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Free Beer and Free Speech

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The “Weekly Rant” column was featured in the PC Mechanic Newsletter since 2005. Topics relate to some aspect of technology, which include opinions on hardware, software, new technology, technology companies, and computing standards.

There are some terms in the software world that have often confused many non-hackers (aka programming experts), and what the terms imply.  They are “free beer” and “free speech”. When it comes down to it, the terms are fairly simple once you tack on a meaning to them.

For instance, “free beer” means that something is free-of-charge.

The other term, “free speech” means that something is free of restrictions.

So, taken separately, “free beer” can mean that something is free to use, but some restrictions may apply.  For instance, WS_FTP LE 5.x (an FTP client) is free to use, but only if it’s for educational, government, or home use (this implies than it cannot be used in the workplace).

Taken separately, “free speech” means that you are free to do whatever you want with something, but they may charge you for it.  For instance, you pay a fee to eat at an all-you-can eat buffet, and you can then go eat whatever your heart desires.

Freeware is typically filed under “free beer”, since you usually do not have access to the source code to make changes to the program. On the other hand, open-source freeware is typically filed under “free beer” and “free speech”, meaning you can use it, alter it, re-distribute it, and generally, can do whatever you want with it.

So, in a nutshell, that’s the rundown of “free beer” and “free speech” in the world of technology.

(Originally published in the pcmech.com newsletter)