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What does "free-as-in-speech" mean in the context of software?

A strict interpretation would suggest something along the lines of "we don't censor what the customers of our software do with it", which is true for almost all software (aside from social media platforms). I don't see how this would apply here, since this software isn't being used for the creation of anything.

A looser interpretation would suggest that, if the software is used to access content (eg. web browser) then, aside from technical limitations, it doesn't censor content that it could otherwise display. I can see how this might apply to a DNS.

I don't see, however, how "free-as-in-speech" has any reference to open or closed source. (Not sure if that was what was meant.)




"free-as-in-speech" is usually intended to contrast with "free-as-in-beer", thereby disambiguating the word "free" in English. Some software is "free-as-in-speech", which means you aren't limited with what you can do with it or its code -- "free" means that the user has certain rights. I think Stallman introduced this way of talking about software; people sometimes use "libre" instead. https://ssd.eff.org/en/glossary/open-source-software


Yes, this is exactly what I meant with my usage of the word. free-as-in-speech (where you can easily recreate the speech yourself) versus free-as-in-beer (where you can't easily recreate the beer since it is closed source) (at least this is always how I have interpreted the meaning personally).

The most recent example would be FileBot which I bought a subscription for mostly because it is high quality and is free software (as-in-speech). I would have used less functional free (as in speech and beer) alternatives had the filebot source not been available to me.

Filebot homepage: https://www.filebot.net/ Source code: https://github.com/filebot/filebot


That's an interesting one. I had heard of filebot but don't have any personal use case for it. The license probably qualifies as libre but definitely isn't GPL compatible, for the record: https://github.com/filebot/filebot/blob/master/LICENSE.md

Edit: Actually, it's worth noting that the statement in the README arguably makes filebot non-free. "You may NOT use the source code to publish binary builds without explicit authorization." If that's actually supposed to be enforced by the terms of the license, filebot is definitely not libre software.

On the other hand, it's not clear at all whether this is prohibited by the license. It prohibits "Publishing binaries or competing clones that undermine the ability of the original author to make money from his work." I don't see why publishing a binary for free on a new platform would undermine this in most cases, given that the author already publishes free binaries for most platforms on the official website.


Yeah that's a good point regarding publishing binaries. I would guess that he wants to keep tight quality control (since in the past there were crap binaries being passed around). But yes I don't consider it GPL compatible, but it (was, see below) close enough for me ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ (I try not to let perfect be the enemy of good).

That said I just tried to build it for the first time (wanted to make a small improvement) and there are no documented build steps and a standard ant build doesn't work. There are open github issues where the author is very dismissive and just says basically "code not supported, just for educational purposes."

I poked at it for about 15 minutes but I've never used ant before and couldn't get the build working. That really saddens me. Unless things improve I won't be renewing my subscription. I'm pretty disappointed to say the least.


While I now understand "free-as-in-speech" is meant to refer to "free in the sense of Stallman's ideology", I still don't think the following makes any sense:

> free-as-in-speech (where you can easily recreate the speech yourself)

Freedom of speech has nothing to do with recreating the speech. The term "free speech" means "no censorship".

The connection, as I now understand it based on other comments here, is that "free speech" refers to a freedom relating to people's rights as opposed to "free beer", which refers to cost. In that sense I can understand the connection to free software in the sense that Stallman advocates for.




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