Free software is a software published / released under the terms of a free software license, which grants its study, use, modification and redistribution.
The idea of free software was born in the early eighties, when software development began to change hands from universities to companies (proprietary software), putting a heavy brake on the collaboration that characterized the work of most programmers and systems engineers. of the time, above all with the non-disclosure pacts that the companies made to sign the programmers they hired.
From 1950 until the early 1970s, it was typical for computer users to use free software associated with free software. So the “commercial” software had always existed, but the high costs of the hardware meant that the business of the companies was not concentrated on the software, which was considered a natural part of the product, and whose source codes were generally public. For example, user and supplier organizations were formed to facilitate software exchange. Furthermore, since the software was often written in high-level language, the source code was distributed in computer magazines (such as Creative Computing, Softside, Computer, Byte, etc.) and books, such as the BASIC Computer Games bestseller.
From 1970 the situation changed: the software became more and more complex and difficult to realize and the companies started not to distribute the source codes and to oblige their employees not to reveal anything in order not to benefit the competition; moreover, with the collapse of hardware costs, the commercial development of software became a remarkable business and the source code became more and more a precious investment that could, on the one hand, make it possible to acquire a slice of this rapidly growing market and on the other hand tie the own users of their own software while keeping secret the methods used for the development of systems and applications.
The software industry
The software industry thus began to use technical measures (such as the distribution of copies of binary-only computer programs) to prevent computer users from being able to study and adapt the software as they saw fit.
In 1980, the US Software Copyright Act was issued, which introduces the protection of copyright also for software, inherent to copying, modification and distribution. This choice was favored by the hardware manufacturers’ lobby, primarily by IBM. In this way the companies began to use the law on copyright to prevent competitors from reading and modifying their products, ensuring control of their customers who, no longer being able to see and modify the source code of the software, could no longer adapt it to their needs, but they had to ask companies to do it for them.
In 1981 a precedent was established regarding the copyright in force on the software, this following the outcome of the judgment Diamond v. Diehr.
Another fact that will contribute to the conception and creation of free software is the normative act known as the Bayh-Dole Act, which allows the result of academic research to be privatized and protected with intellectual property.
In 1983 Richard Stallman, one of the original authors of the popular Emacs program and a long-time member of the hacker community at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) artificial intelligence laboratory, founded the GNU project with the intention of creating GNU: a system completely free operating. Thanks to the collaboration of many volunteer developers, the use of the Internet at universities and research institutes for the coordination of the project and the Linux kernel of Linus Torvalds, GNU / Linux was born in 1991, a Unix clone freely usable, modifiable and redistributable. [In 1991 internet use was very limited]
In his initial statement of the project and its purpose, Stallman expressly cited, as a motivation, his opposition to the request to accept the various non-disclosure agreements and the restrictive software licenses that prohibit the free sharing of potentially profitable software-development, a prohibition that is directly at odds with traditional hacker ethics. In fact he creates the definition of free software by defining it through the “four freedoms”: