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Free Software

Free Software

As a systems administrator and as a consultant, most of my professional life is connected to software; I am usually either setting up and integrating software systems or thinking and communicating about how best to solve problems using software.

While I want to use the most suitable tool for the job, almost all of the software that I use and recommend is free software.

There are many reasons for this in different categories: economic, technical, practical and social.

Not all of these definitions will apply to any particular software package, but most will. Furthermore, partly because this field of human endeavour is so new, there is still much discussion about the definitions.

In English, free can mean "without charge" or "with liberties". In the context of software that I recommend, it tends to mean both. You can run as many copies of the software as you like, for any purpose that suits you, modify it if you want and even give it away to someone else.

The Free Software Foundation is one of the key players in the world of software licensing and defines the following freedoms:

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

"A program is free software if users have all of these freedoms. Thus, you should be free to redistribute copies, either with or without modifications, either gratis or charging a fee for distribution, to anyone anywhere. Being free to do these things means (among other things) that you do not have to ask or pay for permission to do so."

Non-free software

Sometimes, there are good reasons in favour of choosing software or systems that are not free:


Selecting an approach requires an analysis of the costs, economic and otherwise, risks and benefits, but can often be simplified to: "Choose the best tool for the job" to avoid the problem of overanalysis.