Some years ago (more precisely in 1998) the confusion english-speaking people start making with the term free when applied to software led some members of the free software foundation to create a new term: open source ( http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/free-software-for-freedom.html )
The great concern was that people was misunderstanding free as in free of speech, with free as in free beer (see wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Free_and_open_source_software ).
The free here relates to the the liberty of using and sharing your software, in a way that goes against proprietary "copyright" (and patented) software. It was first introduced by Richard Stallman, in 1986. The core is the set of freedoms:
- Freedom 0: The freedom to run the program for any purpose.
- Freedom 1: The freedom to study how the program works, and change it to make it do what you wish.
- Freedom 2: The freedom to redistribute copies so you can help your neighbor.
- Freedom 3: The freedom to improve the program, and release your improvements (and modified versions in general) to the public, so that the whole community benefits.
Well, we all know about that (at least those who is following this discussion since ever).
In my opinion, the term open-source clarified us. But it was already assured by Freedom 1.
In other languages (like spanish or portugese, for instance), we can say free as libre or livre. And the other meaning of free, as in free beer, as gratis. So, for others, there was never a confusion (actually, only when reading english articles about it).
Freedom number 2 guarantees my right to redistribute copies at will. I understand that as I don't need to pay the owner any royalties for every copy I give away to my friends or students. And of course, we will agree with that. This, ultimately means, that I can give free (gratis) copies, or also I can charge for copies (support, media, etc.).
Now, If something can be given away for free (gratis), then it is free (gratis). No matter if someone, or some enterprise, wants to sell, you still have ways (sites, downloads, friends, etc.) to get it for free (gratis).
So, in my non-english point of view, we have 3 different things here. The most important, undoubtedly, is the free (freedom, liberty, libre, livre, so you can all the stuff you want) quality of the software. The other, is being open-source (so you can see the code inside). The last one IS another GREAT quality, that is, there EXIST free (gratis, non-chargeable) software.
Being free (gratis) does not mean it is forced free (gratis). You can have people who sells, who pays, and who gets/sends for free. Still, it is a quality.
What I don't understand is why, after so many years, people from FSF are still cautious to say that there is free (gratis) software also. Yes, free as in free beer. If it is a quality why hide it? Just to prevent confusion? Well, let me tell you the news: confusion was already made since the beginning. I was alive and interested in the subject when it started, and I remember lots of discussions about this free being free of charge, or free of restrictions.
After lots of consulting, lawyers helped to write the first "license" in terms that could be used in court, introduced the term "copyleft", and made it "clear" that free is not about price.
At that time, because of the novelty, ok, I agree to emphasize this half-part of the free. But now we are over it. Isn't it time to tell people that we ALSO have free as in free of charge.
Three qualities is better than two: livre/gratis/open.
So, why don't we tell people that free software can be just free?
More objectively: 1- Is a free (freedom) software necessarily free (gratis)? 2- Is a free (gratis) software necessarily free (freedom).
The first one is the important question, as the second is just there to hold fast typers (we all know the answer).
Another question raised from the discussion: Is free (gratis) a quality? (I assumed that as taken for granted in the question introduction)