[sf-lug] Free software talk

David Sterry david at sterryit.com
Thu Dec 18 09:43:20 PST 2008

Hello all,

I just had the opportunity to talk to about 25 small business owners in
San Mateo about free software. All in all, it went well. I had 8 minutes
and I got some good questions in there. I'm sure I messed up in there
though so I'm going to post the questions and answers here in case
anyone has any refinements. Visit http://trygnulinux.com if you want to
see a site and newsletter I'm developing in support of this kind of
thing. Without further adeiu, the Q&A:

If I make a change and improve the software, can I charge for it?

Yes. You can but it's not the same sort of charge as what Microsoft would do. Here you could charge for distribution but you would still have to give people the source code so they could make changes if they choose.

But that's a license right?

Yes, well free software is protected by the main license called the GPL, the GNU Public License but it's not the same sort of license as what Microsoft would do. Their license for Office says you can have a student and home version or you can have a commercial version. 

Is Firefox done by a company? 

Well Firefox started as an offshoot of netscape. You remeber when Netscape was the king of browsers? Well they had pretty much made a copy of the mozilla code or whatever and they were ahead of course. Then Microsoft poured a huge amount of resources into Internet Explorer and became #1. Well at that time, Netscape released the source for their browser so anyone could work on it and people took that and turned it into firefox. Over time it has grown into a real contender.

If you make a change to free software you have to contribute those changes back to the originator of the program right?

Technically, you don't have to but it's a best practice. To keep from there being 10,000 versions of everything, it makes sense to get your changes included in the main program but if you feel strongly enough and they don't want your improvements, you are free to make a change. For example, anyone could take Firefox, change the name and make everything blue and the changes will be there for the Firefox maintainer to take or leave. If you distribute your source code, you have to make your changes available.

Why would someone create software for free?

The best answer I can posit for this is to liken it to music. Many many people spend a lot of their time and money to learn to create music or sing and they do that because they enjoy it. Software is actually like that. I'm not sure if you've tried to program before but if you get into it, you might find yourself working on it a bit extra, pushing back sleep, and that's because it's enjoyable. There's something about the pure expression of thought going into a computer that's neat.


David Sterry

More information about the sf-lug mailing list