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Old 05-25-2021, 08:21 AM   #1
newbiesforever
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I feel ambivalent about Stallman's "freedom/free beer" phrase


I wondered who coined the phrase "free as in freedom, not free beer" which we use to describe what "free" means in -NIX. I researched it a little, but guessed the answer before I saw it: Richard Stallman. I'm not really surprised, given Stallman's obvious lack of respect for property rights; but there's a dark side to the phrase itself that makes me feel ambivalent about it. (Honestly, given Stallman's history, I think someone else possibly spoke the phrase to Stallman, and he was merely the first to use it before an audience.)

Being an English major, I'm good at picking apart words or phrases to guess what someone really felt or meant, what attitude lay behind them. The key to Stallman's attitude (and other users' attitude) is "free beer." I happen to know that the concept of giving people free beer is an expression of disdain for them; it has been used socially and politically to denigrate certain policies that will supposedly benefit some group. I once read someone's campaign people saying in opposition to a proposal: "next it will be free beer." I think I personally would rather say "free as in freedom, not free as doesn't cost money."
 
Old 05-25-2021, 09:05 AM   #2
Ser Olmy
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Quote:
Originally Posted by newbiesforever View Post
I'm not really surprised, given Stallman's obvious lack of respect for property rights;
I don't know Stallmans' position on property rights, but the phrase "free as in freedom, not as in beer" states pretty clearly that it would be reasonable to request payment for providing Free Software and services related to such. That at least presupposes that you own your labour.

In the U.S, the expression "free beer" is meant to encapsulate the idea of something given to you at absolutely no cost and with no strings attached.
Quote:
Originally Posted by newbiesforever View Post
I think I personally would rather say "free as in freedom, not free as doesn't cost money."
Well, that is literally what it means.
 
Old 05-25-2021, 09:21 AM   #3
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The phrase is confusing to a non-american: beer isn't free, so "..., not as in beer" really doesn't make sense; if anything, it's harder to understand than an unqualified "free as in freedom". Probably would have been better if he'd used the actual word for this, "gratis", but he didn't.

Anyway, it was a long time ago, so finding it hard to care.

Last edited by GazL; 05-25-2021 at 09:22 AM.
 
Old 05-25-2021, 09:46 AM   #4
hazel
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I always thought it was "Free as in free speech, not as in free beer".

That makes clear that, while there may be nothing wrong with free beer, free software is much more about freedom than costs.
 
Old 05-25-2021, 09:51 AM   #5
Ser Olmy
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Originally Posted by hazel View Post
I always thought it was "Free as in free speech, not as in free beer".
You're right! Or almost anyway, because the original saying was indeed "free as in speech, not as in beer" (the second "free" being implied in both instances).
 
Old 05-25-2021, 10:23 AM   #6
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I just find it lamentable that the phrase "free software" was used in the first place. It's just so ambiguous it requires explanation. Even worse, the obvious meaning is "wrong". The obvious meaning of "free software", based on computing at the time, was simply copying discs/tapes for free rather than paying for it. This obvious meaning has nothing to do with source code or restrictive licenses on use of that source code (GPL vs BSD vs public domain). It's just ... hey, everybody's doing it, it's like free love, man!

In contrast, "open software" has a more clear intended meaning.
 
Old 05-25-2021, 10:24 AM   #7
boughtonp
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It's pretty easy to find what the original phrase was...
Quote:
Originally Posted by https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gratis_versus_libre
Think free as in free speech, not free beer.
Sourced from September 2006 article:
Quote:
Originally Posted by https://www.wired.com/2006/09/free-as-in-beer/
The standard answer has been a slogan: "Think free," the movement's founder, Richard Stallman puts it, "as in free speech, not free beer." You can charge whatever you want for free software. But what you can't do is lock up the knowledge that makes it run. Others must be allowed to learn from and tinker with it. No one is permitted a monopoly on the teaching that stands behind it.
Also in the GNU Free Software definition:
Quote:
Originally Posted by https://www.gnu.org/philosophy/free-sw.html
"Free software" means software that respects users' freedom and community. Roughly, it means that the users have the freedom to run, copy, distribute, study, change and improve the software. Thus, "free software" is a matter of liberty, not price. To understand the concept, you should think of "free" as in "free speech," not as in "free beer". We sometimes call it "libre software," borrowing the French or Spanish word for "free" as in freedom, to show we do not mean the software is gratis.

It's also pretty easy to find what Richard Stallman means by any particular word or phrase: ask him and he'll happily tell you.

I have no idea what the point of trying to present "free beer" as an "expression of disdain" might be.

Maybe it is - maybe it's an oblique reference to "Open Source" which Richard openly disdains.

So what?

------------

Also, the shorter phrase "Free as in Freedom" is a book about Richard Stallman, which Richard then edited and re-published.


Last edited by boughtonp; 05-25-2021 at 10:33 AM.
 
Old 05-25-2021, 10:51 AM   #8
business_kid
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In any country where beer is taxed, you actually have to pay tax on each pint of beer you give away. The exception is if you brew your own, you can give that away, but then there are expenses and you are liable under Law if anyone gets sick.

I personally feel the idea of free software has limits. Fine with Academia, who could set a PhD student writing the writing the guts of a Gnu utility. Not fine for a young graduate trying to keep his head above water. Not fine when a problem needs persistent tracking, and the rewards are zero. Reporting bugs to Apple or Google pays better. Working pays much better. So projects go the way of Mozilla, which is sad.
 
Old 05-25-2021, 10:51 AM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by IsaacKuo View Post
In contrast, "open software" has a more clear intended meaning.
Yes, but it's doesn't necessarily provide any freedom.

(Just pointing out that "Free Software" and "Open Source" are different concepts.)
 
Old 05-25-2021, 10:57 AM   #10
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Originally Posted by business_kid View Post
I personally feel the idea of free software has limits. Fine with Academia, who could set a PhD student writing the writing the guts of a Gnu utility. Not fine for a young graduate trying to keep his head above water. Not fine when a problem needs persistent tracking, and the rewards are zero. Reporting bugs to Apple or Google pays better. Working pays much better.
On the other hand, there's the Linux kernel. It's Free Software, and still thousands make a living from contributing to it.

In all fairness, this only happened once a critical mass of people in the industry realized just how valuable the kernel was. But once they did, it was the GPL license that made sure it continued to be Free.
Quote:
Originally Posted by business_kid View Post
So projects go the way of Mozilla, which is sad.
There are a multitude of reasons why The Mozilla Project is going downhill, and it's all about bad management. It's been a directionless project with ridiculously overpaid managers for quite some time. I'm not going to miss them.
 
Old 05-25-2021, 11:11 AM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ser Olmy View Post
On the other hand, there's the Linux kernel. It's Free Software, and still thousands make a living from contributing to it.

In all fairness, this only happened once a critical mass of people in the industry realized just how valuable the kernel was. But once they did, it was the GPL license that made sure it continued to be Free.
If the kernel had been e.g. ISC or MIT licensed it would make little difference as it would still remain free under those licences - just as e.g. FreeBSD or OpenBSD remain free.

The main difference is that the corporations may have forked and gone off and done their own things, instead of effectively controlling all development by buying off developers and funding and managing the project as they do now. google developing their own replacement OS for Android, using permissive licencing, is evidence enough that Linux was always a stepping stone - and if you read some of the early powerpoint slides for android, there are specific paragraphs relating to avoiding GPL and designing around that.
 
Old 05-25-2021, 08:03 PM   #12
newbiesforever
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Quote:
Originally Posted by GazL View Post
The phrase is confusing to a non-american: beer isn't free, so "..., not as in beer" really doesn't make sense; if anything, it's harder to understand than an unqualified "free as in freedom". Probably would have been better if he'd used the actual word for this, "gratis", but he didn't.

Anyway, it was a long time ago, so finding it hard to care.

Disagree. Stallman may have spoken long ago, but the phrase is made timeless by UNIX users continuing to use it freely, here at LQ and elsewhere. And I would say that you're making a mistake by decoupling the words "free" and "beer," because it's the phrase that matters. Consider the example I gave: political operatives denigrating proposals as the equivalent of giving people free beer. It comes from an earlier era in American history where machine politicians could more easily get away with serving people alcohol in order to buy their vote. (A little over twenty years ago, when I first reached voting age, a certain high-profile politician was accused of doing it; but the allegation was never proven.) The memory is deliberately evoked in order to insult certain people by suggesting that they're the sort who would sell their vote for some beer.

Last edited by newbiesforever; 05-25-2021 at 08:08 PM.
 
Old 05-26-2021, 02:15 AM   #13
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You seem to want politicise and find an alternative, offensive, meaning.

Your interpretation is wrong - and that's not Stallman's fault.
 
Old 05-26-2021, 03:11 AM   #14
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Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.
 
Old 05-26-2021, 07:03 AM   #15
boughtonp
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Quote:
Originally Posted by newbiesforever View Post
The memory is deliberately evoked in order to insult certain people by suggesting that they're the sort who would sell their vote for some beer.
Aside from the fact that you have no proof of anything being deliberately evoked, let's assume you're correct. Why does it matter?


Is what you're trying to say summarized by the following two sentences?
Quote:
I feel ambivalent about Stallman's "freedom/free beer" phrase.
I think I personally would rather say "free as in freedom, not free as doesn't cost money."
If so, perhaps you would find "free as in freedom, not cost" more concise yet still explanatory.

 
  


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