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Free Software and Open Source software are the focus of topics in this category, including that which is both, and known as Free and Open Source software.

Free software and open-source software are not synonymous terms, although open-source software is most often licensed as both, that being free and open-source software. Because of this, as well as a misunderstanding as to what is meant by the word "free" as it pertains to software licensing, it is common for the two terms to be thought of as the same thing. Free software has the same advocacy as open-source software, so it's usually not a problem. Both free software and open-source software have a common goal, that being to make source codes available for users to see.

First, it is important to understand that "free" does not refer to monetary value. Coined by Richard Stallman, who began the GNU Project to create a free operating system, and founded the Free Software Foundation to advocate on behalf of free software, the phrase refers to software that users can use, view and modify the source code, and redistribute without legal restraint.

As defined by the Free Software Foundation, in order for the software to be considered free software, it must provide for the following four essential freedoms:

1. The freedom to run the program for any purpose.
2. The freedom to view the source code.
3. The freedom to modify the source code, creating a version that meets the user's needs.
4. The freedom to share the modified, compiled software with others.

The Free Software Foundation created the GNU General Public License, generally referenced as the GPL, as a copyleft license that free software developers could distribute their software under in order to qualify it as free, and to ensure that it stays that way.

Open Source software refers to software that is distributed with the source code, under a license that gives others the right to study, change, and distribute the software as they please. The term, Open Source, was coined in 1998 by people who desired a title that wasn't as easily misunderstood as "free software". In the process, they changed the emphasis from freedom to security, cost savings, transparency, and other benefits. Like free software, open-source software can be freely distributed, but it doesn't have to be.

Software that is made available under the GPL qualifies as both free software and as open-source software. However, open-source software is not necessarily free software. Chrome OS and Android OS are both open source projects, but they are not free software because they don't satisfy the four freedoms required by the Free Software Foundation.

However, most open-source software is also free software, which leads to a third term, free and open-source software, often known by its acronym, FOSS. Free and open-source software refers to that which is both free and open source. Any software that qualifies as free software is also open-source, but that which qualifies as open source is not necessarily free software.

Adding to the ambiguity is the fact that the average end-user considers any software that he didn't have to pay for to be free software. Technically speaking, or at least in geek-speak, if you don't have to pay for it but you don't get the source code, then it's freeware, not free software. Freeware is software that is made available to you at no cost.

The focus of this category is on free software, open-source software, or free and open-source software, not freeware.

Not as common, but nevertheless in existence, is another designation that refers to hardware rather than software. Although it doesn't generally apply to the physical device, open-source hardware usually means that the plans and specifications for the hardware are made available to others who may want to produce it. This might include any of the artifacts of hardware design, such as mechanical drawings, schematics, layout data, and so on. As with software, there is also such a thing as free and open-source hardware, known by its acronym, FOSH.

Appropriate topics for this category, or its subcategories, include free software or hardware, open-source software or hardware, and that which is both free and open source.


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