Monday, March 10, 2014

free as in freedom, free as in beer

Some exploration into the concepts of "free software" (as defined by the Free Software Foundation) (see:, "open source software," "free and open source software" (aka "FOSS"), and "freeware"...

Much of the content that follows was taken from the maketecheasier article from 2013, "MTE Explains: What Is The Difference Between Free Software, Open Source Software, and Freeware?"

Free Software ("free as in freedom")

The Free Software Foundation provides these “four essential freedoms” that software must respect in order to be considered free:

- 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).
- 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).

The foundation created the GNU General Public License, commonly referred to as the GPL, as a copyleft license that developers can distribute their software under to qualify it as free and ensure that it stays that way.

Open Source Software

Open source software is software with source code that is publicly available under a license that gives users the right to study, change, and distribute the software as they wish [...] Like free software, open source software can be distributed for free, but it doesn’t have to be [...]  Software available under the GPL generally qualifies both as free software and open source software [...] Chrome OS [and] Android, are open source projects, but they don’t satisfy the four freedoms necessary to be considered free software.

Software available under the GPL generally qualifies both as free software and open source software. If you use a Linux distribution, most of what you get through your package manager satisfies both sets of requirements.


...any software that qualifies as free software could also be considered free and open source software,..

"Free and open-source software (FOSS) is computer software that can be classified as both free software and open source software." --

Freeware ("free as in beer")

In general, freeware is software that is available at no cost.

Also see this Wikipedia article: "Alternative terms for free software"

Some comments:

Like many people, I believe that free software as defined by the FSF is important; I fully support that movement. But like many other people, when it comes down to it, I'm gonna go with "free as in beer" when... well, basically, whenever I want to.

Some folks will say, "You can't have it both ways." Well, I think you can. I might avoid proprietary software, or just any software that is not FOSS, to a large degree, but there are times when free software isn't good enough. That's the real world. You do what you have to do.

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