Philosophy and Terminology













The Free Software Movement is first and foremost about freedom - freedom to use technology, to understand and customize technology, and to share technology with others. The emphasis of the movement is more about community than about technology.

Section Objectives:
  • Describe the four freedoms protected by free software.
  • Define terms relevant to software, copyright, and licensing.
  • Compare and contrast free and proprietary licenses and underlying philosophies.
  • Analyze software licenses and determine whether the four freedoms are protected.
  • Explain the difference between free software and open-source software.
The Free Software Foundation is the organization founded by Richard Stallman to support the Free Software Movement and the GNU Project.

Andy Carvin introduces free, open-source software in his blog, Learning.Now, which is hosted by the PBS site for teachers. He follows his initial introduction with an interview of David Thornburg, founder of the Thornburg Center for Professional Development.

This extensive collection of links from India includes a general introduction to free, open-source software as well as 16 other sections related to the topic - check out the section on education in Section 8 and the list of personalities in Section 13.

Conversations with many of the personalities in the free, open-source software movement are made available due to the work of Steve Hargadon of EdTechLive.

Many, many more examples of live CDs are available.

Suggested Activities:
  1. Review the resources listed in the Themes section and the terms listed in the Glossary page. Locate other definitions for these terms and draft your own version.
  2. Read Richard Stallman's essays about free software and about the four freedoms, review the GNU Public License (GPL), and then compare the GPL to the license for your favorite software application.
  3. Explain the four freedoms to a colleague. Consider to what other types of work these four freedoms might apply.
  4. Locate references to free or open source software in popular media. Find a print advertisement for a free software program other than a version of Linux.
  5. Hands-on activity, use a live CD to boot and explore a free software distribution.


What are these freedoms? In typical programmer style, they are numbered starting with 0. Freedom 0 is the freedom to use a software application in any manner that you like. Of course, this isn't intended to condone illegal activities, but instead, is intended to allow the user the freedom to determine the use of the software instead of its use being limited by the copyright holder. Read more about the four freedoms here: Listen to Richard Stallman describe the four freedoms in this mp3 file:
In common parlance, hacking is equated incorrectly with illegal, immoral, or unethical activities. In the software development world, the term, hacker, recognizes the coding prowess of an individual. A hack is a clever innovation that builds on the work of others in some novel way. Stallman has described the concept of copyleft as a hack of copyright - in which the essential concept is modified in a clever way. Stallman used licensing that protects copyright holders to protect the freedom of software users. Read more about the concept of hacker here: Eric S. Raymond provides a great view of the hacker culture in his 2001 publication, How To Become A Hacker. See:
Sharing and Ubuntu
Freedom and hacking do not offer benefits to society without a commitment to sharing and helping others. If you listened to the first 10 minutes or so of Steve Hargadon's interview with Richard Stallman (linked above), you learned about the role of sharing in the philosophy of the Free Software Movement. Read about how the concept of copyleft protects users' freedoms through the GPL here: The notions of sharing and community are perhaps best embodied in the African concept of Ubuntu, which is also the name of a popular GNU/Linux distribution and the root of an education-oriented distribution called Edubuntu. Read more about this concept, including Archbishop Tutu's definition of it, here:
Open Source
Noting the ambiguity in the English word, free, efforts are needed to explain what free software actually is. Is it software that doesn't cost anything? Not necessarily. Better, but less appealing, terms would be unrestrained or liberated software, but even those need to be explained to software users. In 1998, Eric S. Raymond and a small group of advocates coined the term, open source. Their motivations are presented here: and the definition of open-source software can be found here: After reading this material and comparing it with the Free Software Foundation's philosophy and the four freedoms protected by copyleft, you may perceive a controversy here. Your perceptions would be correct.

Other Podcasts
Diagram of the Four Freedoms
diagram of four freedoms