When Debian developers and users speak of ``Free Software,'' they refer to
freedom rather than price. Debian is free in this sense: You are free
to modify and redistribute it and will always have access to the source code
for this purpose. The Debian Free Software Guidelines describe
in more detail exactly what is meant by ``free.'' The Free Software Foundation,
originator of the GNU Project, is another excellent source of information. You
can find a more detailed discussion of free software on the Debian web
site. One of the most well-known works in this field
is Richard M. Stallman's essay, Why Software Should Be Free;
take a look at it for some insight into why we support Free Software as we do.
Recently, some people have started calling Free Software ``Open Source Software'';
the two terms are interchangable.
You may wonder why would people spend hours of their own time writing software
and carefully packaging it, only to give it all away. The answers are as varied
as the people who contribute.
Many believe in sharing information and having the freedom to cooperate with
one another, and they feel that free software encourages this. A long tradition
that upholds these values, sometimes called the Hacker1.2 Ethic, started in the 1950s. The Debian GNU/Linux Project was
founded based on these Free Software ethics of freedom, sharing, and
Others want to learn more about computers. More and more people are looking
for ways to avoid the inflated price of proprietary software. A growing community
contributes in appreciation for all the great free software they've received
Many in academia create free software to help get the results of their research
into wider use. Businesses help maintain free software so they can have a say
in how it develops - there's no quicker way to get a new feature than to implement
it yourself or hire a consultant to do so! Business is also interested in greater
reliability and the ability to choose between support vendors.
Still others see free software as a social good, democratizing access to information
and preventing excessive centralization of the world's information infrastructure.
Of course, a lot of us just find it great fun.
Debian is so committed to free software that we thought it would be useful if
it was formalized in a document of some sort. Our Social Contract
promises that Debian will always be 100% free software. When you install a
package from the Debian main distribution, you can be sure it meets our Free
Although Debian believes in free software, there are cases where people want
to put proprietary software on their machine. Whenever possible Debian will
support this; though proprietary software is not included in the main distribution,
it is sometimes available on the FTP site in the non-free directory,
and there is a growing number of packages whose sole job is to install proprietary
software we are not allowed to distribute ourselves.
It is important to distinguish commercial software from proprietary
software. Proprietary software is non-free software; commercial software is
software sold for money. Debian permits commercial software, but not proprietary
software, to be a part of the main distribution. Remember that the phrase ``free
software'' does not refer to price; it is quite possible to sell free software.
For more clarification of the terminology, see https://www.opensource.org/or https://www.fsf.org/philosophy/categories.html.