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Beer isn't free

What is the logic behind the use of the term "Free as in beer" to denote 'free of charge"? Beer isn't free. At least not where I live.

That was always a confusing choice, as the only time that someone is offering free beer there is some catch, and I doubt this is the connotation that they want. It also begs the response of "there's no such thing as a free lunch." Not to mention that this appears to be an analogy that speaks to a completely different demographic. How many programmers are going to the bar on the way home after a long day of programming?

I've seen mention made that one of the "official" open source/free software groups now prefers the terms gratis and libre. Gratis seems much better to me, but libre implies all kinds of things that are not true about a lot of open source software. It's all pretty confusing.

  --Josh

JWA
Monday, July 05, 2004

I think "free as in beer" means free as a commodity, were it to be free.  As opposed to "free as in speech" which is another sort of freedom.  It's not a direct analogy in the sense that beer is free, but rather to distinguish between two seperate concepts.  Free tangible goods, as in free of cost, vs free speech, as in civil/personal freedoms.

muppet from forums.madebymonkeys.net
Monday, July 05, 2004

<JWA>
How many programmers are going to the bar on the way home after a long day of programming?
</JWA>

  I do!  By the way, that's exactly what I'll be doing in a few minutes.  Cheers.

Ricardo Antunes da Costa
Monday, July 05, 2004

You raise a very good question! :)

I don't know the real answer, but any chance it started out as a happy war cry kind of thing, and has since become a catch-phrase or term of art?

In other words, maybe it began in somebody's college days when people would yell "Free beer! Free beer!" (meaning actual beer), and then when they wanted to distinguish economic "free" from the other kind beer was the first thing they thought of, through word association or something.

*cheers!*

Lisa
Monday, July 05, 2004

well.. I know that the slashdot crowd tends to use it in the sense that I described.  I haven't really explained it well, though.  Software can be thought of as free in terms of speech, in the sense that everyone has a right to "hear" what's being "said".  As in, knowlege should be free.  And then there's free as in beer, as in, getting something tangible for no cost.  Rather than free in the sense of "no restrictions".

Meh.. I give up trying to figure out how to word this.

muppet from forums.madebymonkeys.net
Monday, July 05, 2004

"Free as in price" would make more sense than "Free as in Beer"

Lou D'Acriss
Monday, July 05, 2004

I think that's clear enough, muppet.

Michael Eisenberg
Monday, July 05, 2004

elision. "free as in free beer" -> "free as in beer".

mb
Monday, July 05, 2004

> What is the logic behind the use of the term "Free as in beer" to denote 'free of charge"?

http://c2.com/cgi/wiki?FreeAsInBeer says: The term FreeAsInBeer derives from the first line of an essay by RichardStallman: http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/free-sw.html

> Beer isn't free.

It is "free", when it's given away for free: for example at private parties.

> Not to mention that this appears to be an analogy that speaks to a completely different demographic.

Yes, you don't see many advertisements for beer and vodka in the programmer's magazines, do you.

> libre implies all kinds of things that are not true about a lot of open source software

"Libre" isn't an English word, is it? What does it imply to you that isn't true of a lot of OSS?

Christopher Wells
Monday, July 05, 2004

Free Beer is a sort of cultural joke that exists everywhere. In upstate New York there's a band called 'Free Beer and Chicken" and nearly every band in the world, when trying to come up with a name, says "We should call the band Free Beer and then everyone would come down to the club to see is."

So, "free as in beer" does work, as the previous poster pointed out, when it is free.

www.MarkTAW.com
Monday, July 05, 2004

"Free" as in lunch :)

even Microsoft got it :D

http://www.oreillynet.com/pub/wlg/3481

THE APEMAN
Monday, July 05, 2004

I love the almost life-size smiley.

www.MarkTAW.com
Monday, July 05, 2004

""Libre" isn't an English word, is it? What does it imply to you that isn't true of a lot of OSS?"

Being a person who speaks spanish and who has lived and spent a lot of time throughout South America, I understand the meaning and nuance of the word "libre". The english word "free" when used to denote freedom and liberty (obviously sharing a common latin root) is comparable in meaning.

...

Actually, while typing the next paragraph (that I deleted above) I realized the problem with the term "free" as in "libre" - that seems to imply the lack of encumbrance or limitations on an individual and not apply to inanimate objects. Free Speech doesn't mean that the speech is free to do what it wants to, it means that the person speaking has the right to speak without limitation.

Is that the problem, that we're trying to apply the quality of freedom to an inanimate object?

(And to answer the specific question, I just meant that truly "libre" software would seem to imply no limitations or conditions on it's use - which is quite contrary to the status of most "libre" software licenses.)

  --Josh

JWA
Monday, July 05, 2004

Here's something that always worked for me -- Open Source tells people what they want to hear, but lies like any marketing department. Free Software tells the truth, but people don't want to hear it.

HaHaOnlySerious... http://c2.com/cgi/wiki?HaHaOnlySerious

Tayssir John Gabbour
Monday, July 05, 2004

Perhaps beer, like information, *wants* to be free...

Sam Livingston-Gray
Monday, July 05, 2004

In other languages, there is the word "free" as in "liberty", and the word "free" as in "no charge".

In English the two meanings happen to collide, hence the need for clarification.

Free as in free speech == liberty (e.g. to choose a religion)
Free as in free beer == zero cost (e.g. a friend can treat you to a beer)

(Of course I'm missing the point.)

Alex
Monday, July 05, 2004

... "free" is just a convenient contraction from "free of charge".

As long as you realize it has more than one meaning, you can't be confused.

Alex
Monday, July 05, 2004

I'm sure it's all Microsoft's fault. Talking of free beer, why aren't the commissars out there talking to the brewery workers, telling them to donate to the community?

Call me Bill
Monday, July 05, 2004

The other problem with that analogy is that free beer is not given for free from the originator, but rather purchased for you by someone else.

My original question was about the analogy, not really the use of the word free. Upon thinking about it though it appeared that the "libre" use is incorrect also.

The difference in the connotation of the word isn't an issue, it just clouds the discussion by requiring clarification. English has this problem with the word "hot" too. It's much easier in spanish to determine if the food is spicy hot (picante) or thermally hot (caliente) when someone says "Wow, this is hot."

As to the difference between the two groups (Open Source and Free Software), I really know little about either of them. Any time you take a natural thing like people helping one another out by passing along knowledge and wisdom and formalize it into a theology it turns me off. I'm happy to help out someone with a question, or publish an article on how to do something, but I don't understand why anyone would want to formally organize a communist/socialist group of software writers.

(Please note that I use the words communist and socialist in their straight definitions, which in my understanding is exactly the theory behind some of these groups, and don't wince at the negative connotations these words are loaded with. If you don't like their use, go read the definitions and calm down. If, however, I am wrong and these movements don't fit into those descriptions, then go ahead and explain it to me. Like I said, I don't know much about their full missions as groups.)

  --Josh

JWA
Monday, July 05, 2004

I always thought that it was because you're free to make your own beer, just as you're free to make your own software (as Open Sourcerers do).

Wayne
Monday, July 05, 2004

I think it's just that people understand what "free beer" means.  If you saw a sign saying "CD release party -- free beer" then you get it.  Free beer is seen as a universal truth.

But the original poster has a good point.  It's still a weird thing for the open source community to latch onto.

J.
Tuesday, July 06, 2004

The "Open Source" folks say: "You get better software by letting everyone look at the source code and help you find and fix bugs, make enhancements, etc.". The "Free Software" folks say: "It's immoral to forbid people to share what they have." Each of these, if you believe it in the first place, leads to the conclusion that you should license software on terms that permit sharing and modification of the code; and in practice the answers to the questions "Is this software open source?" and "Is this free software?" are almost always the same, because the two groups frame their definitions very similarly.

The two groups' ideals are different, though. The clearest way to see this is by looking for situations in which each group would advocate *not* permitting the sharing of software. Open Source: if it would be bad for your business, or if you don't think anyone would actually come back to you with improvements. Free Software: if there were some overriding moral imperative; perhaps if you knew that no one you were giving or selling the software to had the slightest interest in, or ability to use, the source.

Neither "Open Source" nor "Free Software" has anything much to do with socialism or communism, beyond the fact that all four things involve sharing stuff. If that's what Josh means by "the straight definitions", then I suppose he's entitled to use the words that way, but he's likely to cause and to suffer some confusion as a result. Josh: if you still think "Open Source" and/or "Free Software" has much in common with communism, could you please explain what you think they have in common and why?

Gareth McCaughan
Tuesday, July 06, 2004

> And to answer the specific question, I just meant that truly "libre" software would seem to imply no limitations or conditions on it's use - which is quite contrary to the status of most "libre" software licenses.

In society, Liberty is not unconditional: specifically, society generally requires to allow others the same liberties that you enjoy yourself ... and if you're not willing to do that, then you'll lose your own liberty (i.e. be imprisoned).

Christopher Wells
Tuesday, July 06, 2004

What about the long term costs of beer?

The damage to your health, the desctruction of brain cells, the crashing of automobiles.

Even free beer is expensive.

Billy Joel on Software
Tuesday, July 06, 2004

In all the deliberate confusion I still think "free as in newspeak" ( http://www.online-literature.com/orwell/1984/ ) is about the most correct description of the whole mess.

Just me (Sir to you)
Wednesday, July 07, 2004

The point of Newspeak in 1984 is that it was a specially restricted and distorted language, intended to suppress independent or subversive thought. I don't quite see what this has to do with free software, free speech, or free beer. "Newspeak" doesn't mean "inventing words" or "extending the meanings of words"; those things happen all the time in any living language.

I suppose you might just mean: "Free" in "Free software" doesn't mean exactly what "free" does in everyday English. Well, no, it doesn't. But it's not far off, and it doesn't look to me like an illegitimate extension of the usual meaning.

Or is there something more Orwellian about the term "free software"?

Gareth McCaughan
Wednesday, July 07, 2004

I mean that the "free" software movement conveniently keeps up the confusion. This way they can skate the "gratis", "no, it isn't" and "free", "I have to comply with this draconic licence".

There is no more "free" software than there is "imprisoned" software. It is an inanimate object for christ sake, or even less, a virtual object. But hey, "anti making money by selling progressively better software business model" software doesn't have that same ring, now does it.

Just me (Sir to you)
Wednesday, July 07, 2004

Speech, markets, thought and beer are all inanimate objects just as much as software is, but that doesn't stop people talking about free speech, free markets, free thought, and free beer. "Free software" is software that doesn't carry certain kinds of restriction ("you may not copy this", "you may not modify this", "you may not give other people copies of this", etc.) with it.

All these uses of the word "free" have some spin built in. "Free speech" doesn't mean that you're allowed to libel others or give away state secrets. "Free markets" always have some regulation. You're unlikely to get away with calling yourself a "free thinker" if the conclusion of your free thought is (say) evangelical Christianity. As "Billy Joel on Software" points out, even free beer has its price. Oh, and "free software" doesn't require that the author has relinquished absolutely all right to determine what will be done with it. There's nothing wrong, still less Orwellian, about any of this.

I presume it's the GPL you're calling draconian. The GPL is considerably less draconian than any commercial software licence I have ever read. I can't think of anything it forbids you to do that isn't also forbidden by the license for, e.g., Microsoft Office.

After complaining that calling software "free" is illegitimate personification, it seems odd that you then go on to suggest that it would be more honest to call it "anti making money [...] software". Maybe it's a stretch to call any software "free", but it's a much bigger stretch to call any software "anti making money [...]".

So, um, what did the "free software" people do to make you so angry?

Gareth McCaughan
Wednesday, July 07, 2004

Who says I'm angry? :-)

If someone would call a more BSD style licence "free", then I'd say, well, ok, I see your point. But the GPL? If it was all about freedom, why does the GPL need to pile on restrictions beyond BSD?

It seems to me the GPL is specifically designed to prohibit one businessmodel: "making money through selling boxes of better and better software". In order to achieve this it has to put in place severe restrictions on not only  the software, but all other software that "contacts" it.

Saying the GPL is no more draconian than many other licences does not suddenly clear it of any restrictions.

Just me (Sir to you)
Wednesday, July 07, 2004

GPL is not anti making money. You can make money in any other way, just as long as you don't do it selling a good software package in a broad market that is intuitively usefull and very simple to install and operate and is not inseparably tied to any protected service or infrastructure.

Just me (Sir to you)
Wednesday, July 07, 2004

The reason why the GPL imposes restrictions in the name of freedom is the same as the reason why a business pays people in the name of making a profit: a short-term sacrifice for the sake of a long-term goal. If you release software under the GPL, then you make it more likely that people will work on it and then contribute their improvements back to the community. Another analogy would be the way that in order to get a patent you have to tell the world how your invention works.

It's not at all clear that licensing software under the GPL rather than (say) the BSD licence *does*, on the whole, promote freedom, but it's plausible enough that I don't see any need to assume that the people who wrote the GPL did so in order to stop people making money by selling better software.

Some people do make money by selling GPLed software. It does appear to get better over time. Some of the software even comes in boxes. Perhaps Richard Stallman forgot the "no boxes" clause. :-)

I'm not sure where you get the idea that I was trying to "clear [the GPL] of all restrictions". I just think it's pretty strange to be (1) complaining that the GPL is draconian and (2) arguing for proprietary software, which is well-nigh universally licensed under much less liberal terms than those of the GPL. Sure, some licences offer more freedom than the GPL does. So what?

I'm afraid I can't begin to understand your last comment. I could understand an argument that the GPL is (or its authors are) opposed to making money from selling software. But you're suggesting, apparently, that what they mind is much more specific: good software, in a broad market, simple to install, etc. I see nothing in the GPL, or in the rhetoric used by advocates of "free software", that has anything remotely to do with any of that. I can only assume you're letting off steam about bad experiences with "free software". Go ahead, but please don't think it has anything at all to do with how it is, or should be, licensed.

Gareth McCaughan
Wednesday, July 07, 2004

Businesses do not pay people because "it is not all clear that  paying them, rather than (say) not paying them *does* on the whole promote profit". They pay them (as little as possible) because they *know* that they do not get any work out of them (at least not the type of work they need) otherwise.

Furthermore, I did not say you can't sell GPL'ed software, just that you need a complement to bring in the profit. The list I presented were opporunities for complements.

Why do you feel the need to try to cast the argument into a "you poor baby got hurt and now you are trowing a tantrum"? This has nothing to do with "bad experiences". But I am concerned, especially as a payer of *heavy* european taxes, that there is a deliberate "bait and switch" con going on by the promoters of "free" software in the public sector, that plays selectively "free=gratis" to the ignorant and "free=fuzzy and warm" to the left field. Meanwhile IBM is laughing its way to the bank.

Just me (Sir to you)
Thursday, July 08, 2004

Businesses pay people *at all* because they know they won't get work out of them otherwise. But they choose *how much* to pay them because they think it will maximize their profits. They don't always get it right; sometimes they lose good people by paying them too little; sometimes they pay more than they need to to keep people and keep them working.

Software has a licence *at all*, when it does, because its author (strictly: whoever makes the licensing decisions, which may well be someone else) knows that without a licence it's not going to do anyone much good. But *what* licence is decided according to what the author thinks will serve his or her goals. That might be making money, or getting the software widely used, or making the world a better place, or ... well, I'm sure you can think of as many possibilities as I can.

The two cases seem to me very closely parallel. If you want to maximize your profits, you could halve your employees' pay, and you'd win in the short term; but a little further out, you're likely to be in trouble because they may all leave. If you want to maximize freedom for users of your software, you could release it under a more liberal licence than the GPL; the argument goes that although this makes things better in the short term, it is likely that a little further out it's worse because not so many improvements get distributed. I don't know whether this argument is *right*, but it's plausible enough that I'm willing to believe the GPL advocates when they say that, rather than stopping people making money from software, is their goal.

It seems that I misunderstood the point you were making with your litany of Good Things that GPLing your software allegedly prevents. Now that you've explained, I retract my conjecture that you were letting off steam after bad experiences with GPLed software; thanks for the clarification. So: yes, one way to make money off GPLed software is to sell complements. But the people selling (e.g.) Red Hat Linux aren't depending on complements, and so far as I can tell they are trying to make their product useful, easy to install, etc. I wouldn't want to claim that they're doing very well at it, though. :-)

I don't understand what paying "heavy European taxes" has to do with any of this. Do you mean you're worried that the taxes you pay might be used to fund development of "free software"? There's more of that happening in the US than in Europe, I think, and not much of it anywhere. It certainly doesn't make up a significant fraction of your taxes. Or are you worried that government departments might start using "free software", become less efficient as a result, and so require higher taxes? I don't see much sign of that either, and the few highly publicized instances (e.g., whatever it was in Munich) seem to be pretty carefully researched by the people who are doing the spending. And I especially don't see any sign that this is more of a danger than the converse: government departments using commercial software when they could be using "free software", spending more and giving up possibilities for customization without getting sufficient benefit in exchange.

And, by the way, "free software" in general *is* both "gratis" and "fuzzy and warm" (by which I assume you mean things like "less problematic to share around", "customizable by any programmer if that's needed", and so on), so what's wrong with portraying it both ways?

Gareth McCaughan
Thursday, July 08, 2004

I worry about the "free software" in public institutes because I honestly do believe that it will be more expensive. Some might argue that this is good news for the IT industry. I do not believe this is the case. Less expensive IT solutions based on maximising the use of COTS industry products does not nescessarily mean less IT spending, just more "bang for the buck".
Especially in the public sector the substantially less transparent costs of "free" software are an incredible danger. A onetime cost savings during one legislative period is always tempting, even if it means future governements will have to pay for these descisions 10 fold.
Furhermore it is weird to see leftist governements pushing "free" software on an anti-american agenda, where the only major beneficiary is IBM.

Just me (Sir to you)
Thursday, July 08, 2004

Could you two take your pissing match to private mail?  Just Me, I personally think that you've got a pretty screwed up view of the world, but I've thought that for a long time, so this is nothing new. I'd appreciate it though if both of you would take this debate to private mail. Write about it on your own Blogs if you feel you need a public audience. I'll even sell you the software if it makes you feel better about it. For those of you who don't feel that need, and feel pretty self-reliant, I'll give you the source code (hint: the money gets you an installer).  But please, if you must sound like a pair of wet cats tied together by the tail, do it somewhere else.  The rants are tired on both sides.

Clay Dowling
Thursday, July 08, 2004

I'm sorry if you're bored, Clay. Actually, I'm getting bored too, so let's stop. "Just me", in the unlikely event that you're desperate to carry on then you can find my e-mail address in about 15 seconds using Google.

I'm curious what Clay expected to find in this topic that was any less familiar, though.

Gareth McCaughan
Thursday, July 08, 2004

Same here. I guess our encounters and observations are just too different.

Clay, is this one of your private spots we parked in here? I don't get your problem man. Lighten up. If this doesn't float your boat, it is simple enough to ignore, no?

Just me (Sir to you)
Friday, July 09, 2004

Well, "free as in beer" is short for "free as in free beer". There's also "free as in speech" which is short for "free as in free speech". Nothing to philosophize about - it's just a shortening of a longer expression.

Shlomi Fish
Monday, July 12, 2004

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