a great starting block with the GPL. There are restrictions in that licence as there are in many others. These restrictions cause a lot of hot air. For example with the GPL if you use the code then you have to release your amended code under the GPL. This is not a restriction of the BSD licence that covers the underlying OS Apple used for their systems. The Open Source Initiative have listed a lots of them here. A quick glance will show you how fragmented the free software movement is (and yes even Microsoft have a couple of listings).

What does free mean to me? What do I want?

It happens that I run Linux, but not because I have any great belief in Freedom. I run it because I happen to like it. Freedom is important, as is Free (as in beer) but what matters is that it suits me. What I do not understand is why there needs to be so many free software licences.

Why are there so many licences? The only reason I can think is the lawyers! Lets face it they get everywhere. Can they sniff the money available in the potential fights over patents? Where there is an attorney there is cash. Whatever the reason the lawyers are gathering, we would be better freedom fighters if we created a scheme of free legal aid rather than software.

Strike me down! The chaps at the Software Freedom Law Center appear to be doing for law what the FSF does for software! And President Obama picked David Kappos as the Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the United States Patent and Trademark Office. Mr. Kappos, a known supporter of Open Source software, is now in charge of enforcing Software Patents. Are we seeing a change? Is Freedom more important than Free (as in Beer)?

My own view is that Free is only worth while when it is Free (as in choice). I for one prefer to have the choice of two or more products. The price can help the choice, as can other Freedoms to do as I please. Most of all though I want to feel that the products I use were chosen for my own reasons (the best reasons).

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