Nov 24, 2007

Is Freespire Really Free?

A while back the good folks behind Freespire, the free version of Linspire, sent me a CD with version 2.0 for me to review. I was very happy to look at it as Linspire has been a leader in getting preloaded Linux systems into retail and online outlets, something I believe is critical for mainstream Linux adoption.

I knew going in that Freespire was “free as in free beer”, not an OS that would be considered free by The Free Software Foundation or most free software advocates. For those of us who are not free software purists Freespire does have one compelling feature: Linspire’s settlement with Microsoft allows them to offer Win32 codecs for playing DVDs, MP3s, etc… at no cost to the end user. For those of us who use our Linux systems for both home and business, who use laptops in front of consulting customers, who simply wish to comply with the law of the land here in the U.S., namely DMCA, whether we agree with it or not, Freespire offers a real option.

Having said all that one of the first things you see when you boot a Freespire CD is their End User License Agreement (EULA), a mass of legalese reminiscent of the Windows EULA. I tried to read through it and it seems to me (and I may well be wrong about this) that if I use my system for both home and business then Freespire is NOT free for me as I can’t fall under both the “family license” or the “business license”. I can’t freely copy or redistribute the OS as a business user. I’m limited to “solely up to the number of Seats you have.” The EULA also says that I, as a business user:

“You may not (and shall not allow any member of Your Business or any other third party to): (i) copy, reproduce, distribute, relicense, sublicense, rent, lease or otherwise make available the Software or any portion or element thereof except as and to the extent expressly authorized herein by Licensor; (ii) translate, adapt, enhance, create derivative works of or otherwise modify the Software or any portion or element thereof; (iii) decompile, disassemble or reverse engineer (except as and to the extent permitted by applicable local law), or extract ideas, algorithms, procedures, workflows or hierarchies from, the Software or any portion or element thereof;…”

That read to me entirely like a proprietary license. Of course I am not a lawyer and I may be misinterpreting something. Still, I am seriously uncomfortable about having Freespire on my system based on their EULA.

My review was also postponed by the release of version 2.03 which corrects many of the bugs I ran into. So… do I review 2.03? Probably not, at least until Freespire makes clear that they are truly an Open Source OS that I can use as I see fit without fee. I’m not at all sure Freespire is even free “as in free beer”.

Originally Posted on The O'Reilly Linux Dev Center By Caitlyn Martin

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