Words to avoid when talking about free software (III – Economics)

In this post I will finish to comment the list that the Free Software Foundation maintains with words to avoid or use with care when talking about free software, this time taking a look at the words about economic aspects of software.

Here you can find comments about these words: commercial, consumer, market, software industry, and vendor.


It is not recommended to use “commercial” as a synonym for “nonfree”.  FSF argues that a program is commercial if it is developed as a business activity, despite of what freedoms its users have. You can find commercial software that is free software and commercial software that is not free software, and you can find non-commercial software that it’s not free and non-commercial software that is free. The two issues are independent.


From the point of view of the Free Software Foundation, describing the users of software as “consumers” presumes a passive role for them. Also they don’t agree with this word because when you use a computer program you don’t consume it. They suggest alternative terms such as “individuals” and “citizens”.


The Free Software Foundation is not against business in the free software community, if they respect the freedom of them (for example, business based on support of the free software programs). But they think the free software movement as a social movement, not a business, where the importance of freedom would not allow legitimize proprietary software.

My comments: from this statements you can think that they really don’t like “open core” business models, since they are based on selling proprietary add-ons in a free software basis.

Software industry

The term “software industry” brings the idea of software as a product created in a factory; but the factory model is not a good explanation for the software, since software is not a material good and also the life-cycle and cost of developing and maintaining software are quite different from other products.

My comments: Eric S. Raymond explains this very well in its paper The Magic Cauldron (Chapter 3. The manufacturing delusion).


The FSF prefers the term “supplier” since many programs are developed by volunteers or organizations which do not intend to sell copies, and these developers are not vendors.

My comments: As with the term consumer, I agree that the software world in general and the free software world in particular, is more complex than a model of vendors, products and consumers. Specially in the case of free software, the role of user communities, developers communities, service providers and much more actors are very important.

About larjona

My name is Laura Arjona Reina, I am a libre software user and fan of the free culture. If you want to contact me you can write an email to larjona [at] larjona [dot] net I am @larjona at identi.ca in the Pump.io social network. --- Me llamo Laura Arjona Reina, soy usuaria de software libre y fan de la cultura libre. Si quieres contactar conmigo puedes escribir a larjona [en] larjona [punto] net Soy @larjona en el servidor identi.ca, de la red social Pump.io.
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1 Response to Words to avoid when talking about free software (III – Economics)

  1. Krymaiustai says:

    thousands of $$ in software for free!

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