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I often read that some distributions contain non-free components while some other are free.

As an end-user, I don't understand very well the difference between free and non-free distributions. What are the limitations of one compared to the other? When should I not use non-free distributions?

As a reseller, can I sell an equipment with non-free software? Can I sell an equipement with free software?

Does it depend on local laws?

Important note

I don't ask this question to receive any general opinion. My question is asked to know how one should choose a license or type of distribution,

not from

  • political nor
  • philosophical criterion

but from:

  • technical or
  • legal or
  • user experience concerns.

(Original closed question on unix.stackexchange.com)

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    The trouble here is that, other than complying with existing licenses, the open/closed source distinction is mostly a philosophical/political/ethical one. While there may be technical implications ("all bugs are shallow" for however much that is worth), they are secondary to the ones you don't want to talk about. Mar 18 '18 at 15:03
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    To add to @Philip's comment, asking "When should I not use non-free distributions?" is a bit like asking "When should I eat junk food?" The language used in the question itself ("non-free" or "junk food") already implies a possible answer. It is difficult to provide an answer without directly addressing the philosophical underpinnings of the terms used.
    – apsillers
    Mar 18 '18 at 22:36
  • @apsillers well, I do not agree with your comment: you assume that "non-free" is a derogative term. But this is opinion based and this is not what I am asking for: I am asking from end-user point of view, not from a software philosopher pov
    – lauhub
    Mar 19 '18 at 9:22
  • @PhilipKendall did you really read the questionS ? I am not only talking about technical concerns but also legal ones (and what it implies for end-users or resellers): can you assert that legal concerns are not important compared to political/ethical/philosophical ones ?
    – lauhub
    Mar 19 '18 at 9:33
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I often read that some distributions contain non-free components while some other are free.

As an end-user, I don't understand very well the difference between free and non-free distributions.

The main difference is that with a distribution that only contains free components, you get access to all source code and the right to make improvements/changes to the code (with the right to distribute the modified version).
When there are non-free components, then for those non-free parts you typically don't get those rights.

What are the limitations of one compared to the other ?

When should I not use non-free distributions ?

There are no intrinsic limitations in one or the other, but it might be that some hardware components don't work (or don't work as well) without the non-free drivers from the manufacturer.
Or a particular application that you want to use is only available as a non-free package.

The main reason that people refuse to use non-free software is a philosophical/political/ethical one: They believe that all software should be available for study and modification.

As a reseller, can I sell an equipment with non-free software? Can I sell an equipement with free software ?

That depends on the software in question. If you resell the equipment as-is, then you are likely fine, provided that the manufacturer has done his homework.
If you are the one that puts the software on the equipment, then you must check all involved licenses to see what your obligations are.

Free licenses don't require the payment of royalties, but may have the requirement that you offer your customers the possibility to obtain a copy of the code.

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    You may get access to the source code for non-free software (see why the term open-source is confusing). Mar 19 '18 at 9:04
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Why and why-not non-free software, a pragmatic answer.

If you don't use non-free, the you don't use non-free (that is the limitation). Maybe you need some non-free for your hardware to work properly. Or there is an application that in non-free that you want to use.

However

If you use non-free, there are also problems. There have been in the past non-free hardware drivers that no longer work on new versions of the OS. Do you remember how hard it was for MS-Windows users to switch to 64-bit. This is because of the non-free drivers could not be ported to the new OS. Linux had a little of this, but only for the few non-free drivers. Original Equipment Manufactures will not do the port on old hardware that they no longer sell, and the community can not. So in short with non-free software you will get much poorer support, things could stop working, security is less likely to be patched (see Microsoft's Windows XP) (I know that old Gnu/Linux distros are also not maintained, but there are distros for old hardware that is).

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