"free as in beer"?

The phrase "free as in beer" makes no sense. It never did.

"Free as in free beer" only makes marginally more sense. I've been hearing it for years, and my mind seems to skip over the "free" and concentrate on the "beer", and beer is a good thing, right? (Though to be honest, the Free Software world's beer fixation is not one of its healthier characteristics.)

Furthermore, the existence of Free Beer, while delicious, does nothing to clarify matters, even in the presence of Irish Moss.

"Free beer" might have been amusing coming from RMS, but it's not useful. Let's leave "free beer" to the brewers, and stop using it for its explanatory power.

14 responses

  1. jrb says:

    I've been using the term 'free lunch' instead. That's because most people have more experience with free lunches instead of free beer in practice, and most people understand the tradeoffs involved when you get one. Those are often the same tradeoffs you get with gratis software.

  2. guijemont says:

    And what alternative would you propose? What would be commonly perceived as "free as in costing no money" while still being a short and catchy expression?

  3. wingo says:

    I honestly don't know a snappy thing to say that means "free of cost", but my point was more to discourage "free beer" than to promote other phrases...

    Yesterday my mom was explaining to my aunt what it is that I worked on, and she actually used the term "freeware". I clearly don't do a good job at communicating!

  4. Sergio says:

    100% agree with you Andy

  5. Matt says:


    Free, as a gift?

  6. Maciej Piechotka says:

    @jrb: +1. Free lunch seems to be good as it is used outside community, for example in economy (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/There_Ain't_No_Such_Thing_As_A_Free_Lunch).

  7. John Cowan says:

    "Free lunch" is good, and it's also an off-rhyme with "free speech".

  8. Francis says:

    Makes sense to me... Free beer, while appearing to have no cost at first glance, often has a bad aftertaste and leaves you with a splitting headache. I think "free as in speech" probably could use some work though, unless we really want something analogous to struggling against oppression at all times in all places.

  9. Karl Berry says:

    I once changed the gnu.org home page to say "free as in ice cream", but was soundly rebuffed by other webmasters. In retrospect, that was probably no better than beer, as far as explanatory power goes. People don't actually get free beer, or free ice cream, very often, as far as I know. I just really disliked having beer being nearly the first thing anyone reads about pn gnu.org.

    I like free lunch too. Perhaps someone would like to propose it to webmasters@gnu.org? Or I will in due course ...

  10. apgarcia says:

    uh..did you actually go to college, where "free beer" is ubiquitous?

  11. Mark says:

    I prefer the expression "'Free software' is a matter of liberty, not price".

  12. leifg says:

    +1 for Free Lunch.

    It probably goes without explaination but,

    "Free Lunch" is universally considered a bad thing or something to be skeptical of.

    "Free Speech" of course is universally accepted as a good thing.

    So to say 'Free software is "free" as in "free speech" and not "free lunch"' is much more clear IMO

  13. Scotty says:

    @apgarcia Don't know where you went to college, but I was never offered any "free beer" in my four years at university!

  14. wingo says:

    Scotty: Indeed. Makes me wonder if, in the RMS context, it's a phenomenon of being in university in the late seventies, when the drinking ages were lower. Or maybe I just missed all the "good" parties...

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