Free Software

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"Free Software is a set of principles designed to protect the freedom of individuals to use computer software. It emerged in the 1980s against a backdrop of increasing restrictions on the use and production of software. Free Software can therefore be understood historically and ethically as the defence of freedom against a genuine threat."

- Rob Myers [1]


The term free software is defined by the Free Software Foundation at

From the Wikipedia article at

"Free software, as defined by the Free Software Foundation, is software which can be used, copied, studied, modified and redistributed without restriction. Freedom from such restrictions is central to the concept, with the opposite of free software being proprietary software (a distinction unrelated to whether a fee is charged). The usual way for software to be distributed as free software is for the software to be licensed to the recipient with a free software license (or be in the public domain), and the source code of the software to be made available (for a compiled language)." (


Summary of the impact of Free and Open Source Software:

"The FOSS phenomenon is the subject of numerous political, economic, and sociological studies, all reacting to the potential for radical change it embodies. These studies focus mainly on four claims.

First, FOSS is a novel technology for producing software: it "represent[s] a new mode of production--commons-based peer production" (Benkler 2002) and is "a critique of existing laws, contracts, and business practices . . . [with] the potential to explicitly change the 'political-economic structure of society'" (Kelty 2002). Therefore, it is supported by new microeconomic, political, and personal dynamics that may shed light on other areas of economic productivity and modes of collaboration. This new mode of production serves as the basis for examinations of its historical antecedents, parallels from other (sub)cultures, and potential application to other domains of inquiry and cultural and scientific production (Ghosh 2005). The novelty of FOSS, for these investigations, is that it contrasts with the economies of exclusionary property relations, supported by weighty legal structures, that characterized the pre-existing software industry. From the perspective of software engineering, FOSS's proponents tout the superiority of its bazaar-like development model over the rigid cathedrals of proprietary software houses (Raymond 2000). Economists, in turn, are concerned with how this method of production functions, examining the personal motivations and microeconomics of its workforce (Lerner and Tirole 2001), and political scientists investigate the governance schemes that support successful FOSS projects (Weber 2004). Inevitably, some of these claims of novelty are also the subject of critique (Fitzgerald 2005; Glass 2005; Rusovan, Lawford, and Parnas 2005).

Second, FOSS provides a social good that proprietary software cannot; for example, FOSS may be the only viable source of software in developing nations, where programming talent is abundant but prices for proprietary software licenses are prohibitive. Countries such as China and India have seen in FOSS an opportunity to draw upon their wealth of programming talent to provide the technological infrastructure for their rapidly expanding economies. Microsoft's substantial investments in Indian education initiatives may be prompted by worries that free software might fill indigenous needs instead (Chandrasekhar 2002). FOSS has been cited by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez as a key element of achieving economic independence from the global North (Leonard 2006). At the 2005 World Social Forum in Porto Allegre, the Youth Camp focused largely on FOSS issues (Juris 2005). This enthusiasm for FOSS extends to the industrialized First World as well, as many members of the European Union adopt it for governmental administration (Europa 2003).

Third, FOSS challenges many central concepts of intellectual property. Its novel copyright licensing schemes have prompted much debate about the foundations, both ethical and economic, of apparently well-established notions such as property and ownership (Dixon 2003; St. Laurent 2004). The emphasis on continual innovation—hailed as the key to FOSS's superior software engineering—puts it into direct conflict with the ideologies of patenting. FOSS forces debate on the distinction between ideas and their expressions that is fundamental to patent and copyright law (Davis et al. 1996; Swann and Turner 2004). Indeed, a new cottage industry of legal analysis and application has sprung up to deal with the questions evoked by FOSS's licensing schemes and its opposition to software patents. This is in no small part driven by corporate concern about whether FOSS can coexist with existing business practices.

Finally, FOSS is a threat to the corporate status quo. This facet of FOSS has been trumpeted vigorously by open source advocates, who argue that open source software is a new and better way of doing business: one that should, as a result of free market competition, supplant much (though not all) of the proprietarily-licensed source code produced and sold today (Dibona, Cooper, and Stone 2005; DiBona, Ockman, and Stone 1999; Raymond 2000). Such advocacy reflects a broader optimism about the ability of FOSS, with other novel modes of industrial organization, to subvert dominant industrial structures. Stakeholders in the status quo are demonstrably aware of this threat, as the leaked "Halloween Papers," revealing Microsoft's sense of the threat of free software, dramatically show (Raymond 1998). To most outsiders, the FOSS community seems remarkably hostile to proprietary software giants. But this adversarial position is fragmented: while some developers indeed hope fervently for the downfall of Microsoft, many seek only for it to show us the code." (


Carlo Daffara:

Free software can be analyzed as

"a software model, development model, or business model.

These models are orthogonal, like the three axes of the three-dimensional coordinate system, their respective differentiators are control (software model), collaboration (development model), revenue (business model). The software model axis is the one that is discussed most often. On the one hand there is proprietary software, for which the vendor retains full control over the software and the user receives limited usage permission through a license, which is granted according to certain conditions. On the other hand there is Free Software, which provides the user with unprecedented control over their software through an ex-ante grant of irrevocable and universal rights to use, study, modify and distribute the software.

The development model axis describes the barrier to collaboration, ranging from projects that are developed by a single person or vendor to projects that allow extensive global collaboration. This is independent from the software model. There is proprietary software that allows for far-reaching collaboration, e.g. SAP with it’s partnership program, and Free Software projects that are developed by a single person or company with little or no outside input.

The business model axis describes what kind of revenue model was chosen for the software. Options on this axis include training, services, integration, custom development, subscription models, “Commercial Off The Shelve” (COTS), “Software as a Service” (SaaS) and more.

These three axes open the space in which any software project and any product of any company can freely position itself." (


Summary of the arguments in favour of free software use:

Free software is relevant

just as free speech is. Software is run everywhere in our society today, governing most of what we can read and do. Unless the user has some fundamental freedoms over it, she/he has no knowledge or authority over what is happening inside it.

Free software is enabled

by the availability of source code, the "recipe" for the software. You should always be able to access and inspect this source code. It does not matter if you do not have the knowledge or time to read and modify code: what matters is your freedom to do so, including the ability to have someone do it for you.

Free software can be copied

at no cost. You may pay, however, for it to be written, adapted and updated – this is how free software companies generate revenue.

You may always use free software for any purpose, including commercial; on the condition that it remains free if you redistribute it. You can think of it as "mathematics".

Free software is easy to use

and technically often superior to proprietary (non-free) software. Some famous examples, often merely called "open-source"1 , include the Firefox browser and the Linux operating system." (


1. Glyn Moody

"If the first era of free software was about the creation of the fully-rounded GNU/Linux operating system, the second saw a generation of key enterprise applications being written to run on that foundation. Things got moving with the emergence and rapid adoption of the LAMP stack – a term coined in 1998 - a key part of which was (obviously) MySQL (the “M”)."
( 2010)

2. Stefan Meretz:

"A Short History of Free Software

(2) There is free software, because there is unfree software. Unfree software is »proprietary software«, which means, it is software that is owned by someone[1]. That would not be bad so far, if the fact of this private property on software would not lead to the exclusion of others. The software owner prevents others from using the software, in order to create a scarce good. To turn software into a scarce good is relatively simple, you just have to hold back the source code of the program. Only scarce goods are of monetary value, so that money can be made. This is the operational principle of capitalism[2]. I will come back to this, later.

(3) Unfree and free software yet does not exist long, even once approx. 20 years. One understands the emergence of unfree and free software, if one looks into prehistory. In cold war, we are in the 50's, the USA and the Soviet Union stubborn struggled for the economic supremacy. At that time supremacy had a military and a symbolic component, often both intertwined. So it was an enormous event, when Soviet Union 1957 succeeded to shoot the Sputnik into the earth orbit. Not until 1969 USA mentally recovered from this shock, when they were it who brought first humans to the moon.

(4) The Sputnik was experienced as technological defeat. Immediately, hectic activities started, in order to catch up the alleged arrears. In 1958, the ARPA (Advanced Research Projects Agency) was created in order to coordinate and finance the research activities. In a climate of frankness and innovation joy numerous revolutionary products have been created during the next years. I would like to point out two of them, because they have got a special meaning for the free software: the internet and the operating system UNIX (both 1969). In this phase of the nationally financed and coordinated research, also numerous standards have been set, which are still valid, today.

(5) The national interest in strong standards was complemented with small interest of the computer industry in software. Computer industry was hardware industry, software were trimmings to the hardware sales. This situation changed at the end of the seventies when computers performance increases and software started to be independently put on market. To the same extend as software begun to be a profitable commodity, the state withdrew themselve from innovations. In order to be able to make profit from software, the source code[4] had to remain hidden from the competitor and also from the user. Software was only profitable as proprietary software. With open sources Microsoft, for example, never would have established itself as monopoly-like Moloch. However, state withdrawal and privatisation of software also indicated a softening of standards. Thus, as a consequence a lot of less compatible or incompatible Unix versions (AT&T, BSD, Sun, HP, DEC, IBM, Siemens etc.) were created.

(6) The consequences for research work at universities were devastating. Where in former times free exchange of ideas prevailed, researching and instruction were forced to reduce cooperations or omit them completely. Software as a result of research activities could not be documented any more, as it was coupled to companies or patents via proprietary software or it was intended for patenting itself respectively. Richard Stallman describes the situation this way:

»In 1983 I found myself in a situation where the only way you could get a modern computer and run it and use it was to get a proprietary operating system. There were various operating systems available but they all were proprietary what means you have to sign a licence and you were prohibited from sharing copies with other people. You would not be allowed to see how the system worked. This is a dividing and terrible situation where individuals are helplessly dependent on their master who controls everything done with the software.« (Stallman 1999)

(7) As a reaction Stallman founded the GNU project. The goal of Free Software Foundation (FSF), founded in 1985, was the development of a free operating system. Hundreds of components for a free operating system had been developed. However, the real brilliant idea of the GNU project was the creation of a special license, the GNU General Public License (GPL) -- also known as »Copyleft« (2007)

3. Felix Stalder

"The new paradigm of producing in the digital commons emerged first in software development during the late 1980s. At that time, the notion of software as a standardized product for mass markets was still relatively new, established only in the mid 1970s by a new generation of companies such as Microsoft (founded in 1975). Before that, the computer industry regarded software as an add-on to the actual product, hardware. Improving software through mutual help among programmers was part of the original software culture, later reactivated as a strategy to fight the new, artificial separation between producers and users. To organize an alternative, Richard M. Stallman founded the Free Software movement to realize four essential freedoms in relation to software: the freedom to run the software for any purpose; the freedom to change the program without restrictions; the freedom to distribute copies of the program to help others; and the freedom to distribute changes of the program so that others might benefit from your work. To make these freedoms dependable, he drafted a license (the GNU General Public License or GPL), under which most Free Software is released today. The license includes the clause that whoever distributes the software – exact copies or improvements – must to do so under the same license. Those who do not agree with this condition have no right to use the software in the first place. Over time, the pool of free software grew considerably; and, when Linus Thorvalds contributed the last major missing piece (the kernel, Linux) in the early 1990s, an entire free operating system became available. At the end of the decade, Free Software (or Open Source Software, a term coined in 1998 to make it sound more business-friendly) began to reach the mainstream: first on the back-end (server software) and also in the last few years on the desktop and mobile devices.

The success of Free Software showed that under the conditions of the Internet – cheap, mass self-communication, decentralized distribution and sophisticated tools to organize information – open, self-directed cooperation was not only ethical, but at least in this case also very efficient in terms of quality, price and innovation. In competition with the Fordist model of production, a new institutional ecology emerged, characterized by open, yet highly structured volunteer communities, non-profit foundations serving these communities and commercial and non-commercial actors using and contributing to the common resource (the code basis) in the pursuit of their individual goals and strategies. A new business model was established that focused on solving unique problems rather than selling identical copies; and new social norms took hold that combined competition for personal recognition among peers with collaboration in solving shared problems. Copyright, while not altered on the level of formal law, was turned upside down in practice through free licenses that guaranteed user freedom instead of producer control. The Free Software movement has also become a powerful political force, supported by a growing segment of the information technology industry. In 2007, a coordinated political campaign at the level of the EU parliament succeeded in preventing a change in patent law that would have allowed businesses to patent ‘computer-implemented innovation’ (software patents). This was a historic achievement. For the first time ever, the expansion of intellectual property protections was halted with the help of an explicit argument drawn from the practice and vision of a digital commons and the production model of Free Software it enables.

Much of the Internet runs on Free Software and, without its availability and the strength of its diverse communities, the democratic potential of new technologies would be significantly smaller: more people would be excluded because software would be expensive rather than free of charge; media literacy would be lower because there would be fewer communities educating their members in how to use the software; the range of functionality and language versions would be more narrow, because there would be much less software for which there is social but not financial motivation; power would be more unbalanced because software would be more geared towards the interests of those who sell it, rather than those who use it; and the obstacles to innovation would be greater because lack of access to the source code of existing software would make it much more difficult to develop new software and services. Given software’s ability to enable and shape a vast range of social activities, the success of the Free Software movement has been very significant."


Richard Stallman on the difference between free software and Open Source Software

"Some of the proponents of “open source” considered it a “marketing campaign for free software,” which would appeal to business executives by citing practical benefits, while avoiding the [gratis interpretation and sidelining the ethics and social value of a free hacker culture]. Other proponents flatly rejected the free software movement's ethical and social values. Whichever their views, when campaigning for “open source” they did not cite or advocate those values. The term “open source” quickly became associated with the practice of citing only practical values, such as making powerful, reliable software. Most of the supporters of “open source” have come to it since then, and that practice is what they take it to mean.

Nearly all open source software is free software; the two terms describe almost the same category of software. But they stand for views based on fundamentally different values. Open source is a development methodology; free software is a social movement. For the free software movement, free software is an ethical imperative, because only free software respects the users' freedom. By contrast, the philosophy of open source considers issues in terms of how to make software “better”—in a practical sense only. It says that non-free software is a suboptimal solution. For the free software movement, however, non-free software is a social problem, and moving to free software is the solution." (

How is Free Software related to Open Source?, see at

The term Open Source is defined by the Open Source Initiative (OSI).

Getting Paid for Free Software Development, some key distinctions

Stefan Merten proposes a research program on the influence of 'paid free software development':

"A useful survey needs to make sure that those projects are considered as much as the big ones are.

Careful consideration of paid time

What people puzzles mostly is that there are Free Software developers which are paid by their companies for their development efforts. Or to be more exact: That they work for Free Software during their paid time. However, that people do something during their paid time does not say everything about the relation of their employers to what they do - think of coffee breaks for an example.

I think there are a number of types of Free Software development during paid time which needs to be distinguished:

Non-official work

That is when people work on Free Software on their spare time without knowledge of the management. This can be the case when you use a certain Free tool during your job and improve it as a side effect to your normal work and give the improvements back to the community. This also applies to Free tools developed during a job.

Half-official work

There may be times when people are not working on a job project because there is no order at the moment. In these times management may give people the opportunity to work at their own projects which may be Free Software. Google even has an official 20%(?) share of such time.

Non-competitive work

If you work in the software sector then you know that often there are tools you use but which are not of competetive interest to you customer. For instance in a big company you may develop a Wiki engine for the Intranet but the core business of the company is in a totally different sector - such as finances for instance. In that case the management may allow that in-house development be public Free Software.

Competitive work

This is the case when a company officially engages in a Free Software project because it has manifest interests in this project. For instance if a processor vendor engages in the Linux kernel to make it run on his processors. Then the employees not only officially work for the company in the Free Software project but also this is relevant to competition.

Only in the last case I see the danger of alienated influences from paid labor. And even then it should be distinguished whether these influences are more useful or more harmful for the community.

Careful consideration of non-paid time

If develop Free Software during non-paid time then it seems to be clear that this must be based on Selbstentfaltung. However, there might be cases where people during their non-paid time they do things in the interest of commercial interests - be it in their own interest or in the interest of their company.

A useful survey must try to make a distinction here as well as it does for paid time.

Different commercial interests

It would also be useful to distinguish between the source of commercial interests. Is it because a developer wants to learn something or her employer wants her to do so? Or is it because the developed Free Software should fulfill a mission critical commercial interest."

The relation between Free Software and Free Culture

Benjamin Mako Hill [2]:

"Not only is the free software movement a source of software and licenses, it is also a source of inspiration. In particular, free software has been cited by many in the nascent free culture movement as an explicit source of inspiration and point of departure. While the Free Software Foundation has no position on whether works of culture should be free, many in the free software movement have supported and helped build the new movement for free cultural works.

However, free software and free culture, at least as articulated by the leaders of the movements, have diverged in several important ways. Free software, as enshrined in the FSF's Free Software Definition (FSD) (and the derivative and largely overlapping Debian Free Software Guidelines and Open Source Definition), clearly enumerates the essential freedoms at the heart of the free software movement: the freedoms to use, modify, share and collaborate. The FSD provides a list of essential freedoms that serve as a Utopian vision, a clear goal, and a demarcation line between what is free and what is not. Many involved in free software debate when programs should or shouldn't be free software but there's little debate about what is and isn't free software.

Free culture, on the other hand, is defined very differently. Lawrence Lessig, member of the FSF's board of directors and author of the book Free Culture, defines the term as, ``a balance between anarchy and control. Elsewhere, free culture is described as the freedom for authors to choose how their works are licensed. While essential to the possibility of licensing in general, this type of freedom departs strongly from the type of freedom at the core of the free software movement. Creative Commons (CC), perhaps the most important organization in the free culture world, argues for ``some rights reserved--a striking contrast from the free software movement's ``essential rights are unreservable.

The result of the FSF's strong Utopian calls for freedom has been the vibrant social movement that has ultimately brought about free software's success to date. Almost-free software and shareware, popular twenty years ago before the GNU project was well-known, have been subsumed and replaced by free software as authors were challenged to release their work more freely so that it could be included in Debian or Red Hat, hosted on SourceForge, or, quite simply, referred to as free software or open source.

Seeing inspiration in the GNU GPL, but not the FSD, some in the free culture movement have adopted the legal instruments (i.e., copyleft and licenses) of the free software movement without the goal-setting at the heart of the free software movement. The result has been the proliferation of licenses that solve real problems and provide a benefit over the status quo but are controversial within the free culture community (e.g., CC's Developing Nations or Sampling licenses) and a situation where most creators are not challenged to release their works more freely. The result is that today, more than three-quarters of CC works are under the two most restrictive licenses.

Recently, in an attempt to provide such a goal, a group of free culture advocates and Wikipedians have publicly drafted the Definition of Free Cultural Works. Like the FSD, it argues for essential freedoms to use, study, redistribute and change cultural works. However, it recognizes that there are important differences between different types of creative goods and it attempts to explore and speak to these differences. In particular, it discusses the role of attribution, the idea of ``source data for a work, the use of free data-formats, and technical restrictions such as Digital Restrictions Management (DRM).

While the definition has reached a ``1.0 stage and has been translated into more than a dozen languages, it continues to be a work in progress and a space for meaningful discussion about what ``freedom in the realm of cultural work should mean. In an important step forward this year, the board of directors of the Wikimedia Foundation, the nonprofit organization that oversees the Wikipedia project, endorsed the idea that content in Wikimedia wikis should be free except in several well-defined cases. They stated that the Definition of Free Culture Works would be their guide as to what was and was not free enough. Other projects are underway to provide buttons that users of qualifying CC licenses can use to explicitly reference their ethical motivations when they reference the license of their work--much like what the GNU GPL's preamble does for free software.

This effort does not argue that culture should be free in certain ways because it is in the way that free software is defined. Instead, it takes tactical inspiration from free software for a definition of freedom, as well as for a strong example of an analogous social movement with a compelling message and compelling success. It provides a way that the free culture movement can use the licenses that groups like CC have already created in a way that attempts to replicate free software's tactics and success." (

You can find out more about the Definition of Free Cultural Works at

Seven Reasons Why Free Software Is Losing Influence

= Why are free software ideals less popular than they were five years ago?


By Bruce Byfield (11/2011):

What happened? I have no hard figures, but I can think of at least seven possible reasons. Some were beyond the FSF's control. Others are the results of FSF decisions that might have seemed reasonable at the time, or in isolation, but had unfortunate long-term effects. A few were simply rash decisions:

1. Too Many Causes, Too Few Resources

The FSF relies on a staff of less than a dozen, plus volunteers. Its income for 2010 was $1.23 million. With these resources, it sponsors the GNU Project, assists companies and projects to comply with free licenses, and runs eleven campaigns, ranging from anti-DRM and anti-Windows intiatives to attempts to get people to use free audio formats.

All of these efforts are worthwhile in themselves, and nobody else is even mentioning most of them. But these are far more issues than the FSF tried to address in the past, and it is doing so with only a couple of hundred thousand dollars more than in 2006, when its resources are scarcely adequate to do one of them well. Consequently, the FSF winds up looking ineffectual, and few of its campaigns capture the popular imagination of the community, much less accomplish what they set out to do.

2. Failing to Find New Supporters While Neglecting the Old

In the last five years, the FSF has attempted to move into social activism, and to make its cause more mainstream. This effort was due largely to the efforts of former executive director Peter Brown, and reflects his own activist background. It's a move I wrote in support of at the time, and still think is a good move tactically.

Unfortunately, this move has largely failed -- no doubt another victim of limited resources. At the same time, it has involved making a distinction between the FSF and the technically-based GNU Project. I've heard many developers express dislike of the activist position, and wish that the FSF would start focusing on their concerns again. In other words, the FSF has ended up worse than it was before, having failed to win a new audience and instead alienating its existing one.

3. The Replacement of Debian with Ubuntu

Many people today don't remember, but, five years ago, Debian was one of the standard-setters for free software. It didn't always agree with the FSF -- in fact, Debian was notorious for going its own way, setting its own definition of free software, and making up its own mind on issues such as whether the GNU Free Documentation License was realy a free license (yes, Debian decided after a long debate, in certain circumstances). Yet when the FSF produced the third version of the GPL, it took care to consult and involve Debian representatives.

For all the occasional acrimony, as the largest community-based distribution, Debian gave free software advocacy additional credibility. If nothing else, Debian helped to create the impression of a community large enough to have differences.

Today, however, while Debian continues to be as influential technologically as ever, much of the mindshare it used to enjoy has been captured by its derivative Ubuntu. This is not to fault Ubuntu, but it is a commercial company, and, in search of profit, it has been known to abandon free software principles when convenient.

With the FSF's ally and occasional sparring partner less influential, the free software cause as a whole is weaker. If nothing else, the debates with Debian helped keep advocacy issues fresh in the minds of the community.

4. Failure to Address New Technologies

Although new technologies have been introduced in the last five years, the FSF's main strategy has been to denounce, then ignore them. Over the last few years, Richard Stallman has denounced cloud computing, e-books, cell phones in general, and Android in particular.

In each case, Stallman has raised issues of privacy and consumer rights that others all too often fail to mention. The trouble is, going on to ignore these new technologies solves nothing, and makes the free software movement more irrelevant in people's lives. Many people are attracted to new technologies, and others are forced to use them because others are.

Admittedly, the FSF does offer the Affero GNU General Public License as a free license for cloud computing. However, it is rarely mentioned, and, according to Black Duck's tracking, is used for only 401 pieces of software -- a small fraction of the hundreds of thousands of examples of free licensing. By continuing to focus on the traditional desktop, free software is keeping itself from precisely the technologies where it is currently needed most.

5. The GPL Version Split

In June 2007, the FSF released the third version of the GPL (GPLv3). This update tried to take into account new technologies and ways of evading the provisions of the second version of the license (GPLv2). The new version was the product of an extensive, unparalleled consultation with community and corporate stakeholders.

However, this consultation process did include consensus. When Linus Torvalds decided that the Linux kernel would stay with GPLv3, the FSF went ahead with the GPLv3 regardless.

At the time, the decision seemed sensible in the face of a deadlock. But now, GPLv2 is used for 42.5% of free software, and GPLv3 for less than 6.5%, according to Black Duck Software.

Before the license revision, the GPL helped to unify the community, and the FSF, as the creator and enforcer of the GPL, had a strong presence in the community. Now, GPLv2 is viewed as the version favored by open source supporters, GPLv3 as the version for free software advocates -- and not only does the whole free software philosophy looks weaker, but the split between open source and free software is wider than ever.

Moreover, as though that situation wasn't bad enough, there seems to be a trend towards permissive licenses that don't require code sharing, the way that all versions of the GPL do.

6. Not Attending Conferences

Richard Stallman and many other members of the FSF refuse to appear at conferences that don't use GNU/Linux in their name and advertising. In fact, Stallman has been known to refuse to speak to a group or to journalists who don't use his preferred nomenclature.

The main exception that I'm aware of is Eben Moglen, whose work at the Software Freedom Law Center includes many who style themselves open source supporters.

I understand that this refusal is a matter of principle. Yet, despite all the ways to communicate on the Internet, face to face contact remains important in the community. By maintaining their ideals, free software advocates have made themselves invisible, cutting themselves off from the personal networking and other informal associations that spring up when people talk to each other.

7. Richard Stallman's Gaffs

As founder and main speaker for the FSF, Richard Stallman has played a major role in the history of free software. Nothing will ever change that.

But Stallman's stubbornness, which helped the ideas of free software to take hold and flourish, now appear to many as a handicap. Stallman consistently displays a fixation on definition that distracts from his main points about the need for software freedom. These days, too, he never seems to miss a chance to criticize the open source philosophy, even when the criticism isn't relevant to his point.

Even worse, Stallman has a history of making gaffs, then refusing to admit that he was wrong. In July 2009, he created a controversy by refusing to back down after a sexist remark he made at the Desktop Summit in Gran Canaria. More recently, Stallman remarked about Steve Jobs that, "I'm not glad he's dead, but I'm glad he's gone," then expanded on his remarks a few weeks later. The problem was not that he was wrong about Jobs popularizing proprietary technology, but that many people felt that his remarks were tasteless and crass when speaking about the recently dead, and that a leader should have shown more sense than to make them.

Stallman is far from the whole of the free software movement, but many people judge the movement unfavorably because of him.

Turning Things Around

None of the reasons mentioned here is decisive in itself. However, cumulatively, they go a long way towards explaining why the FSF and free software ideals are less influential than before.

As a free software supporter, I can only hope that the loss of influence can be reversed."

Key Books to Read

  1. Decoding Liberation
  2. Open Sources
  3. Hacking Capitalism. Johan Soderbergh

More at the Free/Open Source Software Academic Bibliography

More Information

Key Essays

Key Resources

Business and Economic Aspects