“‘Tis but thy name that is my enemy; …O, be some other name! What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet…” – Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet
Perhaps the most frustrating thing for me as an advocate for the use of Free(dom) software in the church is explaining the term “Free Software.” What does that mean? Most people, hearing that name, think “freeware” – any software that is free to use without serious limitations. But, of course, that’s only half of the meaning behind the term.
When explaining the term “Free Software” people most commonly use the phrase “free as in beer, free as in speech” to talk about the difference between the two meanings of the English word “free.” “Free as in beer” refers to “freeware,” software which is available free of charge but over which you have little extra control. Sometimes you can redistribute freeware, sometimes, not, and the terms are dictated (and, to an extent, can be changed) by the author of the software.
On the other hand, “free as in speech” refers to what I like to call “Freedom Software.” With Freedom Software, one has an inviolable right to use, copy, redistribute, and usually even modify the software if you so choose. Freedom Software licenses like the GNU Public License are more focused towards guaranteeing the freedoms of the recipients of the software than the rights of the author.
The ambiguous meaning of the word “free” in English is the source of the trouble. When I introduce the topic of “Free Software,” I have to spend time talking about the difference between “free as in beer” and “free as in speech.” It’s hard to make a compelling case for change when you’re hung up on semantics. By talking and writing about “Freedom Software,” it’s far easier to make the important point about freedom.
There are two pivotal issues for churches (and nearly everyone else) when it comes to software licensing: cost and freedom. Using the term “Freedom Software” is, in my opinion, the best way to emphasize the benefits of free software to churches.
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