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See also: Open Source | Free Software Foundation | Non-Free | Free Speech

Free means without ownership, restriction or barter. Things may be free but still moderated by things other than cost or availability.

What restrictions exist on being free is a subject of much concern. In particular, the Free Software movement has adopted several concepts to further elaborate on the concept of "free". Two phrases that are frequantly used:

"Free" is different from "Freedom".

  • "Free as in speech": (aka "Free as in Libre") - a concept that a freedom with any restrictions results in not being free at all. When applied to software, it describes a lack of restriction with the acquisition, use, modification and distribution; that the software can be universally 'made useful'. In discussion, many will use this form of free as "Free/Libre" to attach clarification.
"Libre" is a French word describing what in English would be akin to freedom, almost freedom from obligation or freeing. Libre is almost used as a right and an idea to describe a concept and not an object.
  • "Free as in beer" (aka "Free as in Gratis") - communicating that something has no monetary cost. A more physical and less ethereal costlessness freedom than "free as in speech". It attempts to convey the more covetous and physical concepts of ownership. Like one friend buying another a beer, "free as in beer" is meant to describe obligationless consumption. Applied to software, it is meant to describe a 'costlessness' with regards to aquisition and use.

This distinction comes from the fact that many services are mislabelled as free when they ought to more clearly be labelled "no monetary cost for use". Some capitalize Free to indicate a form of "Truely Free", but this isn't widely recognized. In particular, advertising (like Adware) may be considered non-Free in that it "costs" one's attention-span.

Software that is not Free Software is sometimes referred to as "Non-Free Software." For more information about "Non-Free Software" see proprietary software.

Free Software

According to Richard Stallman who established the Free Software Foundation, many other words have been attempted to explain the "Free as in Freedom" idea but none have been adequate. It amounts to a failure of language to adequately express a circumstance.

This use of libre is related to concepts of freeware and open source. See also the wiki on the Free Software Foundation.

"Open Source" and "Free Software" definitions emphasize different rationals and the terms must be used with care. See also Why "Free Software" is better than "Open Source".

Furthermore, free is a much-abused term. Many services are mislabelled as free when they ought to more clearly be labelled "no monetary cost for use".

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