Free As In Beer

RichardStallman: FreeSoftware is about defending the freedom of users.

EricRaymond: OpenSource is a better way of doing software development

LinusTorvalds: I wouldn't mind a FreeBeer.

(Panel session at a conference.)


FreeAsInBeer is something that is distributed at no charge (GratisSoftware), or solely for the cost of distribution. The term is used to distinguish software that costs nothing from FreeSoftware (LibreSoftware).

FreeSoftware is about the freedom (Latin liber from which the English liberty is derived) to do whatever you want with the software (provided you don't restrict this same right from others). It has nothing to do with FreeAsInBeer but is often confused as such. FreeAsInSpeech software is often sold for money, making it not FreeAsInBeer.

The term FreeAsInBeer derives from the first line of an essay by RichardStallman: http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/free-sw.html. However, beer is rarely free so this metaphor is actually quite inaccurate.

IIRC, the contrast is made between FreeAsInBeer and FreeAsInSpeech

The different meanings of "Free" in FreeSoftware and FreeAsInBeer, and the resultant difficulty of convincing companies that they could make money producing FreeSoftware led to the coining of the term OpenSource. Stallman argues against this change here: http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/free-software-for-freedom.html

FreeAsInBeer is a MarketingPattern that is an extreme example of the LossLeader. It enables entry into a market that is either saturated, locked into a single product, or that contains superior products. It can also be used to sell upgrades to existing products (many companies will make old versions of their software FreeAsInBeer, to encourage upgrading to the latest, not-free version). Given enough resources you can use this pattern to dominate your competition (see MicrosoftInternetExplorer).

By maintaining control over a FreeAsInBeer product, the creator can ensure that it remains designed to lead a user into purchasing either a more fully-featured version, or a related product. If you do not gain this advantage from your FreeAsInBeer product, you should consider releasing FreeSoftware/OpenSource, as it may allow you to offload some of the development costs to volunteers, and is a good PR move.


I don't think that FreeSoftware has to cost nothing by default. You're free to sell FreeSoftware, provided you make the source code available to others to do with as they wish... -- SunirShah

I also believe that it was EricRaymond and the OpenSource people who had issue with RichardStallman 's sociological ideas about FreeSoftware and therefore created the term OpenSource. RichardStallman does have an issue with OpenSource, but the opening paragraph of the page makes it sound like FreeSoftware is a response to OpenSource, which is false.


RobertHeinlein (and others) remind us: there ain't no such thing as a FreeLunch.

But I'll buy Ward a beer when I meet him.


Also contrast with the term FreeAsInPretzels?, which I overheard lately. Seems like a pretty vivid description of a lot of the 'free' software out there; functionality-restricted versions which are intended to nothing but whet your appetite for not-so-free-software. -- AdamBerger

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