Free (No Cost) Software, Open Source Software, and Free (Copy-left) Software

01/19/2021 | by SandStorm IT

open source software

Is free software really free? It is a simple question with a not so simple answer. While a piece of software may not cost anything to use, i.e. “freeware”, it still may not be completely free. Most software comes with an End User License Agreement (EULA) that a user must agree to before even using it. These usually contain what rights the publisher is granting to the user and restricts certain activities, such as changing the code used to create the application.

What is Open Source software?

Open Source software, on the other hand, uses a permissive license. The Open Source Initiative defines an open source license as one that: allows free redistribution, does not restrict selling the software as part of a larger distribution, requires distribution of source code, allows derived works, does not discriminate against any person or group or field of endeavor, does not restrict a specific product or other software, and must be technology neutral (not pertaining to any technology or “style of interface”) (https://opensource.org/osd). Examples of open source software include LibreOffice office suite, Apache 2.0 web server, and BSD family of operating systems.

What about Copy-left software?

Further complicating the topic is the issue of Copyleft. The key difference in open source (as defined above) and copyleft (often simply referred to as “free”) is that copyleft licenses require that all derivative works be licensed in a compatible manner with the original license. This is to ensure that the software and derivatives will remain free. One of the most popular software licenses, the General Public License (GPL), is one such license. Examples include the Linux operating system kernel, Audacity audio editor, and WordPress, a popular website framework.

With so many various definitions of “free”, it is very important to know under which your software is operating. Whether free of cost, open source, or copyleft, SandStormIT is well-versed in the particulars and can help you make these decisions. Feel free to contact us at 901-475-0275.

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