I was a bit puzzled when I read the description of Notepad++:

Notepad++ is a free (as in "free speech" and also as in "free beer") source code editor

It seems to give room to the possibility that there is free (speech-type) software that might not be free (beer-type). Is this the case for instance of all those open-source software which offer a subscription service with more features or with customer support?

  • 2
    Yes. Redhat is a good example of this. But since they can only restrictively license things like artwork, documentation (that THEY created), etc. the code is still free. Which is how you get things like CentOS.
    – ivanivan
    Commented Sep 23, 2017 at 1:57
  • 1
    Related: opensource.stackexchange.com/q/1255/296
    – Pandya
    Commented Sep 23, 2017 at 15:38
  • There are also products where you can view and modify the source code, but you can't do it for free. For example Unreal Engine.
    – Timmmm
    Commented Sep 26, 2017 at 10:44

3 Answers 3


What freedoms you provide to a recipient of a piece of software is orthogonal to what price you charge to transfer a copy of that software to someone.

The FSF's position on selling free software is:

Actually, we encourage people who redistribute free software to charge as much as they wish or can. If a license does not permit users to make copies and sell them, it is a nonfree license.

But they go on to note that after initial distribution, the software could move freely without money changing hands:

With free software, users don't have to pay the distribution fee in order to use the software. They can copy the program from a friend who has a copy, or with the help of a friend who has network access. Or several users can join together, split the price of one CD-ROM, then each in turn can install the software.

In light of this, it usually only makes sense to charge a distribution fee when either:

  • You expect to make only one, initial sale (e.g., the "ransom model"), possibly via crowdfunding, and then the software will move freely to new recipients. You price your initial sale accordingly high.
  • You are distributing the software to parties who do not want to distribute it further: e.g., a corporation who buys customized GPL software does not want their competitors to also get their hands on that software. The fact that the recipient has the freedom to distribute it is irrelevant, because they will not choose to utilize that freedom.

Far more common is selling support or manuals. In this case, the software probably is likely free of charge; the distributor merely happens to raise money by offering non-software goods or services for a fee.

  • Let me see if I understand. Many copyrighted software that you buy forbids its reproduction and distribution (ripping, torrent, etc). What you are saying is that open-source plus priced cannot deny such right of reproduction/distribution?
    – luchonacho
    Commented Sep 22, 2017 at 8:08
  • @luchonacho Yes, that sounds basically right: free software is mutually exclusive with denying downstream redistribution (it's Freedoms #2 and #3, and OSD items #1 and #3). If you don't allow redistribution, then the terms of your distribution are not FLOSS terms. (Note that many permissive licenses (MIT, BSD, CC0) allow you to receive software under FLOSS terms and redistribute it under non-FLOSS terms, but in that case, you have chosen to make your secondhand redistribution nonfree.)
    – apsillers
    Commented Sep 22, 2017 at 11:44
  • I see. Like when you want to order a CD with a Linux distro. Ok I get it. Thanks!
    – luchonacho
    Commented Sep 22, 2017 at 11:48
  • However if notepad++ is Free Software, then it can not tell you that you can not sell a copy. Commented Oct 4, 2017 at 9:04
  • Would this be an example of free software with non-free features? They offer an open-source emoji set (e.g. here), albeit only for certain sizes and properties a license is required.
    – luchonacho
    Commented Oct 24, 2017 at 12:38

Do you need a new feature for Notepad++? Do the Notepad++ developers ignore your pleas? Do you lack the expertise to hack it yourself?

When that is the case, I can create a Notepad++ fork for you with the feature you need. I will license it to you under the GPL, because the original Notepad++ license leaves me no other choice. That means you are free to give it to anyone else under the same conditions, if you feel like it. And when we don't want to work together anymore, you are free to hire someone else to maintain the fork.

But I expect to be paid for my services. That means that custom Notepad++ fork will be free as in freedom to you, but not free as in beer.


Free as in the question asked generated a desire in me replying, generating a series of events quite energy costly, to formulate this:

Free as in you'll end up caring and having a consideration placed on you: With free beer you typically get attracted to the bar and then you end up buying beer. Some even become alcoholics and you should see the amount of money going out of such pockets.

Free as in open source: Apart from that, anything open source typically comes with a little error here and there; resulting is you learning to fix them and likely ending up contributing in one way or the other - no magic draining needed for that.

Free as in imagine the amount of suffering for this to be formulated: Look at taking a breath; it's quite costly, takes a lot of energy for your body, after all the lung is a muscle. Yet your body generates greater surplus through that breath than it takes - it's a sustainable investment of energy. As is open source in my opinion. Albeit not quite on the same level.

Free as in temptation: Now imagine a piece of software that locks you into a need or a perceived need resulting in ending up paying.

Free as in I am contributing due to having used way to much unnecessary software, and you reading this is not exactly free in having to factor in the opinion: Now imagine something much worse; non-fair trade software that comes to be in horrible ways. The cost is quite large; simply the words used has an affect on what you connect to, what you associate with something and which words you use to search for things online.

Free as in you'll want to do your part in personal interest: (resultingly what you find, what text you find, what events you are able to see, the software you find, the money you are able to access and the microbiology you connect with (...))

Free as in freedom: However please don't get scared; you know the saying "no good deed goes unpunished?" - it's self-defeating in saying that typically being one of those "good deeds".

Free as in word-revealing and possible annoyance from groups: Freedom, in Danish "Dom" means judgement, meaning free judgement or in my opinion and personal experience; judged to have to live with kinds of freedom you are not necessarily able to handle, due to for example not having other freedoms, dependency on limitation or similar.

Free as in you'll know to do your part, be inspired how to and carry interesting knowledge With every comment, thought, good idea you have on a piece of software, programmers are moved in the direction of making something akin to it or being inspired by it on deeper levels. It's just nice to be vegan, minimalist, not eating sugar/salt/oil, fair trade, electronics-fair trade-activist, non-substance-user and so forth... Whether a programmer or not, you typically get used when you use others - it's a connection more than an absolute mirror-like effect.

  • 6
    Not sure that this philosophical ramble actually answers the question, although I do agree with some of it, having been sucked into the open-source movement myself more than 20 years ago. Commented Sep 21, 2017 at 21:47

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.