Free software free society, Stallman

European legislators who endorse software patents

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European legislators who endorse software patents frequently claim that those wouldn’t affect free software (or “open source”). Microsoft’s lawyers are deter- mined to prove they are mistaken. Leaked internal documents in 1998 said that Microsoft considered the free software GNU/Linux operating system (referred to therein as “Linux”) as the principal competitor to Windows, and spoke of using patents and secret file formats to hold us back. Because Microsoft has so much market power, it can often impose new stan- dards at will. It need only patent some minor idea, design a file format, pro- gramming language, or communication protocol based on it, and then pressure users to adopt it. Then we in the free software community will be forbidden to provide software that does what these users want; they will be locked in to Microsoft, and we will be locked out from serving them. Previously Microsoft tried to get its patented scheme for spam blocking adopted as an Internet standard, so as to exclude free software from handling email. The standards committee in charge rejected the proposal, but Microsoft said it would try to convince large ISPs to use the scheme anyway. Now Microsoft is planning to try something similar for Word files. Several years ago, Microsoft abandoned its documented format for saving documents, and switched to a new format which was secret. However, the de- velopers of free software word processors such as AbiWord and OpenOffice.org experimented assiduously for years to figure out the format, and now those pro- grams can read most Word files. But Microsoft isn’t licked yet. The next version of Microsoft Word will use formats that involve a technique that Microsoft claims to hold a patent on. Microsoft offers a royalty-free patent license for certain limited purposes, but it is so limited that it does not allow free software. You can see the license here: xpspatentlic.mspx . Copyright c 2005, 2009 Richard Stallman This essay was originally published on , in 2005. This version is part of Free Software, Free Society: Selected Essays of Richard M. Stallman, 2nd ed. (Boston: GNU Press, 2010). Verbatim copying and distribution of this entire chapter are permitted worldwide, without royalty, in any medium, provided this notice is preserved.
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160 Free Software, Free Society, 2nd ed. Free software is defined as software that respects four fundamental freedoms: (0) freedom to run the software as you wish, (1) freedom to study the source code and modify it to do what you wish, (2) freedom to make and redistribute copies, and (3) freedom to publish modified versions. Only programmers can directly exercise freedoms 1 and 3, but all users can exercise freedoms 0 and 2, and all users benefit from the modifications that programmers write and publish.
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