Tangential comments about Software Development

Saturday, February 28, 2015

How free is my software?

Last year I went with my nephew to a talk by Richard Stallman of the Free Software Foundation

What a vision the man has, and how short of it do I fall! You can download without charge the source code of an iPhone app I'm writing to learn Japanese. But that doesn't make it free. Let's check it against the FSF four freedoms.

0: To run the software program for any reason without restrictions. You can run it as long as you have XCode on a Mac, so you can build it and run it. I can't distribute a running copy to you without going through the AppStore. Which will happen, er, some time.

1: To study and modify the code used to make the program. Yes, that freedom we have.

2: To share the original version of the program to help others. Yes, happy for you to do that. I should look into changing the copyright notice that XCode adds, because that's not what it says.

3: To share your changes to the program so that others can benefit. Yes, fork away and upload to Github or whatever.

So the source code has its freedoms, but the running code doesn't. I suspect that when you can get it from the AppStore a certain company may be able to disable it on your device or remove it completely. Not my view of a perfect world, but nothing in this world is ever perfect.

In memoriam, S.J. Clarke, 1991-2015