Free software (the term open source is often used synonymous, although it stands for something slightly different) is software that is meant to be shared. It is a great form of sharing knowledge and tools to create knowledge. There is a strong movement behind free software that inspired other movements with its values and success.
Free software is software whose license guarantees the user the right to
- use his tool for whatever purpose, to
- study how it works, to
- share it with whoever he wants (under the same conditions) and to
- alter it (and also share the results) - to build on the work and help to improve it, for example.
Free software usually gets released under so called free software licenses - to legally protect the sharing in legal environments built to protect property and profits (copyright). Those licenses use the copyright (or "Urheberrecht") to ensure the rights of the users (those four freedoms), to protect and guarantee the sharing. Some also require that derivative works are released at the same conditions - so called copyleft.
Using free software
There is a whole world of free software with software covering virtually every need. Well known examples of free software are the webbrowser Mozilla Firefox and Linux. GNU/Linux distributions provide ready to use complete operating systems and working environments of free software. Namely the Debian project (with its social contract and free software guidelines) or the easy to use Ubuntu, that is based on Debian, care much about sharing and the ethics of free software.
And usually users of free software are not alone with their questions and problems - there is a big and active community of people trying their best to help each other on various chat channels, forums, meetings, ...
- open theory - transferring the model of free software development to the development of theory
- The Oekonux project examines how the concept of free software can be transfered to economy and politics to overcome capitalism with concepts of free software.
- freie-gesellschaft.de - wiki on how to transfer the principles of free software to other areas of life
- Peerconomy is a concept for an alternative economy based on the principles of free software.