Ok, maybe this is not the right thread, if so, please point me to the right one.

​Some background: I've seen other Open Source projects derived from FreeBSD (FreeNAS, PFSense, etc) that called themselves "an OS".

They do give (marginal) credit to FreeBSD, but apparently they have little or no modification to the OS itself, and instead they appear to be just a "FreeBSD base OS" plus a collection of other open source packages, custom configurations, a suite of middleware scripts and a web frontend.

Because of that, I would say they are not an actual "OS" but more like a 'suite of apps' built on top of FreeBSD.

A good example would be FreeNAS, which rely heavily on Python and Angular to provide a user friendly way to do the same things FreeBSD alone can do from the shell.

They do present themselves as an "OS" (their website states "FreeNAS is an operating system that can......")

Now, my question: To which extend someone can use a FreeBSD base OS, modify a couple of things here and there, add some apps to it and legally call it a "BlahBlah OS" (with a different name, branding etc).?

This is a technical question and a legal one as well, Im not well versed on the practical applications of the FreeBSD license, but Im sure some of you are and can put it in plain language.

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    What qualifies as an OS to you? Are you saying I can't install FreeNAS and get a running OS? That I have to install FreeBSD first and then install FreeNAS on top of it? – muru Jun 12 '19 at 0:43
  • What they do is perfectly legal -- they only have to give credit somewhere (possibly in small print, possibly hidden as deep as possible, after the regulatory into and disclaimers, etc) to the contributors mentioned in the BSD copyright notices from the source files. Sorry if you don't like that ;-) – mosvy Jun 12 '19 at 0:50
  • There are better forums for Qs like this (and the previous one about a GPL-free linux distro) – mosvy Jun 12 '19 at 0:53
  • I don't get to define what is an OS, that's been done already and what I think qualifies or not as such is irrelevant. To give an example, I do know that I can write a ton of Powershell scripts and I don't get to call my Windows Server "Neon OS" (is not even illegal, but technically incorrect, as Im just adding user functionality, not creating an OS, Microsoft did that already) . By the way, is not that I don't like it, actually I love it, but Im just curios, as in the example I gave, calling FreeNAS an "OS" seems to be misleading, since the OS is actually FreeBSD. – Free Neon Jun 12 '19 at 2:40
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    The problem is you start off by saying "I would say they are not an actual "OS"", then again "FreeNAS an "OS" seems to be misleading", so it seems you have some preconceived notions about this. Without understanding what those are, any answer would be insufficient. By adamantly refusing to clarify, I'd say you're the one taking things too personally and defensively. Or would you rather I just spout some definition of OS I got off Google, which would allow FreeNAS to be called an OS? "Maybe you can google"? Should I suggest that you Google this instead? – muru Jun 12 '19 at 3:25

The FreeBSD license has a copyright notice, one line with two conditions, and a warranty disclaimer. After having to read some other contracts and license agreements, this one is quite easy to get through. This is known as the 2-clause BSD license which is a derivative of the 3-clause BSD license.

IANAL, but the BSD family of licenses are known for being very permissive, as in they allow any redistribution of source or binary code as long as they continue to include the copyright notice and BSD license. It even explicitly mentions permitting distribution of modified versions, which likely includes changing the name of the OS.

As long as they release the possibly modified FreeBSD code/software with the original copyright notice and the BSD license, they seem to have those rights granted by that license.

  • Can someone even take FreeBSD, add some scripts and a GUI, calling the whole thing "Whatever OS" and distribute Binaries, potentially charging money, without having to actually release the source? – Free Neon Jun 12 '19 at 2:41
  • The license states that you can distribute binaries, as long as you follow the condition that applies to binaries. There does not seem to be an explicit condition that you supply the source code to the binaries. I cannot find anything in the license that forbids or restricts charging money for distribution. – GracefulRestart Jun 12 '19 at 10:30

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