Free vs Free in Software

Lately, I’ve been researching different content and software licenses and the philosophies behind them. I was a bit surprised by my findings. First, I’ll explain the two different “frees”.


Free Software — as in $0.00, costs nothing to download. This is the most common use. I’ll refer to as $free from here on out.


Free Software — as in freedom of usage, often open source. Creative Commons and GNU licensing are popular and respected examples. Freedom to use and edit without creative-diminishing limitations. I’ll refer to as freedom from here on out.

Any given software can be one or the other, both, or neither:

  • Software can be $free, but not have many freedoms.
  • Software can cost money, but have a lot of freedoms.
  • Software can be $free and also have a lot of freedoms.
  • Software can cost money and also not have many freedoms.

I’m not looking to have a moral debate. Anyone that writes software, can release it however they damn well please. But, my personal philosophy is that whether I give something away for $free or sell it, that I give the end-user as much freedom as possible as to not stunt their creativity.

In fact, almost all the code that I simply release myself, I usually don’t license at all. I don’t even mention licensing. Essentially, it’s Public Domain, but I’d rather just not say anything at all. I don’t feel it’s necessary. But, people get scared about how they can and cannot use this, that, and the other. We live in a litigious world.

When coding third-party themes, plugins, etc., for other software, you need to use a compatible license. When working with WordPress you want to license themes and plugins under the GPL (General Public License). Which is fine, because the GPL is very friendly to the end-user.

Personally, if I had a choice I wouldn’t use the GPL. This is not to be confused with me saying that the GPL is bad, which people can often confuse. Others often assume that what this means is that I want to restrict my code with a more limited license. As I’ve already explained, that’s not the case at all. In fact, I’d rather not license my work at all. There is nothing friendlier than public domain.

The biggest stigma isn’t around the licensing issue, but whether or not to charge money to release software. Charging money for software has been given a very bad image. An image of evil commercialism, which is just ridiculous. I think this misconception comes primarily from people’s misunderstanding of the GPL, and what “free” really means. A lot of people confuse premium software as being anti-GPL or anti-open-source, which couldn’t be further from the truth.

In fact, here is what the GNU has to say about this very subject:

“Many people believe that the spirit of the GNU Project is that you should not charge money for distributing copies of software, or that you should charge as little as possible — just enough to cover the cost. This is a misunderstanding.

Actually, we encourage people who redistribute free software to charge as much as they wish or can. If this seems surprising to you, please read on.”

Read More:

I personally release software for $free and for a premium, but always with freedom (either public domain or GPL). Furthermore, I release all premium software very affordably. I don’t think I sell any software that runs more than $30. I charge: $1, $5, $10 or $29 at the highest I’ve ever charged, for example. This is my philosophy, I’m not saying anyone else should follow my example.

If you think releasing software for a premium is a poor choice, you’re absolutely entitled to your opinion. If you think it’s wrong, morally, again, you’re entitled to your opinion, but I strongly disagree. In fact, I think that’s the silliest thing I’ve ever heard. While web designing, programming, coding, whatever, may be a hobby for some, for many of us, this is our day job, our profession, and of course we make money doing it. To chastise that is moronic.

Is it wrong that bread at the store costs money? Of course not. They’re providing you with convenience and it’s entirely your choice to buy it. Anyone can grow all the ingredients needed to make bread at home and bake it themselves. The same thing goes for software. You don’t need to go to college. There is all the information you’ll ever need to build a website or web app, readily available online for $free.

But, for the convenience, time, and practicality of it, many would rather buy premium software when needed, than build it themselves. That is the free market and if someone decides to buy software, that is their choice. Morals do not come into play.