Free software is software that gives you the user the freedom to share, study and modify it. We call this free software because the user is free.
To use free software is to make a political and ethical choice asserting the right to learn, and share what we learn with others. Free software has become the foundation of a learning society where we share our knowledge in a way that others can build upon and enjoy.
Currently, many people use proprietary software that denies users these freedoms and benefits. If we make a copy and give it to a friend, if we try to figure out how the program works, if we put a copy on more than one of our own computers in our own home, we could be caught and fined or put in jail. That’s what’s in the fine print of the license agreement you accept when using proprietary software.
The corporations behind proprietary software will often spy on your activities and restrict you from sharing with others. And because our computers control much of our personal information and daily activities, proprietary software represents an unacceptable danger to a free society.
The GNU Operating System and the Free Software Movement
What if there were a worldwide group of talented ethical programmers voluntarily committed to the idea of writing and sharing software with each other and with anyone else who agreed to share alike? What if anyone could be a part of and benefit from this community even without being a computer expert or knowing anything about programming? We wouldn’t have to worry about getting caught copying a useful program for our friends—because we wouldn’t be doing anything wrong.
In fact, such a movement exists, and you can be part of it. The free software movement was started in 1983 by computer scientist Richard M. Stallman, when he launched a project called GNU, which stands for “GNU is Not UNIX”, to provide a replacement for the UNIX operating system—a replacement that would respect the freedoms of those using it. Then in 1985, Stallman started the Free Software Foundation, a nonprofit with the mission of advocating and educating on behalf of computer users around the world.
There are now many variants or 'distributions' of this GNU operating system using the kernel Linux. We recommend those GNU/Linux distributions that are 100% free software; in other words, entirely freedom-respecting.
Today, free software is available for just about any task you can imagine. From complete operating systems like GNU, to 17,000 individual programs and tools listed in the FSF/UNESCO free software directory. Millions of people around the world—including entire governments—are now using free software on their computers.
The FSF also provides other important resources to the community.