Actual meaning of Free Software: Free as in beer versus Free as in speech

Vastness of open source can leave anyone in confusion. Whether it is distro hunting or phrases that are used to explain related concepts. The one which annoys every single beginner is that Open source is said to distribute free software, so far so good, but what exactly we mean by free? Free as is Beer or Free as in Speech? Keep reading.

The difference can be narrowed down to “no money” versus “no restrictions (or a bit of them)”. In English, free is often mistaken for both the meanings but in Spanish they have different words for them, Gratis and Libre.

Free as in Beer (Gratis)

Java from Oracle is a product which is free as in beer. When you are offered a beer, you are not supposed to pay for it but enjoy. The ‘body’ giving away pays for it and everyone enjoys it at no cost.

Java from Oracle is available free of cost for everyone but restricts users from getting even a glimpse of source code. Hence, users are also deprived of the liberty of modifying the code. Speaking of that, none of distributing publicly and submitting bug fixes is available. The decision of What/When/How you get the “beer” is made by the “giver”.

Free as in Speech (libre)

In addition to facility of getting the software for free, the air of liberty comes in. The liberty in “libre” is more than you get in “gratis”. Following are the rights you have in software which are Free as in Speech:

♦ You can use it anyway you want. They don’t care if the software was made for computer you are running it on mobile device. More the merrier!

♦ You can easily see the internal working of the software. Users want to know the secret ingredients in their favourite beer but are deprived of this pleasure in case of free beer.

♦ Sharing is caring! After using and falling in love with the software, one would definitely want to share it and libre allows him to do that without violating any law. Distribute it publicly whether by packaging it with your software or provide a mirror, etc.

♦ You can be a part of the development process. If you find a bug and a fix to it, you can submit it so that community benefits from it. After all it is all about giving away.