Saturday, October 15, 2011

There is Free Software and then there is Free Software

I think one thing that often confused people when they first get involved with free software is the difference between FOSS and freeware (or shareware). When speaking about open source software in my writings I try to always use the term "FOSS" which is an acronym for "free open source software". The source of this sometimes confusion can be sorted with the Latin statement:

Gratis versus Libre

Which roughly translates to:

"for zero price" versuses "with little or no restriction"

Or to simplify it even further to a common analogy first used by Richard Stallman:

"Think free as in free speech, not free beer."

Should Joe Average the end user care if their software is Gratis or Libre? Whether or not a program is truly free doesn't affect the user user right?


Having a truly open software model ensures that the piece of software you love using today you will still be able to love just as much tomorrow. It means you don't have to worry about a good piece of software having it's code base get bought out. It also means that if a developer chooses to abandon a piece of software other developers are free to continue working on said piece of software.

In fact the only reason for keeping your "free" software free as in beer is to prevent your users from having choice. By not having open standards you can easily lock users into not being able to easily change from using your software later on.

Not all free software is created equal. Some authors believe more in liberty than others - so next time you download a piece of software that is "free" be sure to find out which kind of free it is!

~Jeff Hoogland


  1. Well written Jeff. May I link to your post? I have wanted to cover this topic but could not have written as well as you have. Full credit and link is yours of course.

  2. Fantastic point. This is the difference between, say, Microsoft Live Essentials and Bodhi. You can get the same functionality of applications and you're actually free to do what you want with them on Bodhi. Which isn't to say the Microsoft products don't have value, but you have the choice of what you want in open software.

  3. Nice job. You’ve compactly expanded upon a subtle distinction that the uninitiated don’t even realize exists or is important. Your post is a useful resource that we can share with those people.

    Neither costs nor freedom are flat concepts. It would be great to have you remark on these further.

    There are different non-momentary and indirect costs that come along with fee-free software. For example, even thought you don’t pay for the software, you still pay costs via self-support, waiting for community support, hiring support, filing bug reports, or contributing to development.

    Similarly, freedom is a matter of perspective. The copyleft-style licenses protect the freedom of the source code and the entire developer community by encumbering individual developers with share-alike and reciprocity requirements. In contrast, permissive-style licenses protect the freedom of individual developers by freeing them from such requirements. Ironically, the latter licenses are much more free, but the former actually generate greater freedom.

    I think a further treatment of these concepts in your easily style would be as useful of a resource as this post is.

  4. I loved the content of your article, in fact I may like to link to it from my own blog in the near future. However, I do find it interesting, in light of your feelings about FOSS, that you decided to host your blog on Blogger. Here is a short excerpt from the Blogger ToS:
    6. Intellectual Property Rights. Google's Intellectual Property Rights. You acknowledge that Google owns all right, title and interest in and to the Service, including all intellectual property rights (the "Google Rights"). Google Rights are protected by U.S. and international intellectual property laws. Accordingly, you agree that you will not copy, reproduce, alter, modify, or create derivative works from the Service. You also agree that you will not use any robot, spider, other automated device, or manual process to monitor or copy any content from the Service. As described immediately below, Google Rights do not include third-party content used as part of the Service, including the content of communications appearing on the Service.

    May I ask why you decided to agree to these terms as opposed to going with WordPress or some similar FOSS blogging software?

  5. Perfect example of getting locked into a "free" piece of software. Blogger was easy to get started with and by the time I realized I might want to change to something else all my traffic was heading here already and all the links pointed to blogger.

    Kinda stuck at this point. I am also slightly amused that Blogger sorted your comment to spam by default Cory.

  6. That is interesting. I don't see what in it would trigger the spam filter. Maybe they just filter out any post with the word WordPress in it?

    One last thing, I want to thank you for your work on Bodhi Linux. While it is not my distro of choice, I follow your progress pretty closely. Your project is definitely an asset to the Linux community, as is evidenced by the increasing list of favorable reviews.

  7. I think the greatest asset that bodhi has as a distro isn't as an operating system but rather as a pushing point for the development of the hyper efficient EFL.

  8. I think this is very common and it would be nice if tech people knew the difference between freeware (lowercase f) and Free Software (a title, with capital letters).

  9. those kind of tech people should not even use a computer or software if they don't understand a really simple concept: FREE SOFTWARE

  10. Nobody understood the concept until they were first exposed to it. It is both irrational and counterproductive to the FOSS movement to say that people that don't understand it should stay away.

  11. "Should Joe Average the end user care"?
    Absolutely NOT. As long as the software performs the task I need I don't care if it is free or Free. You can write the whole book about the ideology - I don't care. And it is safe to bet that 98% of users don't care either.

    Can any of you tell me which brands of refrigerators run entirely on FOSS software? For average Joe's out there, computer/software is an appliance, not a soul-mate.

  12. You are arguing two different points. Should the end user care? I'd argue that yes they should. Do they care? Most of the time they don't. That's why articles such as this are important to those of us that do care. They serve to bring attention to the matter.

    Do the Average Joes of the world treat their computer like an appliance? To a point. They expect a bit more out of their computer. They don't expect the refrigerator to access a central database and give them updates about what their friends are putting into their refrigerators. They expect to be able to log into Facebook to see what their friends are putting into their computers though.

    If your refrigerator door suddenly stopped opening and the manufacturer told you that that feature had been discontinued you'd care. That's the point that Jeff is making here.