The word ‘free’ is a bit loaded when it comes to software, especially in circles that eschew “traditional” copyrights. You can make a case for it having any of four connotations:
- no price — free as in beer
- no restrictions on use — free as in a non-commercial license, probably free as in speech
- copylefted — free as in GPL, free as in speech
- no restrictions on use or distribution — free as in FreeBSD, free as in speech
These categories are pretty fluid, and I fully expect that reasonable people will disagree on the number and classification. That’s fine — my point is simply that the word ‘free’ is highly overloaded.
As for the controversy, I wrote:
I apologize for apparently conflating the BSDs with “Free Software”
That’s ambiguous, even without a six-dollar word like “conflating”. Worse, I’d already mentioned projects like Apache, Python, and Perl and would go on to mention other free software.
A reasonable person could read that clause and say, “Wait, does he mean that the BSDs aren’t free software”? Several people did just that. Since the BSDs are indeed free by all four definitions above, it lead to a lot of confusion.
My original intent of that sentence (as far as I can make any sense of it now) was to say something like “While I’m using the term ‘Free Software’ which can connote a philosophical position held by the Free Software Foundation, I don’t mean to imply that the people who work on these projects hold those motivations.”
That’s not great either, but I find it clearer. Of course, everything would probably have been better off without any disclaimer.
As a writer, I hate that we have such an ambiguous word to describe the whole state of free software. (I don’t particularly care for the terms ‘open source’, ‘F/OSS’, and ‘FLOSS’, either, but that’s a different subject.) As a programmer, I try to be as precise as possible.
Let me sum up by being very precise. The BSDs are indeed free software. Anyone who tells you otherwise is uninformed, lying, or typing a lot faster than his brain is working. Again, I apologize for the confusion.
Alright, I’ll take my lumps here. Have at it.