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.comment: Freedom's Just Another Word for Do It My Way

So What Is Free, Anyway?

  • February 12, 2001
  • By Dennis E. Powell

A couple of events over the weekend drew my attention to a startling contrast that I think deserves some consideration.

The first was the release of Opera 5.0 beta 6 for Linux. This estimable browser has proved popular on a variety of platforms, and the Linux version has been thought generally a Good Thing. There being no formal press announcement of the new version (which represented a jump from 4.0 beta 5), and I having happened upon it (because I was visiting the Opera site regularly, in that my beta 5 trial had expired), I wrote up a little piece for Linux Today about it.

This version of Opera is available in two forms: One that devotes part of the toolbar to an advertising banner (very unobtrusive on my machine, which I run at 1280x960, a resolution I seem to have invented, but reportedly more bothersome at lower resolutions), which is available free of charge, and one that doesn't have the banner, which costs $39. The source code is not made available.

I was not surprised by the huge number of people who read the little article, but I was highly surprised by some of the Talkbacks, which were in the vein of "how dare they!" A representative:

"How can a *Linux* site have a headline like 'Free Opera for Linux now available' and then print at the bottom, 'Source not available.' I mean, isn't that the very definition of free software? RMS would be greatly disappointed, as am I."

Indeed, the headline got changed at some point to "No-Charge Opera for Linux Now Available."

I was pondering this when I got a note from a good friend in which he expressed, rightly, I think, outrage over a Microsoft site that attempts to whip up the crowds in righteous indignation over what that bad old Department of Justice is doing to keep Microsoft from being "free to innovate."

Interesting, isn't it, how these two diametrically opposed views both rely on the sacred notion of freedom to make their cases. What's going on here?

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