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What is: Free Software

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‘Free software’ is a term that describes software that allows users to freely look at the programming code, modify it, distribute it, and use it without any restriction.

WordPress chose the free software model because it has a philosophy that encourages a spirit of openness and sharing. It helps their aim of being a welcoming and inclusive community.

What is Free Softwrare

The Meaning of ‘Free’

Let’s begin by defining what ‘free’ means. With free software, it’s more like ‘free speech’ than ‘free beer’.

Parties that give away free beer are popular because the guests can drink without having to pay. In that case, the word ‘free’ means ‘free of charge’.

That’s one reason WordPress is so popular. Like the beer at the party, it’s free of charge. While there are other costs involved in building a website, the WordPress software doesn’t cost a cent.

WordPress is Free

But free software is more like free speech than free beer. In other words, it’s primarily about freedom, not price.

The Free Software movement was started in 1989 by Richard Stallman because he was troubled that software licenses were becoming more restrictive. It’s not just a software movement but a social one.

Stallman wanted to protect the freedom of software users. He wanted them to be able to help their neighbors by sharing software, something that many proprietary software licenses do not allow.

So, he created a software license to meet this goal. Free software primarily refers to software released under the GNU General Public License or GPL, such as Stallman’s own GNU operating system.

What Is the GPL?

The GPL is a software license that’s currently administered by the Free Software Foundation (FSF). It’s been revised several times to better protect the freedom of software users.

Free Software Foundation

The GPL is like a ‘Bill of Rights’ that offers four freedoms:

  • The freedom to run the software for any purpose.
  • The freedom to study the source code and change the software for any purpose.
  • The freedom to share the software with others.
  • The freedom to share your own modified versions of the software with others.

The only restriction is that if you share a modified version of GPL software, then it must also have a GPL license. This is called ‘copyleft’, which is a play on the word ‘copyright’, and makes sure that free software remains free.

WordPress has been released under the GPLv2 license. That means it will continue to be freely available and that its success depends on the cooperation of an active community instead of the staff of a single company.

The WordPress Bill of Rights

For more details, you can refer to our glossary entry on the GPL.

What Is the Difference Between Free Software and Open Source Software?

‘Open source’ is another term for software that can be studied, shared, and modified. It, too, is a movement, and its leading voice is the Open Source Initiative.

They created the Open Source Definition, a 10-point description of what open source means. Many of its aims are similar to those of free software:

  • Others should be allowed to distribute open-source software, either for free or at a price.
  • Software modifications are allowed and must be distributed under the same terms as the original software.
  • Discrimination is discouraged, either against any person or group or any purpose for using the software.
Open Source Initiative

The aims of the two movements are similar, but their values are different.

While free software is a social movement that promotes freedom, the open source movement promotes the business advantages of sharing source code. It recognizes that open-source software is an effective way for developers to collaborate.

Open-source software uses a variety of licenses. For example, WordPress is released under the GPLv2, the Apache webserver software is released under an Apache license, and PHP is released under both the GPL and PHP license.

WordPress is both free software and open-source software. Because there is a large overlap between the terms, the software is sometimes called FOSS (free and open-source software) or FLOSS (free/libre/open-source software).

For more details, see our glossary entry on open source.

How Does WordPress Stay in Business if It Is Free?

No single company or individual owns WordPress. It is an open-source community project where many talented people have made contributions to make it into the great software that it is today.

There is a core team of developers who lead the project development, but anyone who values WordPress can contribute to its success. Those with programming skills can contribute patches and fix bugs, and users can suggest new features.

Learn how you can get involved with The WordPress Project.

But while the people behind WordPress don’t make money from the software, they can make money from WordPress-related services.

For example, the WPBeginner team has developed several premium WordPress plugins that offer more advanced features for a subscription fee.

To learn more, see our guide on Why is WordPress Free? What are the Costs? What is the Catch?

We hope this article helped you learn more about free software. You may also want to see our Additional Reading list below for related articles on useful WordPress tips, tricks, and ideas.

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Additional Reading

Editorial Staff

Editorial Staff at WPBeginner is a team of WordPress experts led by Syed Balkhi with over 16 years of experience in WordPress, Web Hosting, eCommerce, SEO, and Marketing. Started in 2009, WPBeginner is now the largest free WordPress resource site in the industry and is often referred to as the Wikipedia for WordPress.

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