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Should software be free?

Free software is a matter of the users' freedom to run, copy, distribute, study, change and improve the software. More precisely, it means that the program's users have the four essential freedoms:

* The freedom to run the program, for any purpose (freedom 0).
* The freedom to study how the program works, and change it to make it do what you wish (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 distribute copies of your modified versions to others (freedom 3). By doing this you can give the whole community a chance to benefit from your changes. Access to the source code is a precondition for this.

(above text taken from gnu.org)

I believe all software should give it's users those four freedoms.

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  • Feb 16 2011: If it's free I'll quit and go back to driving a truck.

    Don't get me wrong, I'd love free software, but I also like to pay the mortgage. Only a tiny percentage of developers make a living at it (full time), and they also make the vast majority of the software you use. So kill them, and you kill yourself.

    You can rationalise theft anyway you want, but at the end of the day, it's still stealing.
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    Feb 16 2011: Unfortunately software is incapable of giving users those four freedoms. What you require and the part of this equations that you are ignoring is the developer who is the only one giving you anything. To say that software should be free is to say say that developers have a moral imperative to work hard on something and not be compensated for it by the end user. Why single out software developers? If software should be free, why not food, or maid services, and books? What is it about the work of software developers that grants them the dubious distinction of obligatory pro-bono slaves? Although none of your freedoms directly state that you don't pay the developer, I don't see any way to allow users to redistribute copies of software without undermining the developers ability to charge for it.

    A better question might be: "can software be free?" In other words, are there models of compensation where developers are encouraged to do good work without the end user paying them. This question has already been answered definitively with Linux.
    • Feb 16 2011: Right on! Why pick on software developers? Should all music be free? Should all books be free? Should all movies be free? There is nothing wrong with a group of software developers willingly collaborating to develop software that they will place in the public domain, but the idea of forcing that philosophy on all such developers verges on evil.
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    Mar 16 2011: Certainly. The only problem with it is that it requires companies to earn money by providing useful services instead of simply charging for passed work that is essentially sunk cost.
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    Mar 4 2011: The question of 'should' is not clear at all.

    Does that mean should it be illegal to sell software (with commercial licence). WHY. Not anymore then music or books.

    Should it be legal to create 'free software', such as FOSS? Of course. Bothe modes exist and both will and should exist.


    The only nystery is : Why so many people and businesses use expensive and often inferior software, when
    all their needs can be satisfied by FOSS doftware. NOT for all people, but for most.

    Educate yourself:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Free_and_open_source_software
    http://www.ubuntu.com/

    Perhaps better question would be: Should stupidity and ignorance be made illegal?
  • Feb 17 2011: If it's free how do I as a developer make a living?

    Personally I agree with you but in a market based society it just isn't going to fly. Perhaps in a Participatory society, but not one where profit is the key motivation.
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    Feb 17 2011: I have been in the "computers" business, as seller and as user, from 1980.

    There are some who made the most amazing software freely, for the pleasure of creating and the pleasure of letting know and be known. They did, some of them of course, as well or better then those who sold it for lot of money.

    The problem often was distribution.

    A software has to be known, used, and then entretained.

    Others, did "free software" inside a corporation. Bill Atkinson working at Apple gave from his free time, the Hypercard, so we can all program the Macintosh easy, free to use, easy to use, for the "rest of us". He gave it to Apple to distribute it freely, but alas did not look well into the loopwholes of contract and when they made a "new version" they begun to charge for it and the product, slowly died. And also, was no more well "made known" as the then director, Gasse, wanted to promote someone else software, which was not free.

    Personally, I would suggest, cheep software, to be distributed in a way that can give some recognition and money, perhaps new ways of "letting know" of their existence. As there are now blogs, complementing newspapers and tv, we could invent, if not yet existent also new ways of "making known".
  • Feb 16 2011: I agree to a certain extent. As long as you are addressing a common problem it has to be be built in consultation with those people who are involved in the problem even when you do it it will become free that is how open source is thriving. Once you take that generic solution and try to customize to your needs then cost needs to be applied. If your need is also a generic problem across the industry then we have to go through the cycle above.

    By doing this the generic common problem that you are trying to address gets more robust scaling up the other solutions becomes much more easier and the cost of solution is brought down.
  • Feb 16 2011: Software should be free, in the sense that the government should not force monopolies on ideas (which is the only reason software is not more freely distributed already). I wrote a blog titled "Intellectual Property Is Bad For Business, and in it I argue that copies of software are no scarce, and therefore should not be protected from "theft". Read it here: http://collaborable.com/blog/intellectual-property-is-bad-for-business
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      Mar 4 2011: Eric: I read your article. Very insightful.

      Always found it interesting that the US Constitution mentions patents in this way:

      "To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries."

      Many people think of IP as some form of god-given right. But the constitution defines it as a right granted by the government with a purpose - "To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts". In-so-far as it does so, patents/copyrights make sense. When they fail to do so, they don't.