231 Erwin Road

My experiences as a Northern transplant down in Chapel Hill, NC, 2005. And now my experiences back up in NYC.

Friday, July 01, 2005

Gratis versus Libre

What does it mean to be 'free'?

For some, 'free' is only associated with cost 'gratis' for others, they also associate 'free' with 'libre,' as in 'having freedom.'

I don't know who decided to lump these two together as part of the english (or german?) language, but a few hundred years later, it's causing a lot of confusion.

A number of you either have heard or understand my rants on Free Software (free as in speech, not beer.)

The president of Sun Microsystems, Jonathan Schwartz may have purposely confused the issue today when he referred to the free software by saying "If you want to reach the broadest marketplace in the world there's one price that works for everyone, and that's free."

I think he may have purposely misused the Free Software meaning of 'free' to apply to 'gratis' here instead of 'libre.' Why do you ask? Well the point of the Free Software/Open Source Software movement is to allow software to be copied, modified, and redistributed, this is 'libre.' Sun owns the right to Java, and developers do NOT have the write to copy, modify, and redistribute Java code. However, the software is provided for 'free' as in 'gratis' by Sun Microsystems. To the general public, his statement seems to say that Java is part of the Free Software/Open Source movement, however, it is just the opposite because it does not obey the fundamental 'libre' quality.

- Wikipedia article on Free Software.
- Wikipedia article on Gratis versus Libre.


  • At 7/02/2005 2:07 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    You're missing his point - which is that free as in price is of greater impact to the world than free as in speech, when it comes to software. Most of the world can't code - so free as in speech is of marginal use, vs. free as in enabling an entire population to use free software. Stallman's views prove he's just another rich American trying to foist his politics on the world.

  • At 7/02/2005 7:57 AM, Blogger Vincent said…

    I would love to discuss further with you, my email is vincent dot lauria % gmail dot com.

    I don't believe gratis has a greater impact to the world. Case in point is Linux vs. Windows adoption in 3rd world countries, yes the software has no cost, but a more important factor is that MS Windows is available in only a handful of languages while Linux distributions are in the 100's of languages. This is due to the fact that you can modify and redistribute linux code, you can't do that with Windows. What's the point of free software if nobody can read it?

    Take a look at Brazil and Cuba, I love their political stance on Open Content, this goes far beyond free software. Their views on pharmaceutical patents and media content remixing are very progressive. Brazil is a hotspot of innovation, and it's not because the software has a $0 cost, it's because they understand the benefits of rip, mix, and burn.

    It only takes a handful of people to write a software product, it doesn't take large community. Take a look at Firefox, that's a very tight nit community. So although most of the world can't code, a good number can, and that is all that's need to modify and redistribute


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