TagFree Software Foundation

Should Libré Software be Gratis?

I was inspired to write about this question because Kezz Bracey on Mastodon asked me a rather pointed question:

Do you feel that all libre software should be gratis?

Kezz Bracey – 2020-05-07

My short answer to this question is “yes”. I feel that libré software should be gratis, at least so far as practical. My main point of contention is that there does not seem to be a difference between selectively licensing your software to paid customers, and charging for access to libré software. Can you even truly claim your software is “open source” if no one but paid customers can access it? Are they allowed to distribute it freely? Make modifications and sell or redistribute their modifications to it in turn? These are all things that free software permits you to do.

The Long Answer to Libré/Gratis

Free software doesn’t always mean you just give it away. You can charge for running services on it, you can even charge for hosting the storage and services that it runs on. You can charge for support or maintenance. I’ve even seen models on platforms like iOS, where it’s a pain to build binaries for (developer fee, need a Mac, etc), so the source code to the program is free, but the compiled program is charged for to cover those fees.

There are also situations where you can have open source, but charge for things like art assets or server resources and additional features. You can charge for licensed components, like ActiveSync. Business models that include open source are different than the traditional model because you’re giving away the special sauce. This puts a business owner in a tricky situation, because you need to be more creative on how you raise revenue. Red Hat, however, proves that it can be done, and on scale.

I don’t begrudge people making money. It is an essential thing. Many free software developers simply work day jobs, contributing their time and energy during their off-hours. A lucky few work on it full time, paid to develop the tools that we use every day. It’s not easy to live that dream, certainly, but it does seem possible.

I’m hardly one to tell people how to operate. My opinions on the matter are just that, my own opinions. Much like there are lots of different licenses in the world, there are different approaches to this question. This is just mine.

Thank you.

I ❤️ Free Software

That’s right. I love free software! It’s open to inspection, modification, improvement. We’re free to collaborate on it, interact with the principal architects and suggest improvements. If we don’t like the way a project is going, we’re free to fork it and start making our own changes to go in a direction we’d prefer.

Yes, the software is “free” as in beer. It’s also free (or libre) as in speech. It’s not suppressible as it’s an expression of an idea. That means that much as some would like, you can’t stop it from being disseminated. It can be used how the user wishes it to be used, not some distant corporate overlord.

Free software doesn’t just give me those benefits, it also allows me to interoperate between disparate platforms and systems. It does this through the embrace (or creation) of open standards and formats. It provides the user the ability to ensure that the data that they are creating or consuming is going to be readable and transferable into new mediums and formats not yet thought up. It allows the user to move between systems with relative ease, not having to worry if they have the right version of Emacs to open that text file, or if mpv can play that mkv file.

Free software benefits everyone. Even those who choose not to use a free platform. Open protocols and formats like GZip/ZLib are important components of every browser. The very tools people access webpages are overwhelmingly through open protocols and served up by free software applications like Apache, Nginx and Lighttpd. Open source tools find their way into closed sourced systems because its cheap and easier to implement than starting from scratch on a solved problem.

Free software powers the encryption methodology that secure bank transactions and other important information through technologies like TLS and PGP. Security experts balk at the very idea of an encryption method that is not fully open because so much rides on the very smallest of details in implementation. An off-by-one error could mean disaster.

While free software and open source tools are not always the best in the market, they come with the knowledge that you aren’t being used as a potential data pool for mining. You’re not being sold to advertising agencies for a quick buck. The people behind these tools are, often, as disgusted with these practices as you are. They value your privacy because they value their own privacy.

Free software isn’t communism or any of these politically loaded terms being thrown around today. Free software is human. People want to share, to build, to improve and delight. While it’s not always possible to financially support yourself by making free software, it is a labor of love. By giving donations to tools you love and use, you help those people make it better.

I urge anyone who read this big love letter to free software and open source this Valentine’s Day to give your thanks (and if you can, some small cash donations) to the people who work to give you tools that you can trust and platforms that enable it all.

Thank you!


I sometimes get to a point where I question a lot of what I do and what matters to me. Sometimes it’s because of simple things, like a broken tool, or a frustrating problem. Sometimes it’s more of a philosophy problem, where I question how I feel about something and if I should change my ideas or mannerisms behind some action.

Lately, it’s been a little of both. I use an iPhone, Apple Music, iCloud (storage, etc), Office 365, and probably other tools and services that would be considered “non-free” in the “libre” sense. This has lead to me thinking about what I actually want out of computing. It’s such a thorny question, because there are so many comfortable choices that I’m in, that upending them would probably throw my life (and my family’s) into temporary turmoil.

For instance: Office 365. I pay for just the Exchange Online component, because I don’t need the actual Office suite as we (my family) get it free from my school and other organizations that we’re associated with. Exchange Online has been fine from a end-user perspective. Very rarely do I have any real issues to speak of, other than paying for it. My real problem here is that it’s a very proprietary platform, and because of that, it’s moderately difficult to get out of and to connect to with free-software tools. The IMAP support is… functional, but the contacts and calendars are tied down.

Similarly, I have lots of Apple devices and services. Like Office 365, I don’t have any complaints, per se, it’s just that they’re extremely proprietary and that means getting out of the ecosystem is difficult, and like above, connecting using free-software tools is straight up impossible.

The reason I have these things in the first place is that my family, who don’t hold my free-software ideals, want/need access to reliable tools they can use from multiple places. This is not an unreasonable request, and is one that can be solved with enough time, free-software, capital and expertise. Unfortunately, I’m not willing or able to host all of that, or even administer it. I don’t have the time, and I certainly don’t have the specific expertise to do all of it. Hence the current implementation.

Balance between freedom, convenience and cost is a tricky one. While I’d personally like to model myself more in line with the FSF’s computing ideals. The problem is that I have family members that I have to support as well. I’d also like to move them toward more free-software systems. While I recognize their choice in platforms is their own, I also get to say what I will and will not support (kind of, family is so complicated).

I don’t have any kind of resolution for this, I’m still trying to figure out what kind of path I want to take. Is pragmatism the smarter choice? Idealism feels right, but is massively more difficult to implement. There is probably a good middle of the road, but I don’t know if I’m on it. Maybe it doesn’t matter?

What should I do?

Featured Image

“Ugh, a Mac”, by Joe Wilcox – License: CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Free Software

No big exposition on free software, or anything like that. I just wanted to write about how I re-enrolled as a Associate (Student) Member to the Free Software Foundation. I encourage anyone who believes in Open Source to do so as well.

I also wanted to upload this.

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