FAQ - General

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 Q: What is Free / Open Source Software?

Free Software is a matter of liberty, not price - think about "free speech", not "free lunch"!

Free software is a matter of the users' freedom to run, copy, distribute, study, change and improve the software. More precisely, it refers to four kinds of freedom, for the users of the software:

  • The freedom to run the program, for any purpose (freedom 0)
    Free Software makes no distinction between a user's field of endeavour or intent to use the software. It doesn't matter whether you want to use the software for commercial and for-profit use; or non-profit or classified or defense use; or for public / governmental use.
  • The freedom to study how the program works, and adapt it to your needs (freedom 1)
    Access to the source code is a precondition for this.
    If I have access to a Free Software program, I also have the right to study it and customise it. If the software is Free Software, it also means that it will ship with its "complete" and "equivalent" source code. At no additional "cost".
  • The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbour (freedom 2)
    Free Software explicitly provides you permission to share the software. Unlike proprietary software licenses (which are designed to ensure that sharing software becomes a crime), Free Software has no limitations on
    sharing. You can not, however, impose any further restrictions on your subsequent users. Nor limit their freedom in any way.
  • The freedom to improve the program, and release your improvements to the public, so that the whole community benefits (freedom 3)
    Access to the source code is a precondition for this.
    Not only can you share verbatim copies of a Free Software program, but you can also share changed versions of it publicly for others' use.

 A program is free software 'if and only if' the users have all of these four freedoms.

Unlike proprietary software products, Free / Open Source Software is never distributed with discriminatory conditions such as a requirement to pay for the software on a per-user basis.

Nor is Free Software ever distributed with limitations on copying and sharing; it is within your rights, as a user of the software, to use the software on as many computers as you may wish. In fact, you are encouraged to make copies of the software and share it with your colleagues, family and friends.

Q: What is proprietary software?

The term proprietary software is used to refer to software that is distributed under restrictive licenses which prohibit users' freedom to use, extend and share the software.

It must be noted that proprietary software is not the same thing as commercial software; commercial software could be free software too!

Q: Is Free Software the same thing as 'freeware'?

No - Free Software and "freeware" are completely different concepts. While the "Free" in Free Software stands for freedom, "freeware" refers only to the fact that a particular software is distributed free of cost. While most Free Software is distributed free of cost, not all software distributed free of cost (ie. freeware) is Free Software.

When we talk about Free Software, the cost of the software is not the issue. What is important is the fact that users of the software get the freedoms defined in the Free Software Definition.

Many times software vendors who develop and distribute proprietary software use the term free software or open source software incorrectly to even refer to proprietary software distributed free of charge (freeware). The best test of whether a software is Free or not are its distribution terms and the sort of freedom it provides. If the software can not deliver the freedoms described in the Free Software Definition, then it is definitely not Free Software.

Q: What is Linux? Is Linux Free Software?

Linux is an operating system kernel originally developed by Linus Torvalds and now developed collaboratively by thousands of developers over the Internet.

Linux is a POSIX-compliant operating system kernel which closely implements the UNIX programming interface. It is extremely portable and today, runs on a wide variety of hardware - from high end supercomputers, to multi-processor servers to desktops and even embedded systems.

Q: Why would anyone want to create Free Software?

People have different motivations for creating Free Software.

  • Some do it because they love the concept of Free Software and want to contribute towards building a Free Operating System.
  • To a lot of people the technical challenge of creating Free Software is more important. For a long time, system software, operating systems and applications built as Free Software were playing catch-up with the proprietary world.
  • Sometimes it is possible to do a lot more with software that gives freedom to users and that is what motivates people to create more.
  • Many people look at Free Software as a way of delivering low cost computing to masses. Hence, they end up creating more Free Software that can give more and more reasons to people to use computers.

The Free Software Movement makes it possible for people across borders to work together and collaborate. This large, world-wide community attracts some of the most creative programmers that the world has seen and is a very major reason for people to contribute to Free Software - as developers, as users, as writers and translators and more.

Q: I'm not a programmer. What worth does Free Software hold for me?

Free Software provides you with all the freedom you need to use software effectively. While we might be aware about
the value of software freedom or why its important to us, we do understand and use the same concept well in other

Even if you are not a programmer, using Free Software ensures that you have the ability of getting your software fixed by someone else. For anyone to be able to fix, extend or build-upon existing software, availability of source code is a pre-requisite. Without source code, no extensions are possible.

For example, when you purchase a car, you almost always have the ability of either being able to fix your car yourself or choosing where you want to get it fixed - at an offical service provider or someone of your liking. In such cases our personal inability to fix cars ourselves is not a such a major factor; we know we can depend upon others to fix or extend it for us.

All this is made possible because car manufacturers don't sell cars with the hood welded shut or with severe limitations on how you can use it, repair it or extend it. If a car manufacturer did sell cars like that, would we purchase such cars? Possibly not – because we value our freedom to tinker with our cars, get them fixed by people we know and so on.

The same thing holds for software. Freedom matters in software as well. And as users, we have a right to insist on it.
Either existing software vendors will give us that freedom or we will find vendors who do. These are the sort of possibilities that Free Software creates.

Q: Is there a Free Software equivalent for my-favourite-proprietary-tool?

Most probably! Today, Free Software operating systems are capable enough to provide most modern computing tools that users need. There are good equivalents for all proprietary software tools that are used on a day-to-day basis. However, there are bound to be some differences in terms of functionality and features. The Free Software tool might solve the same problem as your favourite proprietary tool, but it might solve the problem differently. This might require you to unlearn and re-learn things you already know about the software.

Another common notion that a lot of us have is that Free Software is difficult and cumbersome to use and hence will be beyond our comprehension. Ease-of-use is a very relative thing - it depends on our comfort level and experience with computers. The best way to gauge if Free Software and GNU/Linux can work for us it to try it out and make our own impressions.

Q: What is GNU/Linux? Is it the same thing as Linux?

GNU/Linux is the preferred way to refer to the operating system distribution based on the Linux kernel. An operating system consists of a kernel and then user-space software to make the computer usable.

Calling the operating system Linux, does not get people to understand, respect, think about and value software freedom.

Q: Who owns GNU/Linux and all this Free Software?

No one entity. Most free / open source software is owned by their developers (individuals, groups, non-profit or commercial organisations etc.). Actually, owned is not the correct word here - software is never really owned (like cars or houses). Software ownership is specified through "Copyright" and copyrights are owned by the creators (developers here) of the work (software in this case).

Q: But if all software is free, then who gets paid for developing it? How do you eat? 

Well - we are eating (though not as much as very large proprietary software companies - just enough to survive) and have been doing so for many years now. And not only us, there are hundreds of small and large organisations all over the world who primarily develop and deal with FOSS and related services and solutions. Our business answers might enlighten you on some of these concerns.

Q: I don't find anyone using GNU/Linux or Free Software. How do I know its a safe thing to use in the long run?

Don't worry is one of the first things we like to say here! FOSS and GNU / Linux usage and awareness is growing day by day. And it will soon get to a computer near you. If you start using GNU / Linux today, you are already helping it spread.
However, if you need some actual data on people who are actively using GNU / Linux and FOSS today, have a look at who's using deepOfix and we are sure you will find at least a few organisations who's names you recognise.

Q: What exactly can I do with GNU/Linux and Free Software?

Plenty of things. You can use it on a desktop, a server, a hand held computer, an embedded system, a cluster and even mobile phone! You should be able to comfortably do everything that you need to use a computer for. Welcome to the wonderful world of GNU / Linux and Free Software!

Q: What is the best GNU/Linux operating system to use? There are so many out there!

Software Freedom encourages developers to do things "their way". However, the problem with this is that it creates unbelievable choice and variety which not all of us might be able to appreciate or respect. Most importantly, it makes it difficult to make a fair choice about what GNU/Linux operating system to use.

At the risk of sounding biased, we would like to list some of the more popular GNU/Linux distributions that serve equally well: