Is Freespire Really Free?

by Caitlyn Martin

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;..."


random reader
2007-11-11 09:35:11
How can this be?

Can GPL-violations become any clearer than this?

Maarten Kooiker
2007-11-11 13:06:48
Whow, that's amazing......Open source as it was meant to be.....
2007-11-11 13:40:04
Their licensing EULA is one of the reasons I stopped using Freespire/Linspire.

Previously Freespire was suppose to a community produced distro, free to install on as many systems you want. Linspire (the paid version) was under a "family/household license" which allowed the paid version to be installed on as many computers in the household.

After the Microsoft/Linspire agreement, both these licenses went out the door, and Linspire adopted a more proprietary stance.

This and after unaccepatable comments made by the former CEO of Linspire, caused a number of community supporters of Linspire (and Xandros and maybe even a few from Novell) to jump ship and begin work on the Klikit project.

Klikit (as well as other distros) are a much better choice.

2007-11-11 15:56:12
Well, its not surprising. Linspire originally started with the goal as a direct alternative to Windows (called Lindows back then). Their primary focus was to generate money, not from merit of a quality product, but from a subscription model. While I'll accept one should pay for commercial software, but why would I pay a subscription for the ability to install an opensource app when I can do it for free with another distro?

That's what turned me off. It was bleeding obvious that their only intention was to take from opensource and sell it like a closed product. The community in which they depend on, wasn't the priority. It was to make money. (Even when they released Freespire, I didn't want anything to do with them).

I guess what's really sealing their fate was when they signed a patent covenant with Microsoft.

This EULA in Freespire is just confirming the fundamental value of Linspire the company. Its about the money. Its not about establishing a sound community of developers and users. (Which is one of the KEY aspects of opensource).

Carla Schroder
2007-11-11 16:47:14
Is always made available for free use, distribution and modification, now and forever.

Yeah, whatever. Their EULA, as your other readers have noted, is a big ole GPL violation.

Though Freespire fans shouldn't give up on it yet, as the noxious Kevin Carmony is gone. Perhaps the new CEO will have more sense and less double-talk, and possibly even pay attention to Linspire/Freespire, and what's going into them.

OK OK, quit laughing, it could happen.

2007-11-11 21:41:52
What may REALLY be happening behind the scenes is Linspire/Freespire actually becoming further and further entangled with MS.

As tumb_sc wrote above: I guess what's really sealing their fate was when they signed a patent covenant with Microsoft.

Freespire's GPL-confounding EULA another evident sign that this fate is proceeding further and further.

Roy Schestowitz
2007-11-11 23:39:59
Caitlyn, I urge you to also have a look at SUSE's practices, namely:

"Another reason is that Novell is not in favor of such a project (even though people from within Novell _and_ people in the SLES community disagree with management) because it fears it will take away some of the profit and Novell made a big risk by taking the Linux route, they cannot afford to make it fail."

2007-11-12 03:09:13
Thank you for this article, it saves me from the trouble to try Freespire. It's incredible that they can use such an EULA on a distribution mainly based on GPL-licensed software. This looks like a serious GPL-violation to me (although I'm not sure because I'm no legal expert), and that would make the distribution illegal, which is the exact opposite of what most people want to achieve with Freespire - to be able to play MP3s and DVDs legally on Linux.
2007-11-12 07:09:05
What they are doing is most likely a GPL violation from a legal standpoint, but now that they are dealing with Microsoft they are probably skirting around it somehow. I've tried Freespire once and didn't like it. If you want DVD, mp3, etc. without much fuss, Linux Mint is a far better choice.
2007-11-12 07:53:42
Are you sure?

Freespire has both GPL and proprietary elements in it. Does that part of the EULA only apply to the proprietary elements that a person would not be able to redistribute or reverse engineer?

It is true that in the past the CNR service was pay-to-play but not any more. If you check the service is free and doesn't even require you to sign up for anything. Anyone can download the open source client and install software from the web site.

2007-11-12 07:58:12
The GPL does not allow you to add additional terms but does permit you to make bundles of software. This would seem to say that you can't copy the whole bundle of software that's called Freespire.

Certainly Freespire can stop you from copying the whole - particularly if there's some software in there to which they own the copyright, or if there's software in there that's not Free, whether or not they own the copyright. No problem there with the EULA.

(They don't expressly mention that you can copy etc the Free software portions, but they do say so by inference: '...except as and to the extent expressly authorized herein by Licensor...'.)

However, I agree with the previous poster: it's possible that there's a GPL breach here. In particular the EULA says you may not '...translate, adapt, enhance, create derivative works of or otherwise modify the Software or any portion or element thereof;...' This is clearly not true for the GPL portions but they are trying to apply this sub-clause to GPL software too (the other subclauses exclude GPL through the 'expressly permitted' get-out). This subclause does not, and to my mind this means that this is trying to apply these conditions to GPL-ware, and hence breaking the GPL. It all hinges on the definition of 'Software', which isn't in the portion of the EUAl included here.

Anyone got Linspire?


Caitlyn Martin
2007-11-12 08:56:13
@random-reader: As I've said I'm not a lawyer but I'm not at all sure there really is a GPL violation here. Later comments explain why rather well. Since I'm not 100% sure I understand all the terms of the EULA I can't be 100% sure about GPL compliance either.

@tumb_sc: There is nothing wrong with making money or a company wanting to make a profit. Red Hat is an example of a company that is consistently making money without violating the GPL and while offering a truly free, somewhat community based distro called Fedora. I assure you that Canonical (Ubuntu), Novell (SuSe), and Mandriva all want to make as much money as possible. They all follow a business model which builds on Open Source rather than tearing it down. The problem with Linspire is not that they want to make a profit. The problem is that they completely fail to understand Free/Open Source software and don't support FLOSS at all.

@Roy Schestowitz: I have always been more than a little doubtful about Novell's commitment to Open Source in general and Linux in particular. Having said that I'm not ready to condemn them. Time will tell.

I do think Novell, of all companies, should realize that any company that Microsoft sees as a competitor will be hurt by any agreement they make with Microsoft. You'd think they'd have learned that lesson considering the decline of NetWare in the marketplace. Look at IBM (with OS/2), SCO, HP, Corel, etc... All got in bed with Microsoft and paid a very heavy price for doing so, at least in terms of their competing products.

@jamathis: You have completely missed the point of this article. What would make Freespire compelling if it had a sane license is the ability to freely use proprietary Win32 codecs without violating the law in the U.S. or Japan or any other country with similar legal restrictions. Linux Mint uses Open Source code which clearly violates the DMCA in the U.S. No Linux professional I know of is willing to commit a felony and openly display to his or her customers their flagrant violation of the law. No business will install Linux Mint complete with Win32 codec support for that reason. (The lack of commercial support and the seemingly large number of bugs associated with their oh-so-fast/rolling release schedule also are an anathema to business.)

Look, I can write a very long piece about why the DMCA is stupid and was written by politicians who had no clue about technology. The purpose of the DMCA was to protect profits of large corporate political contributors in Hollywood and Redmond, WA. Nonetheless, it's the law and the courts have upheld it time and again.

So... there are two choices for *legally* playing DVDs, Windows Media Player files, MP3s, etc... in the U.S. One is to buy a proprietary, licensed media player. The other is to run Freespire. Again, if Freespire had a sane license (GPL, BSD, etc...) it would attract a lot of users. It would probably also sell a lot more Linspire software subscriptions. That's something the folks at Linspire/Freespire just don't seem to get,

@cary and JPV: I think you both do get my point. The legalese here simply isn't clear to the layman. I'm not sure if there is a GPL violation or not. I'm not even sure I care. What seems pretty clear to me is that this license is very restrictive in a way that doesn't allow me to give it to customers and then support it or use it as I see fit. That makes Freespire totally unacceptable to me.

Having said all of this, I would certainly be happy if someone from Freespire/Linspire wants to post a clarification to their license and explain it to us all.

Richard Chapman
2007-11-12 09:11:28
Sounds like an infection from Monopolysoft. I'll stick with PCLinuxOS thank you.
robuka kenderle
2007-11-12 10:00:33
Shouldnt you be asking Eric S. Raymond this question? Besides being a pompous gasbag, he is also on the board of Freespire.

Of course, Monsieur le Coward never had the courage of commenting the Linspire extortion deal they signed with Microsoft (Does that make ESR an employee of Redmond or simply a close collaborator) so maybe you wouldnt have gotten him to say anything on this either.
Still, when you have a distro run such a EULA and ESR is on the board of that distro, you should at least try.

>Having said all of this, I would certainly >be happy if someone from Freespire/Linspire >wants to post a clarification to their >license and explain it to us all.

Do you want them to also type it up nicely for you too? Sheesh, talk about lazy!
Get on the phone, send an email and it will take you a few mins. Even a 'XX said Freespire refuses to comment' would be better than this... which is no different from what amateur bloggers could do.


2007-11-12 11:20:55
Sounds to me like Freespire is just another attempt to use Linux kernel and misc GPL programs, and redistribute as a proprietary operating system. Might be because they signed all those agreements with Microsoft though, and are now about to see what happens to fools.

If I wanted Microsoft products, I'll get them from Microsoft. Freespire is trying to play both sides of the fence, and I have a feeling things are about to come crashing down around them. Just as it eventually will for any company that tries to "play nice" with Microsoft. Do business with the big stinky monopolistic elephant, get crushed. You'd think people would learn that by now, but I guess Microsoft are good at flushing out the slow learners.

2007-11-12 11:52:35
then why is it available for free download? just like any other Linux. I mean i do need codecs and if they come with the distro i don't mind
2007-11-12 14:59:25
Wow yeah, that certainly seems in violation of the GPL to me...
2007-11-12 15:38:57
I have downloaded Freespire and because I want to consider non-free codecs to be installed, its no deal. However, given to your article, I WILL NEVER DOWNLOAD FREESPIRE AGAIN! Linux is supposed to be free from any MS-like Eulas. However, even if Linspire/Freepire is even more friendly to the Free Software community, I've found their distro to be distasteful. If we love free software then go for Fedora or at least Ubuntu, where the end-user like us were encourage to modify, distribute or even sell their product. Freespire in this case is not FREEspire at all!
2007-11-12 16:51:30
"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."

Freespire DVD playing comes at a cost. The MPAA will make sure the movies you play on Freespire are real and not those free ones you (share)download. MPAA and Microosft will have a large hand over what you play and don't !. Freespire sold out to Microsoft, to get business and nothing more. Freedom means nothing to Microsoft hypocrites that want Linux and Freespire serves them well.

2007-11-12 17:48:52
Does Freespire contain GPL'd code? If so their EULA puts them in open violation of the GPL, as one is not allowed to impose additional restrictions beyond those in the GPL on downstream users. And if Freespire is in violation of the GPL they lose the protections of the GPL as the license is automatically terminated, which puts them in violation of copyright law if they continue to distribute.

This is from a plain reading of the GPL.

2007-11-13 17:16:51
I would hope the intent to be "you can't do what you want with the non-free stuff". Linspire has a license to distribute the non-free software but anyone who downloads it would not. Does the cited clause refer to all software in the OS or just the non-free software?

As stated, you should have emailed or called Linspire for a clarification...seems like too many bloggers are just too eager to report a controversy where there really isn't one.

For those who don't want non-free software in their distribution, Freespire is clearly not for you. For those that do, then Freespire is a decent choice.

DVD PLayback is not included in Freespire, you have to purchase a DVD player for that. You do get the other proprietary codecs and video drivers.

2007-11-13 17:39:08
The great thing about the Linux world is nobody forces you to run any distro. Don't like it, don't run it, eval it, etc, etc The agreement with Microsoft is inconsequential as Linux is not a competitive force due to its dilution via ego. How can you have true interoperability if everyone is running their own flavor? It just will not happen. Linux is a great hobby and low cost for some businesses with expertise and commitment. Otherwise, it is just another CD/DVD.
Caitlyn Martin
2007-11-13 19:33:50
@dan: Freespire's license is not just like any other distro. It is most definitely unique. The fact that you "don't mind" included codecs doesn't address the issue of whether or not a distro's inclusion of those codecs complies with U.S. law.

@AMS: Yes, indeed, Freespire's licensed codecs would include DRM and therefore not allow you to violate other laws regarding piracy. The whole point of running Freespire or using a properly licensed piece of proprietary DVD playing software is compliance with U.S. law. For some of us, particularly in a professional/business environment, compliance with the law is important. Does that give a degree of control to the motion picture industry or the owner of the codecs (Microsoft)? Of course it does. The law is designed to do precisely that.

@cary: You can attack me all you want, but I DO understand that the EULA applies to the ENTIRE distro. It isn't just about inclusion of non-free software. I use Vector Linux, Ubuntu, and Wolvix, all of which have some proprietary software installed. The problem is that I can't copy the distro and give it to a client. That is unique in Linux licensing. Despite your claims that I'm creating some mythical issue that really and truly is controversial and worthy of reporting. If you don't like Linux blogs you're welcome not to read them.

@Sander: Thank you for the Microsoft commercial. Please tell the businesses that use Linux in their server room to run their infrastructure interoperating with Windows that it can't happen because of "ego". Almost every business I've worked with, including some very large corporations, have the OSes interoperating just fine.

Linux is Linux. The core software is all the same. The "flavor", as you call it, is what's inconsequential. Agreements with Microsoft are generally anything but inconsequential.

2007-11-13 19:53:02
shuh!..:) thanks god you give me the path to use Fedora this long year.


2007-11-14 09:38:23
No commercial for anyone, just reality. Look at what is around in the linux community---some decent and some really poor distros. In the real world, you cannot run whatever distro just because someone thinks it is cool. You get two "cool" dudes/dudettes with different distros and you have instant interoperability problems.

I sincerely doubt you have a legitimate job in IT as you would know that most linux installations are on appliances. Continue being a hobbiest and enjoy the crapware distros.

Caitlyn Martin
2007-11-14 10:41:31
@Sander: I've been an IT professional for more than 27 years. Depending on whose numbers you believe Linux has something between 20-30% of the corporate server market. Most of it is definitely NOT appliances. The lions share of the market in the us (~90%) is owned by Red Hat Enterprise Linux, which is definitely geared for enterprise use, not for the desktop or the hobbyist. IBM, HP, and Dell all offer servers preloaded with RHEL or SuSe Linux Enterprise Server (SLES), which is a Novell product. Novell has always been geared to large enterprise customers. I sincerely doubt you have any exposure to the corporate server room if you make statements like you do and claim them to be "reality". You'll also never score any points shilling for Microsoft of spreading FUD on a Linux blog.
Carla Schroder
2007-11-14 12:53:27
I shouldn't feed the troll, but....sander, I'd like you to name some specific examples of "interoperability problems" between Linux distributions. You can't, but I'd be amused to see you try. It's obvious you have no real knowledge of Linux, or any Unix-type operating system. Or even of IT in general, because anyone displaying such a level of ignorance should not be employed in IT.

The three main differences between distros are user interface:

1. GUI configuration tools
2. File locations
3. Package managers

These can be annoying, but no more than that. Interoperability is not affected in any way. Any application than runs on one Linux will run on another; at worst, you'll have to build it from sources. Which is rare these days, as the majority of distributions either support Yum or Aptitude, and maintain large package repositories.

Networking operates the same way on every Linux. Configuring networking is distribution-dependent, which is a pain, but it's the exact same functionality everywhere. Unlike Microsoft, which deliberately cripples networking (among other things) in its lower-cost Windows editions.

Adherence to standards and open formats means the Linux admin has a clear future path, unlike the Windows admin who is guaranteed a bumpy ride of lockin, continued failures in security, broken backwards-compatibility, and considerably higher expenses for far less functionality.

Linux powers Amazon, Google, and even Forbes magazine admits that it's a powerhouse:
"Meuer reckons Linux powers 301 of the 500 top machines, compared to 189 on Unix, two on FreeBSD, a Unix variant, and one on Microsoft's Windows."

Linux has been outclassing and outperforming Windows for years. Innovation? What a joke- the only thing that Microsoft innovates is lying and bullying. Linux got to 64-bits first. Its networking stack and remote administration capabilities are many times more secure and feature-ful than Windows'. Linux comes on LiveCDs, which do not require a hard drive install, and on every bootable device imaginable: USB devices, CD, DVD, and netbooting. There are complete Linux distributions that fit on 64-megabyte USB sticks.

Graphical environments for Linux are optional. Any server admin who needs a GUI on the server is an amateur. Graphical admin tools are nice; the correct way to use them is on a remote workstation. The server itself should not be running a graphical environment; it's too much baggage and it introduces stability and security issues.

Linux runs on every hardware platform there is. Linux is endlessly customizable, from tiny Tom's Root Boot, a complete bootable Linux on a 3.5" diskette, to routers, firewalls, VoIP servers, desktops, workstations, LAN servers, big ole heavy-duty database servers, application servers, clusters, mainframes, and supercomputers. And don't forget embedded devices like phones and other electronic devices.

For years my best Windows rescue disks have been Linux disks. Tomsrtbt, Peter Anvin's Superrescue CD, Knoppix, the new Super Rescue CD and USB stick...Windows itself has not supplied a decent rescue disk since the Windows 98 rescue diskette. They're crap. No, they're poo. No, they're dung. Anyway, they're awful, with limited functionality and no networking. Like come on- what century is this?

eh, this is going on too long- at any rate the next time someone says "Linux needs to catch up to Windows" you'll know they know nothing about Linux, because it long ago surpassed Windows.

Hobby OS? For all the tens of billions of dollars that have been poured into Windows, I'd say that's most expensive hobby project of all time.

Caitlyn Martin
2007-11-14 13:13:27
@Carla: That should have been a separate article, and a darned good one. You wasted it as a response to Sander. Thanks for the post.
Carla Schroder
2007-11-14 14:08:06
It's not wasted, Caitlyn, you have good readers. That's a good notion about publishing it as an article; there is quite a bit more that could go into it. Hmm, could be fun!
2007-11-14 18:41:20
Oh, you both have convinced me and I'm compiling my software on each system to make sure I use all CPU cycles. That type of support does not scale well and only fits on hobbiest networks.

Command line work, yes, I agree with that point--only rookies use GUI interfaces on servers. I think MS products are crapola, believe Sun missed the boat with Solaris x86 in the 90s (they could have owned the desktop) and Linux is an interesting hobby. Real enterprises don't use it--that is the unfortunate reality.

Caitlyn Martin
2007-11-15 08:59:57
@Sander: Gee, just because Carla and I hand you rope doesn't mean you have to hang yourself. Let's see... Forbes magazine doesn't convince you. I guess the companies I've supported as a consultant, either as an independent or while working for Red Hat, aren't "real enterprises". Funny... they've included a Wall Street investment firm (a huge one), banks, Hollywood animation studios, a Silicon Valley chip manufacturer, a freight transportation company, a large insurance company, a large telecom equipment manufacturer... Need I go on?

Tell me, oh expert on "real enterprises": What makes an enterprise "real" for you? I take it the only "real" enterprise is one that uses Windows exclusively. Fortune 500 companies that use Linux aren't real enough for you, is that it? Clue: most large companies use UNIX, Linux, or both in their server rooms.

Oh, and Sun could never have captured the desktop with Solaris. Their hardware support was and is poor when compared to Linux, FreeBSD, etc...

Carla Schroder
2007-11-15 09:33:12
There are many amusing nuggets in the Freespire license (and the Linspire license too). Such as separate rights for home and business users, and check out these little gems:

"You shall keep a current record of the location of each copy of the Software You make."

You may not "(iv) use the Software or any portion or element thereof to provide facility management, service bureau or similar services to third parties;"

The bit about being forbidden to "extract ideas, algorithms, procedures, workflows or hierarchies" is priceless. So not only is this EULA a GPL violation, like most EULAs it is absurd and unenforceable. And how hypocritical can you get? Linspire built their entire business on a vast body of work done by other people. Oh sure, they invented the Click n run thingy themselves. But all the rest is Debian.