Ask Ubuntu is a question and answer site for Ubuntu users and developers. It's 100% free.

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

The Ubuntu wiki describes the "sections" of the official Ubuntu repositories as follows:

Main - Officially supported software.

Restricted - Supported software that is not available under a completely free license.

Universe - Community maintained software, i.e. not officially supported software.

Multiverse - Software that is not free.

I thought that software in the Ubuntu repositories had to be open source, however doesn't the description of the Multiverse directly contradicts this?

share|improve this question
There are different reasons, most of them subjective and argumentative. – João Pinto Feb 11 '11 at 14:05
up vote 16 down vote accepted

The software in Multiverse is "gratis", but not free. These are some examples of cases in which software would be appropriate in Multiverse:

  • The Software is not legal in every jurisdiction (DVD Decryption, ...)

  • It's software-patent encumbered (MP3 Codecs, ...)

  • It doesn't provide the user with all of the four essential Freedoms:

    1. Run the program for any purpose.
    2. Study how the program works, and change it to make it do what you want.
    3. Redistribute copies at will.
    4. Modify the program, and release modified versions.

    Note that those do not include a requirement that modified version be released with a license that grants the same freedom. This is called copyleft, and it's seperate from pure free software.

  • There are issues with the licensing (like missing, unclear or invalid copyright notices)

  • Any of the above is disputed or unclear

As htorque quotes, "The onus is on you to verify your rights to use this software ".

Note also: much of the software in Ubuntu enters the repositories through being in Debian first, so the Debian Social Contract & The Debian Free Software Guidelines are of some relevance.

share|improve this answer
Great info, but as far as I can see this doesn't answer the question. It talks about what is the situation, but not why. I believe that you can expand a little bit the answer with that info. – Javier Rivera Feb 11 '11 at 11:33
very good point. But I'm very hesitant to explain why, because there isn't really a well documented, factual answer. It's going to be subjective. I don't want to get into a holy-war argument. But I'll think about it, and see if I can't find a few documented reasons. Maybe @MarkShuttleworth should answer the question. (he is around) ;-) – Stefano Palazzo Feb 11 '11 at 11:48

I'm not Shuttleworth, but the Ubuntu objective is not to ship a Pure Free Distro, but to solve Bug number 1. In order to be able to solve it, it needs to supply non-free software that users demands. Specially closed software firmware that is needed by lots of drivers to work.

If you are interested in a totally free system you can select "Only install free software" while installing Ubuntu.

Summarizing the answer in just one word: Pragmatism.

share|improve this answer
Gobuntu is no more; it's been merged into mainline Ubuntu, you can now get the same effect by selecting "Only install free software" on the Live CD boot-screen. – Stefano Palazzo Feb 11 '11 at 8:53
@Stefano: thanks :) – Javier Rivera Feb 11 '11 at 11:31

My answer is no

Now we should make it clear first as to what "free" means here. Are you talking about free of charge or free of use?

I believe open source concept is free of use, but it doesn't necessarily have to be free of charge as well.

share|improve this answer
That's not what he meant. There is non-free software in main because it's necessary in order for people to use Ubuntu. Drivers, etc. – Jo-Erlend Schinstad Jun 30 '11 at 15:01

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.