What is Free Software? Why does Free Software matter?

Richard Stallman discussed Free Software and the future of Free Software in Zagreb on March 9, 2006. The GNU logoFree Software is software that respects a user’s freedom to run, inspect, share, and modify the software for any purpose at any time. Non-free software, by contrast, denies users these freedoms. Even if you’re not a programmer (as most computer users aren’t) you can indirectly benefit from the freedom to modify computer software.

Ciarán O’Riordan has prepared a transcript of this talk, and the one year anniversary of this talk is coming up so I thought carrying the talk here would be a good thing to do.

The transcript came with this license, and typically Stallman’s recordings do as well: Verbatim copying and distribution of this entire article is permitted in any medium, provided this notice is preserved.

There are many topics in the talk that often come up during discussions of Free Software. One of the most common issues concerns distinguishing between Free Software and “freedom of choice”:

It’s a mistake to equate freedom to “the freedom of choice”. Freedom is something much bigger than having a choice between a few specific options. Freedom means having control of your own life. When people try to analyse freedom by reducing it to the freedom of choice, they’ve already thrown away nearly all of it and what’s left is such a small fraction of real freedom, that they can easily prove it doesn’t really matter very much. So that term is very often the first step in the fallacious argument that freedom is not important.

To be able to choose between proprietary software packages is to be able to choose your master. Freedom means not having a master.

Richard Stallman