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Free Software is software users are free to share, explore and modify. It brings the philosophy of [education], sharing and collaborative development seen in other sciences to the art of computer programming.
From the Free Software Definition:
“Free software” is a matter of liberty, not price. To understand the concept, you should think of “free” as in “free speech,” not as in “free beer.” 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.
Business & Government use
Free Software is used extensively by big businesses, including the majority of FTSE 100 companies, as well as governments (particularly in Latin America). Recent moves to Web Apps and SaaS instead of individual desktop apps, has seen a rise in flexible Free Software Content Management Systems, such as Plone and Drupal - both of which are used extensively in Charity and Public Sector websites.
The term is often used interchangably with Open Source, however Open Source is a pragmatic approach to collaborative development, whereas Free Software is a self-concious attempt to protect users' freedoms - the end results may be the same, but the difference is in the philosophy & the approach.