Why Would Fedora be Free ? Can it be Trusted?

Greg Forte gforte at leopard.us.udel.edu
Wed May 12 23:14:18 UTC 2004


1) a small point of netiquette: please don't respond to the list with
  short, non-informative messages such as "thanks for the reply", or
  "interesting point".  They don't add anything to the discussion and
  only serve to increase the already heavy volume of the list and make
  it more tedious to slog through the archives.

2) regarding "I am looking at using Fedora at my work and some people
  are asking...", I don't know if you mean only for your personal use
  or if you're pushing to convert others in your office to it, but I
  find it hard to understand how you could be an effective advocate
  if you apparently hadn't ever even looked at the fedora web site!
  But good luck with that ... you will probably find that, as with
  most things involving politics and/or religion (and there's a little
  of both in this debate ;-), most people will either love or hate the
  idea, and most of those (on either side) will not have logical or
  well-thought-out reasons why.

3) I'm surprised no one's brought up the beer/liberty dichotomy of the
  term "free" (well, one person did alude to the GPL).  If I understand
  your use of the term, you mean "free" in the monetary sense, as do
  the people who are asking you these questions.  This is the beer
  sense of the word, as in "free beer".  At some level, NOTHING is
  free in the "free beer" sense.  True, Fedora Core (and many other
  Linux distros) are available to be downloaded gratis, or can be had
  for at most a paltry fee, but they are not truly without expense -
  if you're using it, you have to put time and effort (even if no
  actual money) into learning it and maintaning it, and at some point
  you may find you need to pay somebody to do some of that for you.
  With commercial software you pay a fee (often a recurring fee,
  either for maintenence contracts or upgrades), but you generally
  get support from the vendor (at least ostensibly).  People can
  argue till they're blue in the face about whether commercial
  software is more expensive overall than non-commercial, but the
  difference in the expense arena is not as huge as most make it
  out to be.

  The real difference lies in the OTHER sense of "free", liberty.
  As others have already mentioned, very few commercial software
  vendors will allow you to see, let alone tinker with, the internals
  of their software, or if they do they probably charge you a lot of
  money for the priviledge and/or make you sign an NDA which prohibits
  you from allowing others outside your organization to see or use
  your modifications (unless you pay them even more money).  With free
  (in the "liberty" sense) software, you have not only the choice but
  the right to do these things, and THAT is the real "selling" point
  of free software, at least in my mind.  For a more thorough (and
  probably cogent) treatment of this topic, refer to Richard
  Stallman's treatises at www.fsf.org.

  Also note that non-gratis versions of Linux (such as RedHat) are
  still free in the "liberty" sense.  People often confusedly think
  that the GPL requires you to give things away gratis.  This is
  absolutely untrue (otherwise, companies like RedHat couldn't be
  in business).  What the GPL DOES require is that (a) IF you give
  (or sell) someone else a program that you have modified (or written
  yourself) that is covered by the GPL, then you MUST also make the
  source available to them, and (b) you can't stop them from doing
  any of the things that the GPL gave you the right to do.  And yes,
  in theory this means that if you sell a GPL'd program to one person,
  that person can turn around and give it away to everybody in the
  world, and you won't get another cent.  In practice this doesn't
  happen, because (a) people don't generally give away things that
  they paid for, and (b) hardly anyone is selling JUST the code,
  what they're REALLY charging for is support.


             |   Greg Forte           gforte at udel.edu   |
             |   IT - User Services      302-831-1982   |
             |   University of Delaware    Newark, DE   |

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