We explain what free software is and what its advantages and disadvantages are. In addition, its general characteristics, examples and more.

The principles of Free Software are simple, but it is important not to get confused due to the underlying complexity caused by its long history. Here is everything you need to know about free software. Learn about the four freedoms and their meaning, the fundamentals of Free Software licenses, the advantages that Free Software provides, and the most common synonyms.

What is free software?

Have you ever wondered what free software is ? Free software is a term coined and promoted by the GNU project and the Free Software Foundation. It is used for open source software that allows users to freely view the source code of the software, modify it, distribute it, and use it without any restrictions.

Software available without any payment is not necessarily free software. According to the definition put forth by the Free Software Foundation, the word Free in “free software” implies the idea of freedom rather than costlessness.

If the software is available for free download , but the user cannot modify the source, then it is not free software. It is important to note the distinction here. Freeware is software that you don't have to pay for. Freeware is software that you are free to modify and use for your own purposes.

Free software can be released under different licences, for example GPL, Apache, BSD, etc.

WordPress is an example of open source software released under the GPL or General Public License. This allows developers and designers to create plugins and themes that extend the functionality of WordPress and make it the versatile platform that it is. Under the GPL, the only restriction is that all WordPress mods must be licensed under the same license.

History and evolution

Richard Stallman, known as "the father of open source," believed that everyone deserved to collaborate freely and openly with others using software. In 1983, he introduced the GNU project , the first free operating system, and in 1985, he went on to create the Free Software Foundation to further support the free software community.

In the late 1990s, the widespread recognition of Linux and the release of the Netscape browser source code increased interest and participation in openly shared software. The "open source" label was created at a strategy session held on February 3, 1998, in Palo Alto, California, shortly after the Netscape source code was released. The strategy session arose from the realization that the attention surrounding the Netscape announcement created an opportunity to educate and defend the superiority of an open development process.

Since the 1990s, open source technologies have become essential to modern IT companies striving to collect, organize, and connect the dots between the vast amounts of spatial data at their fingertips. Open source enables these organizations to take advantage of unlimited scalability to understand and solve emerging business challenges.

Today, open source software is now at the core of our web browsers, operating systems, and many other aspects of our daily lives. According to a 2016 survey, 90 percent of companies say open source improves efficiency, interoperability, and innovation.

One real-world dilemma that open source software is solving is transportation logistics. Whether it's a municipal government establishing optimal bus and light rail routes, a hospital providing patients with the best and fastest route to its facility at a given time, an oil company planning the location of its pipelines or a manufacturer that ships its products efficiently and profitably.

Moving people and things from point A to point B comes with huge logistical challenges. In each case, analyzing complex location-based information is critical.

With proprietary geospatial software, subscriptions determine not only how many data sources can be considered, but also how much it will cost to determine the optimal routing. Open source geospatial software enables organizations to take advantage of location-based data without incurring costs per user, per login, or per CPU cycle. In the end, you can save time, money, and even lives with open source.

We will continue to see the proliferation of open source, as the rise of smartphones, the Internet of Things and wearable devices has created an explosion of new data sources that demand flexible and affordable solutions to manage it all.

Along with open standards that facilitate open communication between them, these technologies will be the focus areas for open source software in the future. Open source is very promising and has potential as it enables greater collaboration, sharing of valuable data, and access to key resources.

Free software features

Free software freedoms

The main characteristics of free software are:

Community-based distributed development

In a typical free software, initially an individual or a few volunteers participate in the project. Once the project starts and is successful, a project community is created. Subsequently, other members of the community contribute to the project. The Concurrent Versions System (CVS) helps distributed development of free software.

CVS is a client-server software revision control system. Tracks all changes to a set of files and enables multi-developer collaboration. CVS itself is free and open source software distributed globally.

Virtual team software development promises flexibility, responsiveness, lower costs, and improved resource utilization.

modular design

In modular design, the software architecture is divided into components called modules . Due to the distributed nature of free software, its design must be modular in order to easily incorporate it into the main system. Modularity is favorable for open source production. The modular design with well-defined interfaces helps the collaborative development of free software.


Reusability means that the source code segment can be used again to add new functionality with little or no modification. This fits very well with the characteristics of the open source production process.

Free software licenses grant the developer the rights to obtain the source code, inspect it, modify it, and distribute it. Code reuse can be within the project or outside the project, that is, in other projects.

Free software repositories like SourceForge offer large amounts of reusable code.

Distribution and licenses

The Internet is the source distribution medium for Free and Open Software . Websites, mailing lists, blogs, forums, etc. all contribute to the wide publicity and distribution of free and open source software. There is a wide range of license options, such as GPL, LGPL, BSD, ISC, artistic license, etc.

reward mechanisms

At the beginning of the free software movement, it was apparently difficult to see the business opportunities of free and open source software. But now the free software business model is succeeding. Revenue sources range from donations to providing services such as consulting, integration, support and training. It's also worth mentioning that reward other than money, like reputation and serving the community is also important to many developers.

The 4 freedoms of free software

Free Software refers to freedom, not price. It guarantees its users the four essential freedoms. The absence of at least one of these freedoms means that the software is proprietary , therefore Non-Free Software.

  • Use : The Free Software can be used for any purpose and has no restrictions such as license expiration or geographical limitations.
  • Sharing : Free Software can be shared and copied virtually free of charge.
  • Study : Free Software and its code can be studied by anyone, without non-disclosure agreements or similar restrictions.
  • Improve : Free Software can be modified by anyone, and these improvements can be shared publicly.

Advantages of free software

Advantages of free software

The advantages of Free Software can be summarized in:

  • Community work. The development and improvement of the digital tool occurs among many of its users, directly addressing the problems that concern them and without having to wait for the manufacturing company to release an update or a corrected version, which reduces the solution times of the problems. problems.
  • Overcoming piracy. As the Software is freely distributed and copied, all the diatribe regarding copyright and information control measures is avoided, betting on another type of model.
  • Deepening of computer knowledge. Free software user communities learn about it as they intervene, thus managing mutual knowledge that enriches all the parties involved and allows knowledge to be added.
  • Saving. By not having to invest in annual user licences, free software users can save money or invest it in other types of needs related to the company that manufactured it, without having to pay rights, but rather pay services.

Disadvantages of free software

Like everything, Free Software has its disadvantages:

  • It lacks guarantees. Since there is no royalty payment, this type of Software is often used at the full risk of the user, which is why it is often preferred by those who have a broader technical knowledge than the average computing public.
  • It requires individual effort. Although the update or error correction times are shorter compared to the launch of a new version of paid software, the updating or adaptation tasks to specific events and needs will depend on the institution or the individual user in each case. .
  • Greater knowledge. What was said before: the base public of Free Software usually requires technical knowledge that is not common among normal computer users.

Importance of free software

Importance of free software

The idea behind Free Software is fundamentally political: the idea that knowledge belongs to humanity and should not be a commodity that is sold for the enrichment of a few specialists. Apart from this, autonomy, individuality and community commitment are usually valued, rather than loyalty to a generally transnational software company .

A growing trend, especially in developing countries , is to implement Free Software instead of programs from large companies , which gives institutions the ability to meet their specific needs as well as autonomy from other companies. Software companies, mostly from industrialized countries , freeing them from annual payments for copyright and risks to the sovereignty of nations.

Free Software Download

free software download

Although the use and distribution of Free Software is usually free or very cheap , the business model of the companies that develop it is usually based on the offer of other types of services around the program, such as technical support and customization. and installation of the tool (especially in companies).

In many cases , donations or sponsorship of other business initiatives are also required .

Types of licenses

It is important to keep in mind that there are no good or bad licenses and that no license is better than another Anyone can create an open source license to suit their needs, which is why there are so many.

This could complicate choosing an open source license, especially for those of us who are not well versed in the law and have never had a detailed explanation of open source licenses.

Let's see the most used free software licenses.

GPL licenses

The GNU General Public License is the most popular open source license in existence. Richard Stallman created the GPL to protect GNU software from becoming proprietary, and it is a specific implementation of his "copyleft" concept.

GPL is a copyleft license. This means that any software that is written based on any GPL component must be released as open source. The result is that any software that uses any GPL open source component must release its full source code and all rights to modify and distribute the full code.

BSD-style licenses

The BSD Licenses or the original BSD License and its two variants, the Modified BSD License (3 clauses) and the Simplified BSD License / FreeBSD License (2 clauses), are a family of permissive free software licenses.

The BSD license allows you to freely modify and distribute the software code in source or binary form as long as you retain a copy of the copyright notice, list of conditions, and disclaimer.

The original BSD License or the 4-Clause BSD License also contains a publicity clause and a non-approval clause. The Modified BSD License or 3-Clause BSD License was formed by removing the advertising clause from the original BSD License. Also, the FreeBSD version or 2-Clause BSD License was formed by removing the disapproval clause from the Modified BSD License or 3-Clause BSD License.

MPL-style and derivative licenses

The Microsoft Public License is a free and open source software license released by Microsoft, who wrote it for their projects that were released as open source.

You are free to reproduce and distribute original or derivative works of any MPL-licensed software. However, you may not use any contributor's name, logo, or trademarks when doing so.

The MPL protects authors by not explicitly offering any express warranties or guarantees for the use of their code, so the author is not responsible if the code does not work well in some cases.

When you distribute software under the MPL, you are not required to distribute its source code. You can do it if you want, but you are not obligated. However, you must retain all copyright, patent, trademark and attribution notices originally contained in the software.

Also, if you distribute any part of the Software in its source code form, you may do so only under the MPL by including a complete copy of this License with your distribution. If you distribute any part of the software in compiled or object code form, you may only do so under any other license that complies with the MPL.


Open source licenses can be divided into two main categories: copyleft and permissive . This division is based on the requirements and restrictions that the license imposes on users.

Copyright is a law that restricts the right to use, modify, and share creative works without the permission of the copyright holder. Think of music, movies, etc. that are the intellectual property of their creator.

When an author releases a program under a copyleft license , they make a copyright claim to the work and issue a statement that other people have the right to use, modify, and share the work as long as reciprocity of obligation is maintained. In short, if they are using a component with this type of open source license, they must also make their code open for others to use.

Types of free software

Types of free software

Free Software can be of many types:

  • Operating systems. They allow the complete management of the computer, with its inputs and outputs.
  • Browsers and/or browsers. They are used by the user to navigate the Internet and manage their online experience.
  • p2p programs. Peer-to-peer technology ( something like subject to subject) allows you to share information and create community networks around reciprocal access to your files.
  • Applications. From word processors, video players and image editing tools, to bulky file download managers and web servers.
  • Games . There are video game experiences that allow their users and players to contribute to the development of their code and improve the gaming experience among all.

Public domain

Public domain

It should not be thought that Free Software is in the public domain, a name given to programs that lack any license and belong to the entire sphere of humanity. Free Software has a regulatory framework and a type (albeit very lax) of license , so it is not the same thing, especially from legal points of view.

Differences between free software and open source software

Free software is software that respects freedom and the community of users. This means that users are free to run, copy, distribute, study, change and improve the software.

This concept is often misunderstood: it has nothing to do with price. It's about freedom.

Open source software is something that you can modify according to your needs, share with others without any burden of license violation. When we say open source, the source code of the software is publicly available under open source licenses like GNU (GPL), which allows you to edit the source code and distribute it.

Open source license criteria focus on the availability of the source code and the ability to modify and share it, while free software and the public domain focus on the user's freedom to use, modify and share the program.

Freeware (eg Skype and Adobe Acrobat), in their term, is primarily aimed at commercial goals and potential monetization, often used as a "freemium" product.

Advantages of using free software

Free Software is about freedom. In practice, this provides numerous benefits for users, organizations, businesses, and governments.

  • Autonomy : Free Software helps to develop and maintain customized software that adapts to your needs, not only to the provider's business model.
  • Collaboration : Free Software can be shared and used by everyone in a non-exclusive way, serving the public good.
  • Share & Copy : A Free Software license allows you to run an unlimited number of installations, without paying extra.
  • No Lock -in: Free Software licenses reinforce independence from vendors and provide more choice in service providers.
  • Reuse Code : Free Software provides the freedom to reuse code for other projects.
  • Innovation : A Free Software license encourages innovation for your software.
  • Competition : Free Software resists monopolization and improves competition.
  • Security : Free Software enables independent security controls that help close security holes faster.

Distribution and business model

Companies whose core business is free software development employ a variety of business models to solve the challenge of how to make money by providing software that is, by definition, licensed free.

Each of these business strategies is based on the premise that users of open source technologies are willing to purchase additional software features under proprietary licenses, or purchase other services or items of value that complement the critical open source software. for business.

This additional value may include, but is not limited to, enterprise-grade features and uptime guarantees to meet business or compliance requirements, increased performance and efficiency through features not yet available in the open source version, legal protection, or support / training / professional consulting that are typical of proprietary software applications.

A variety of free software compatible business approaches have gained prominence in recent years. Notable examples include open core (sometimes referred to as dual license or multiple license), software as a service (charging not for the software but for the tools and platform to consume the software as a service often on a subscription basis), freemium, donation- fund-based financing, crowdfunding and crowdsourcing.

There are several different types of business models for making a profit using free software or funding creation and ongoing development and maintenance.

Below is a list of legal business models within free software and open source licenses:

  • Do not sell code but professional services or brands
  • voluntary donations
  • Crowdsourcing
  • Partnership with funding organizations
  • ad-supported software
  • Reward-driven development
  • Sale of intellectual property

The free software movement

People use free software operating systems such as GNU/Linux for various reasons. Many users use it because the system is powerful, because it is reliable, or for the benefit of being able to modify the software to do what they need.

These are good reasons, but there is more to it than just convenience. What is at stake is your freedom and your community.

The idea of the free software movement is that computer users deserve the freedom to form a community. You should be free to help yourself, modifying the source code to do what you need. And the freedom to help your fellow man, by redistributing copies of the programs to other people. Also the freedom to help build your community, by posting improved versions so that other people can use them.

Whether a program is free software depends primarily on its license. However, a program may not be free because you do not have access to the source code, or because the hardware does not allow you to use a modified version.

The detailed definition of free software shows how a license is evaluated to determine whether programs are free software.

Political, economic and social implications

The free software movement is a social movement with the goal of obtaining and guaranteeing certain freedoms for users of software, namely the freedom to run the software, study and change the software, and redistribute copies with or without changes. Software that meets these requirements is called free software. The word 'free' is ambiguous in English, although in this context it means 'free as at liberty', not 'free as at zero price'.

Free software is also a political and ethical movement that focuses on software . The software itself is almost secondary to the policy. It is based on a moral, ethical and political belief. The user's personal sovereignty to control their own digital life , to make their computers obey them, not someone else, is at the core of Free Software. The right of users to help their friends, colleagues and other people.

Free software is the ethical and political statement that defending the rights of users is more important than its business model. If your business model requires violating users' rights, then you don't have a business model.

The free software movement has been extensively analyzed using economic methodologies, including perspectives from heterodox economics. Of particular interest to economists is the willingness to work of the programmers of the free software movement, who often produce programs of higher quality than commercial ones, without financial compensation.

The free software movement represents a return to the hobby-based gift economy and the absence of economic scarcity on the Internet.

Uses of free software

There are many uses of free software in various sectors. Here are the main ones.

In public administrations

There are many examples of free software being used and created by public administrations both in Europe and around the world. Munich's migration of its servers and desktops is a well-known case, but there is a long list of other examples, such as the migration of Linux servers and desktops at Zaragoza City Hall.

The European Commission's free software strategy policy was published in 2014, reinforcing its desire to release free software created by or on behalf of the Commission, as well as contributing to and participating in development communities.

In Spain, the most notable example of software launch and use is the LinEx project in Extremadura, in addition to the Andalusian code repository. Since then, the Spanish administrations have created several versions of Linux and their own GitHub account.

in healthcare

Free software has found its place in the health IT infrastructure, supported by organizations such as the Open Source Electronic Health Record Alliance (OSEHRA), to serve the organization's electronic health records, medical practice management, medical information and more.

Open source software benefits healthcare organizations in many ways, the first being financial . You don't charge license fees for your code, freeing up funds for other IT initiatives.

Organizations using open source code can write updates to their software with this code at the developer's convenience, regardless of budget constraints.

In education

The use of free software in schools and universities encourages the schooling of understanding about product formation and upholds the scientific principle.

Education is one of the most important areas of activity so that young people and students have the opportunity to come into contact with knowledge instead of a mere schooling of products. Therefore, the FSFE started a working group on Free Software in Education to focus on these efforts.

Among other arguments in favor of free software, here are four of the key benefits for education:

  • Sharing: The use of free software allows schools to teach children to share and cooperate.
  • Learn to program: The possibility / freedom to play motivates children to learn more.
  • Easy to manage: Free software is stable, secure, and reliable. It offers open access to the source code, thus allowing it to be modified or adapted to the needs of schools.
  • Licenses: With free software, teachers can give each student a copy. There is no risk of tricking any child into using an illegal copy.

Examples of free software

These are some of the most popular types of free software:

  • CRM – CRM software allows businesses to manage customer interactions and meet their requirements more easily. These are the best free software CRM solutions:

    • Freshsales – This software is suitable for businesses of all sizes and allows them to manage contacts and develop customer success strategies. It also offers lead management, email marketing, integration management, phone and email support.
    • Flowlu – This type of free CRM software is also ideal for small and large companies in different industries. Its features include quoting, billing , lead management, project management, API integration, and more.
    • Hubspot CRM – This software is best for small and medium-sized businesses in real estate, construction, retail, and other niches. Contact management, email scheduling, meeting management, and live chat are just some of the features it offers.

  • Project management : within this software, it is worth noting:

    • Trello – This tool is great for both individuals and small teams. Allows you to manage individual projects and ongoing workflows. Some of its features include adding due dates, attaching files and hyperlinks, custom dropdown menus, and more.
    • Zoho – This software allows businesses to track their time, get custom reports, and integrate with other services, including Google. In addition, there is also an integrated chat that makes communication between team members easy and fast.
    • Monday – This tool covers a spectrum of project management tasks including email updates, personal and public dashboards, people tagging, visual progress display, and more.

  • Video games : in the video game sector we highlight the following free software:

    • Battle for Wesnoth – This game can run on Windows, Android, Mac, and iOS. It is a turn-based tactical strategy game that offers a wide variety of maps, units, classes, and campaigns.
    • OpenTTD – This software video game is available on Windows and Android. It is a Transport Tycoon Deluxe replica that has new features. Developers can create complicated rail networks while allowing players to come up with their own solutions and layouts.
    • Xonotic – This game can run on Windows, Mac OS, and Linux. It offers a variety of weapons to choose from and uses exciting actions that game developers can modify to make it more exciting.

The above content published at Collaborative Research Group is for informational and educational purposes only and has been developed by referring reliable sources and recommendations from technology experts. We do not have any contact with official entities nor do we intend to replace the information that they emit.


Cultural journalist with great interest in education and technological innovation in the classroom. The future passes through technology and it is already here. .

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