Relaunch of Free Software Directory
Relaunch of Free Software Directory
Written by Sue Gee   
Friday, 30 September 2011

The Free Software Foundation (FSF) has re-launched its directory of over 6,500 programs that are free for any computer user to download, run, and share.

The Free Software Foundation, founded in 1985 promotes the development and use of free software, particularly the GNU operating system and its GNU/Linux variants, and free documentation for free software.

In this context free does not necessarily mean cost-free. Instead to qualify, according to the definition on the GNU website Free Software has to have the following four "essential freedoms":

  • The freedom to run the program, for any purpose (freedom 0).
  • The freedom to study how the program works, and change it so it does your computing as you wish (freedom 1). Access to the source code is a precondition for this.
  • The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbor (freedom 2).
  • The freedom to distribute copies of your modified versions to others (freedom 3). By doing this you can give the whole community a chance to benefit from your changes. Access to the source code is a precondition for this.

The directory was first launched nearly a decade ago, but the new version, powered by MediaWiki, free software most famously known for powering Wikipedia, is has new features designed to make it a more useful and current resource for users, developers, advocates, and researchers.




The new site also uses a set of extensions called Semantic MediaWiki that add advanced search and presentation capabilities, structured to be useful for reading by both humans and data-mining programs.

Each entry in the existing directory has been individually checked and tested so users can be confident that any program they come across in it will be free software with free documentation and without proprietary software requirements. Programs that run on proprietary operating systems like Mac and Windows are listed, but only if they also run fully on GNU/Linux. The new version will continue to provide users these same assurances, but it has been rebuilt so that members of the free software community can become familiar with the criteria and then work together to curate and grow the catalog.

In the FSF blog John Sullivan explains the rationale for the relaunch:

We've put up the new version of the site because we believe our previous Directory, due to limits affecting the speed of updates and additions, was underselling the current state of free software.

6500 programs is a lot, until you look at how many we don't have listed. The new version is progress here because it enables a more direct way of submitting new entries - previously you had to email them to us - and empowers a potentially unlimited number of people to help keep existing entries up-to-date and informative. This includes allowing free software maintainers to keep information about their own programs up-to-date, instead of emailing us for changes.

To learn more about the Directory, visit To find out how you can get involved in helping the Directory, or suggest improvements, visit


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