What is “free as in beer”?

by on June 18, 2009

free_beer_posterI used the term “free as in beer” in a comment the other day and a couple people asked what it meant.

There is a saying in software development called “free as in beer” vs “free as in speech.”  I’m going to add an article about a new phrase to these called “free as in SCAM” but more on that later.

Wiktionary.org defines “free as in beer” as the following:

free as in beer – Adjective

1. Free in the sense of costing no money; gratis.

Usage notes:
This term and its counterpart free as in speech are mostly used in computing contexts, as for example when comparing traditional freeware (which may be proprietary) with open-source software (where anybody can access and modify the source code).

Ok, so what does this really mean?

Free As In Beer

Someone gives you a free beer and it’s tasty.  That is good.  There is software that is free to use (free as in beer) called Freeware.  You can use it all you want for your own personal use, but you are not necessarily allowed to modify it.  Free as in beer means free for your use.  No shipping cost, no strings attached, it’s free.

Free As In Speech

Someone says something to you and you paraphrase it and repeat it to your friends.  Speech is free, you can use it, repeat it, change it.  It’s yours to do as you see fit.   Software that is Open Source is free to modify and distribute (free as in speech) so not only do you get to have it for free, but it can become your own in a way and you can do with it freely what you want.

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