Monday, August 18, 2008

Free like free

I just heard this funny anecdote today about the different meanings of "free."
Free as in:
  • Free Speech.
  • Free Beer.
  • Free Puppies.

Free Speech: You have the right to do something at no cost, as in "it's a free country" or "free speech."
Free Beer: There are things like "free beer," that might be free for you but someone has to pay for it. (This is something like "everything is free at the library!" but someone has to pay for the materials, staff salaries, lighting, heat, chairs, plumbing...)
Free puppies: Open source software might be something akin to free puppies. You may acquire them at no cost, but you may be looking at some bills down the road for food, vet bills, carpet cleaning, etc.


dave said...

This is a slight misunderstanding of the "traditional" meanings of these phrases.

Free as in speech refers to freedom or liberty. That is to say, you are free to do something without restriction. This does not actually imply anything about cost.

Free as in beer means something is free from cost. It is being given away for free. It may even be something that no one has paid for at any time.

Free as in puppies (or kittens) is an attempt to explain how some things can seem to be free as in beer, but still have ongoing costs. People use this to talk about Free / Open Source software, in an attempt to show how it compares and contrasts with proprietary software but the association does more harm than good.

This meme spreads the idea that f/oss software has higher maintenance costs than proprietary software, and that "free" refers only to its upfront cost. Both of which are incorrect.

Alice said...

Thanks, Dave. Since I only briefly heard about it in conversation, it's great to have your clarification.

What are other people's experiences with f/oss software?