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Incredibly Stupid Question

I keep reading the phrase "free as in beer" but I don't get it - beer isn't generally free. What does it mean?

Too Embarrassed To Put A Name To This
Thursday, November 06, 2003






Sorry! Here is the working understanding of the OSS catchphrases "free as in beer" and "free as in speech":

Bored Bystander
Thursday, November 06, 2003

Uh, sorry, that was my parody of the spate of get rich quick spams that inundated JOS today. Nothing about you. Hope the "free" link helps.

Bored Bystander
Thursday, November 06, 2003

It's the example used to distinguish between different senses of the word 'free'. The examples always given are free speech versus free beer.

So people start talking about whether something is free (as in 'free speech') or free (as in beer).

It's not that beer is usually free, but if someone tells you 'hey, free beer' you generally understand what notion of 'free' they are talking about.

Steve P
Thursday, November 06, 2003

I believe it generally means 'without cost', 'gratis', in the way that if someone offers you a 'free beer', you don't have to pay for that beer. "A round on the house."

As with real free beer, software that is 'free as in beer' sometimes comes with strings attached so that you might actually prefer to not accept the offer :)

The reason the phrase gets used at all is to distinguish it from the other sense of 'free' that suggests 'freedom', 'without strings or other attachments', etc.

As with life, so with software--sometimes 'free' means 'gift' and other times it means whatever you want it to mean :)

Ron Porter
Thursday, November 06, 2003

It's a phrase used by the open source community to described their view(s) on software. In general, there are two ways that software can be "free":

"Free as in speech."

This is "open source" - anyone can see the code and tweak it, but people still reserve the right to restrict the license to it and charge money for it. This has not proved to be the winning strategy you might think.

"Free as in beer."

In addition to offering free speech, some open source people have taken things even further (and are known as the "free software" movement) to offer "free beer". Like you said, beer is not usually free - neither is software. But the free software people are morally opposed (yes, morally opposed) to the idea that someone might charge money for bits and bytes. They claim you can make money on "services", but... whatever*.

So, to recap:

1. Free as in speech = open source, but we still like money.
2. Free as in beer = open source, but software wants to be free, man.
3. I think the whole thing is ridiculous.

* and they're not talking about IBM level services - usually it's end-user support for WhizBang Linux 3.4

Dan J
Thursday, November 06, 2003

The open source advocates use a phrase "free software" which can be ambiguous, so some wog came up with two ways to signal which type of "free" you're talking about:

"Free as in speech" - This most likely refers to the DeCSS case, where the source code for the DeCSS DVD decryption algorithm was suppressed. So the argument is that it shouldn't be possible to suppress source code, and source code should be available for software.

"Free as in beer" - no, beer's not free, but we'd sure like free beer, wouldn't we? This refers to "free software" meaning software you don't have to pay for to use.

Unfortunately, most open source advocates really have no idea what they really want except that they really like getting something for nothing and making it seem noble. [grin]


Thursday, November 06, 2003

Thanks everyone. Hey, free beers all round!

Too Embarrassed To Put A Name To This
Thursday, November 06, 2003

DanJ, the Free Software movement advocates the first sense of free (speech), not necessarily the second (beer). In fact, that's the whole point of the distinction.


Thursday, November 06, 2003

p.s. It's a gradual shortening (with the obvious problems) of 'free as in free beer'.  When said correctly, it makes a whole lot more sense (same with 'free as in free speech').

Thursday, November 06, 2003

To continue with the bar talk. Is the "free as in beer" supposed to imply that there is a round on the house - you do not pay, but the bar owner ultimately pays for it. You may think it is free, but somebody is actually picking up your tab.

To bring this back to software, I may get the software for free, but somebody had to put in time to create it. How is giving away time/money to non-non-profit a political/philosophical statement? Are we saying our skill is meaningless (the production of software), only the ability to answer questions about our work (support) has value? What am I missing?

Thursday, November 06, 2003

From the horse's mouth:

1. Free software is a matter of the *users'* freedom to run, copy, distribute, study, change and improve the software. (Note: *users'* not the guys who create it.)

2. The emotional argument goes like this: ``I put my sweat, my heart, my soul into this
program. It comes from me, it's mine!''

This argument does not require serious refutation. The feeling of attachment is
one that programmers can cultivate when it suits them; it is not inevitable. Consider,
for example, how willingly the same programmers usually sign over all rights to a
large corporation for a salary; the emotional attachment mysteriously vanishes.
By contrast, consider the great artists and artisans of medieval times, who didn't
even sign their names to their work. To them, the name of the artist was not
important. What mattered was that the work was done--and the purpose it would serve.
This view prevailed for hundreds of years.

The economic argument goes like this: "I want to get rich (usually described inaccurately as `making a living'), and if you don't allow me to get rich by programming, then I
won't program."

Thursday, November 06, 2003

So much confusion, so little time...

Free (as in speech) software is software which is released under a license which allows a customer to modify and/or redistribute it (i.e. which grants freedoms absent in most commercial licenses)

Free (as in beer) software is software which is released under a license which does not ask for money in exchange for the product (e.g. demos and evaluation copies of commercial software)

Much free (speech) software is available at no cost, which results in some confusion as English does not have an easy way to distinguish the concepts (e.g. libre vs. gratis in Latin)

I can't say why a given person would choose to release their software at no cost (perhaps to gain market share) or free (as in speech) (perhaps as a philanthropist). Each person has their own reasons.

Devil's Advocate
Thursday, November 06, 2003

It all gets back to the fact that giving away the source code means giving away your software and your work. These distinctions about free beer are academic.

Thursday, November 06, 2003

By the way, I can't help noticing that the only people dumb enough to fall for this open source crap are the programmers.

Documentation writers won't work for free; project managers won't work for free; usability people won't work for free. I remember reading somewhere the oss geniuses were working out ways to put up money to pay those people to contribute. (Separate from IBM's efforts of course.)

Thursday, November 06, 2003

Not necesarily. Microsoft 'gives away' their code as part of their Shared Source Initiative. There must be some compelling reason to release the code at some point to certain people. The decision then becomes to whom, and under which conditions.

Some people may see an economic advantage to an unconstrained release including potentially the benefits of using code already released under a compatible license, or the cost of enforcing stricter licensing agreements.

Devil's Advocate
Thursday, November 06, 2003

Have and operating system.  Don't cost nothin'.

Matrix sucks
Thursday, November 06, 2003

In the beginning, computers & software were restricted to academics (mathematicians mostly) who swapped ideas and code freely but where insistent on attribution being correct.  Later they became the controlled by business which saw them as  products.  It's a basic philosophical difference - software as  ideas or as product. 

Richard Stallman's point about Free Software was the reaction of an academic upset at the loss of a community which shared code freely.  In Free & Open source the community returned.

For Free Software advocates it's all about Freedom, so "Free as in Speech".  Open Source came later, as an attempt to make it business friendly by people who were more concerned with it as a distributed development method. 

To implement this there are a wide range of licenses with the BSD /MIT style just insisting you preserve a copyright notice through the GPL& LGPL on to things like the Q license which only allows you to distribute  modifications as patches.  Then there are proprietry companies who make the code available to customers (like Frog Creek I believe).

In my view it's swings and roundabouts.  You are unlikely to make vast sums of money as a pure free software company, but if your main business isn't software then it can lower your development costs markedly, by sharing development with other organisations. 

Possibly the question you have to ask is how you see software personaly - is it a list of instructions or is it a product.  Those of us who make their livelyhood making software as a product are resonably clear that FOSS is a bad thing.  Those for whom it's way to get the job done tend to go the other way. 

...a cynic writes
Thursday, November 06, 2003

"The feeling of attachment is one that programmers can cultivate when it suits them; it is not inevitable. Consider, for example, how willingly the same programmers usually sign over all rights to a large corporation for a salary;"

The "feelings of attachment" to one’s software has little to do with the exchange of money for their skill as far as I can tell.

"the emotional attachment mysteriously vanishes."

Is there any mystery in a factory worker who assembles widgets to loose any attachment to the assembled goods in order to retain a wage? This is the basic economy of humans.

"By contrast, consider the great artists and artisans of medieval times, who didn't even sign their names to their work. To them, the name of the artist was not important. What mattered was that the work was done--and the purpose it would serve. This view prevailed for hundreds of years"

I am going out on a limb to guess that these artists were either paid or were enslaved to do the work. If they were paid, then would this still fall into the "emotional attachment mysteriously vanish[ing]" category? If they were slaves, why would this be a good example?

I always had a hunch the free software stuff was a load of crap, but thanks for posting links so I can read and verify my hunches. Where is the Free Grocery Foundation when I go to the store to buy food? Isn’t free food a good use of the criteria "the prosperity and freedom of the public in general".

Thursday, November 06, 2003

I think my favorite take on it went something like this:

A:How much?


A:Is that free as in speech or free asd in beer?

B:Free as in Free Quid, Govnah

Thursday, November 06, 2003

> How is giving away time/money to non-non-profit a political/philosophical statement?

m, this is correct. The political statement is that the intellectual/educated class should not be paid for their work. Who do they think they are, acting like they are better than the people? Power to the people's revolution!

Little Red Book
Thursday, November 06, 2003

> Not necesarily. Microsoft 'gives away' their code as part of their Shared Source Initiative.

Don't be so naive. That's not giving away source code in the sense the free software people want. Microsoft's initiative keeps source code under tight control ( and also happens to undermine one of the criticisms of the OSS people, because it lets governments see there's nothing strange in the code.)

Thursday, November 06, 2003

What we need to do is turn all the indexable spam messages into links.


Okay here's the deal. Say there's a giant spam database. With digests of sentences. Searchable.

Now you have JOS, take each post, index each sentence, get a hash digest and query the "giant spam database", if it shows up then put it into a link. You don't see it, it isn't banned, you have to click on it to see it.

But that's how the democrates would do it, the republicans will solve the link idea up gore's ass and plain out strip out messages like that.

Li-fan Chen
Thursday, November 06, 2003

From the historical perspective on the phrase "free as in beer" ...
In the late 19th and early 20th century, it was common for politicians to increase attendance at rallies by offering food and free beer. The beer was typically of the lowest quality, and the price one paid was listening to a lot of speechifying. The free beer promotion was sometimes extended to election day itself; politicians hoped that voters would support the candidate who supplied the booze or that the beer would make voters more susceptible to influence. This type of campaigning got so out of hand that many states instituted laws that forced bars and taverns to close while the polls were open. That law is still enforced in some states (for example, Pennsylvania), although the restrictions have been loosened and restaurants are allowed to serve alcohol if food is the primary business.
So it boils down to this: "free as in beer" generally means you don't pay cash, but the product is probably inferior and there's usually some sort of catch.

Friday, November 07, 2003

Would folk please stop politicising everything.

Free as in beer means free to consume. Period.

That the beer might come with speechifying (or adverts) is incidental. That not all the free beer is good quality again is incidental.

So both winamp and apache are free as in beer. One's source is closed, and the other open, but they are both free as in beer.

Friday, November 07, 2003

There's a large number of freeware (as in beer) apps I use regularly. Oddly, they are among the most stable and easy to use of applications I have.

Dennis Atkins
Friday, November 07, 2003

I thought free beer was the name of a band that plays at bars. e.g. "Free Beer Thursday at Joe's Tavern".

Friday, November 07, 2003

I always make the free as in association myself.

Just me (Sir to you)
Friday, November 07, 2003

... but that is probably more due to than to this particular work.

Just me (Sir to you)
Friday, November 07, 2003

Beer isn't free, but you can sometimes *get* it for free.

Friday, November 07, 2003

Boy, SO MANY wrong answers! The links to the source explain it best, but longest -- but here's the short form:

Free as in beer: there is no monetary charge. But this says *nothing* about your rights to use the software; in fact, the distributor often tightly controls the rights. This is basically a "loss-leader". It's how MS distributes Internet Explorer -- you don't pay for it. It's free as in [free] beer -- but you get no source code, no right to hack it, modify it, redistribute it.

Free as in speech: unrestricted, unencumbered. Software that's "free" in this sense has nothing to do with money -- one my charge for it (depending on the license), but the salient point is that the license in some way will allow you to freely examine and modify the software to suit your purpose. Most Open Source software is free as in [free] speech -- you may pay for it in some cases, but it's meant to have minimal or no restrictions around it.

As in most things (free beer and free speech included, the phrase is a bit hyperbolic. Even with free speech, you'll generally find certain things forbidden -- slander, incitement to riot, etc. And with free [as in speech] software, the common encumbrance is that copyright is retained by the original author.

Free as in [free] speech is the Open Source high road.
Free as in [free] beer usually comes along -- but on its own, it's the marketing low road.

IE is free as in beer, but not free as in speech.

Apache is free as in speech -- and, by the way, free as in beer, too.

OK, not as short as I'd thought. But does this help clarify? Anyone vehemently disagree with the characterization? (I'm NOT asking if you agree with the philosphy -- plenty clear who's on what side of that already!)

Friday, November 07, 2003

Too Embarrassed To Put A Name To This,

It is often said that regardless of how stupid a question may be, there is at least one other person with the same question.  For the record, I was that other person.  But now I understand the expression.

I Was Wondering The Same Thing
Saturday, November 08, 2003

Funny, I thought about that expression just last week (bored) and figured out what it meant, as opposed to freedom of speech.  How many brownie points do I get?  lol.  This expression is a core cultural value of Linuxers.

Brian R.
Sunday, November 09, 2003

Too Embarrassed To Put A Name To This,
and I Was Wondering The Same Thing,

I wanted to know too!  Just how many of us are there???

I had no idea either
Sunday, November 09, 2003

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