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free software

Free software is software that can be freely used, modified, and redistributed with only one restriction: any redistributed version of the software must be distributed with the original terms of free use, modification, and distribution (known as copyleft). The definition of free software is stipulated as part of the GNU Project and by the Free Software Foundation. Free software may may be packaged and distributed for a fee; the "free" refers to the ability to reuse it, modified or unmodified, as part of another software package. As part of the ability to modify, users of free software may also have access to and study the source code.

The concept of free software is the brainchild of Richard Stallman, head of the GNU Project. The best known example of free software is Linux, an operating system that is proposed as an alternative to Windows or other proprietary operating systems. Debian is an example of a distributor of a Linux package.

Free software is easily confused with freeware, a term describing software that can be freely downloaded and used but which may contain restrictions for modification and reuse.

Also see the very similar Open Source definition.

This was last updated in September 2005

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