The tags , , , have popped up.

is dangerously close to being a meta tag. In the world of software, free can mean two very different things: “free as in free beer” (i.e. something that doesn't cost money) and “free as in free speech” — or as in “free software” — (i.e. software whose maintenance you can take over if needed).

I'm not convinced that they're useful tags at all. At least, needs to be disambiguated — perhaps to . As for , it's probably not the best name —  is better known (and as far as we care here, is close enough to be synonymous).

  • 3
    Following the "meta tag" link, "free" would certainly be a meta-tag. It might be a requirement in the question. Although I do understand the advantage of being able to quick group the "no-cost software"
    – Bernhard
    Commented Feb 4, 2014 at 22:08
  • 5
    You just made BOTH Richard Stallman and Eric Raymond turn over in their graves. And they are both still alive.
    – DVK
    Commented Feb 8, 2014 at 20:12
  • @DVK Stollman should be there. Why does he speak for everyone? don't delete this comment! Commented Oct 7, 2014 at 5:10
  • possible duplicate of Guide users who try to use the tag [free]
    – gparyani
    Commented Nov 26, 2014 at 3:20

10 Answers 10


I think is good. For people who look for "free" (as in free beer) software we would need a different tag.

I suggest .

Improvement from comments (Nicolas Raoul): When someone starts typing "free", we should display "Do you mean gratis? If not, please use tag open source"

  • 4
    Agree on both: "open source" and "gratis"
    – Ben Miller
    Commented Feb 4, 2014 at 22:39
  • 1
    I think that what we need is a synonym for free to gratis with a proper description. Then people can use free and it will self-correct.
    – jcolebrand
    Commented Feb 4, 2014 at 23:31
  • 6
    When someone starts typing "free", we should display "Do you mean gratis? If not, please use tag open source".
    – Nicolas Raoul Mod
    Commented Feb 5, 2014 at 7:23
  • 3
    Agree completely. It's going to be important to disambiguate 'free' for the purposes of taxonomy here, and while I personally use 'free software' instead of 'open source' - that's not the problem we're here to solve. RMS himself uses the term 'gratis' to differentiate between beer and ideals, so I think it's a fine term to use in this case.
    – Tim Post
    Commented Feb 5, 2014 at 8:13
  • 3
    And maybe make foss/floss synonyms for open source software, for all those FSF guys :D
    – MadTux
    Commented Feb 5, 2014 at 18:08
  • 1
    And to satisfy all: would it be an option to have a free-and-open-source synonym? So people starting to type "free" would get both variants. Never saw a "popup" on tag selection on SE (maybe we have no such on Android.SE, and that's why I missed them?)
    – Izzy Mod
    Commented Feb 6, 2014 at 23:26
  • 4
    @TimPost I think we have a consensus (or as close as it gets) on not using free. Can you rename free to gratis and blacklist free before we exit private beta? Otherwise I fear the ambiguity of free will soon become unmanageable. Commented Feb 9, 2014 at 19:54
  • I don't like word gratis, it's somehow unkommon. Should we use freeware intead? Commented Oct 5, 2014 at 23:13
  • @SmitJohnth There has been a proposal for freeware below. You might want to vote on it (otoh, this Question is old, if you really care you might want to bring it up anew, but you really should make clear why you oppose this thread) Commented Oct 6, 2014 at 16:27

I think the most common terms are [freeware] and [open-source]. But both describe different software/license.

I suggest creating both tags and making each a synonym for [free-software].

  • 2
    Freeware seems to be the best one as it closely resembles "free" and can make it easier for newcomers to the site.
    – aman207
    Commented Feb 5, 2014 at 1:02
  • 12
    I think 'freeware' being made synonymous with 'open source' is going to irritate more than a few people, and we can't ignore that possibility.
    – Tim Post
    Commented Feb 5, 2014 at 8:14
  • I would not make them synonyms of free-software as it differs in its use. If I want a library where I can read the Source Code I want to have open-source, but not freeware. If I want a tool that just does what I want but don't want to buy it, I want freeware and don't care for its open-sourceness. Commented Feb 5, 2014 at 8:18
  • 5
    No, freeware is a traditional non-OSS software model, like shareware except you’re not expected to pay.
    – mirabilos
    Commented Feb 5, 2014 at 13:49
  • "freeware" is like "free beer". One important fact when looking for "foss" is the "open-source" part: everybody can take a look at it, check for possible backdoors/security-holes/exploits, fix (minor annoyances) himself, or even contribute to the project. All these are not applyable to the term "freeware", which might also include proprietary licenses. So I'm voting against using those term synonymously.
    – Izzy Mod
    Commented Feb 6, 2014 at 23:30
  • @TimPost agree. Shtollmans opinion in not the definitely choice. Commented Oct 7, 2014 at 5:08

Seeing a question tagged only makes me really dislike this tag. The same goes for .

A tag that can't work as the only tag on a question is a likely criterion for a bad tag. The other “smell test” passes: and do have objective meanings (mostly). And sure enough, they can be useful in searches — but not to be subscribed to (nobody is an expert in all gratis software or in all open-source software) nor to be ignored.

The usefulness in searches is very limited: there will be recommendations for gratis/open-source software on questions without these tags, either because the asker didn't have it as a requirement, or because the question didn't have the tag.

So we have tags that don't represent any expertise classification and cannot be applied consistently enough to br useful in searches. What's the point?

Let's blacklist them.

  • 2
    A question only tagged "gratis" is most likely a bad idea and needs an edit. But I favored "open-source" not because I'm such an expert on the topic but because I am interested in such software. (And in fact most of the tools I use are open-source) So the chance that I can give a good answer to an open-source question is higher than for others. Commented Feb 20, 2014 at 10:53
  • 1
    Doesn't the same hold for -say- the windows tag? Should that tag also be blacklisted?
    – Jeroen
    Commented Mar 9, 2014 at 14:17
  • @Jeroen No, windows is very useful to categorize questions, for example it can be subscribed to by people who use Windows and ignored by people who don't use Windows. Commented Mar 9, 2014 at 18:10
  • Which btw implies what a tag like open-source is useful for, at least to a degree – see Angelo's comment above.
    – Izzy Mod
    Commented Nov 5, 2014 at 11:00
  • 1
    I am subscribed to "open-source", because I am genuinely interested in all questions about open source. You wrote "nobody is an expert in [..] all open-source software" but actually I notice that my ability to answer questions is around the same level for "open-source" questions and for "java" questions.
    – Nicolas Raoul Mod
    Commented Jan 6, 2015 at 2:45

There are material (at least to people who care about such things) differences between "open source" and "free as in GNU" (the former is the superset of the latter).


As such, I would propose having:

  • 3
    That's too complicated IMO.
    – Seth
    Commented Feb 9, 2014 at 19:19
  • OSI’s Open Source is not a superset of FSF’s Free Software (nor the other way around). They both approved licenses the other one didn’t. -- Maybe we could (mis?)use the term FLOSS to mean both exceptional cases, too: not only "FSF’s and OSI’s", but also "OSI’s but not FSF’s" and "FSF’s but not OSI’s".
    – unor
    Commented Feb 12, 2014 at 3:46

Retagged most questions with tag (~25 to , 1 to , removed the tag from 1 or 2 posts), left only a few which I'm not sure, or is meant.


I just edited the tag wiki to be as it and and are currently being used and my opinion on the matter. Then I was thinking I'd bring it up over her forgetting that it had already been brought up.

Anyways what do people think of my edit there - and if you don't have edit viewing privs yet:

The free tag is to be used when you are looking for a software recommendation specifically for free (as in no-cost) software. If you are looking for open-source software you should use the open-source tag. If you're looking for software that is both open source and free you should use the floss tag.

  • 3
    'Open-Source + gratis' is not what FLOSS means, because (1) FLOSS may cost money, and (2) there may be "Open-Source software" (as defined by the OSI) that is not "Free Software" (as defined by the FSF). FLOSS is a term consolidating the terms "Open-Source software" and "Free Software".
    – unor
    Commented Feb 7, 2014 at 17:00
  • If we settle on one tag for gratis and one tag for source available, then FLOSS should be the combination of these tags, not both tags. Commented Feb 7, 2014 at 17:21
  • 3
    If we have more than one tag, I think we should blacklist free. Too many people use the adjective free only in reference to FLOSS, we'd run into conflicts all the time. Commented Feb 7, 2014 at 17:26
  • I was saying that FLOSS should be the combination of free [or gratis or whatever the actual no cost tag ends up being] and Open Source; was that not clear in how I worded it? Commented Feb 7, 2014 at 17:31
  • 2
    btw. I'm now in favour of gratis over free after doing some reading (both here and elsewhere) Commented Feb 7, 2014 at 17:32


  • for free as in speech
  • for free as in beer

Free Software (FSF) vs. Open Source (OSI)

Most free/libre software is both, Free Software (as defined by the FSF) and Open Source (as defined by the OSI). But there are exceptions, so not all Free Software is Open Source, not all Open Source is Free Software.

If we want to care for these exceptions, we’d need one tag for FSF’s definition (for example: ) and one tag for OSI’s definition (for example: ). Personally, I’d like to have that, but I guess this would be too elaborate for this site. So for now, let’s concentrate on the common case that a software falls under both definitions.

There are various philosophical/political/ideological disputes about which term to use to refer to such software. That’s why there are alternative terms. Among them:

  • The term FOSS, which stands for Free and Open Source Software.
  • The term FLOSS, which stands for Free/Libre/Open Source Software.

Because FLOSS refers to "libre" (= freedom in many languages, without additional meaning of "free" (as in gratis) in English), FLOSS should be preferred to FOSS.

I think we should use for software that must be free/libre.

Advantages of using :

  • We would be neutral. We don’t take part in the disputes by deciding to use one of the two competing terms.
  • If we use only one of the competing terms instead, we’d explicitly exclude the other definition. Then what to use for software that only falls under the not-used-as-tag definition? Using FLOSS makes clear that both definitions apply.
  • If we’d use , some users might not be aware of OSI’s definition and think that it refers to any software that got its source code published.
  • If we’d use , some users might not be aware of FSF’s definition and think it refers to any software that is available for free/gratis.

Disadvantages of using :

  • The term is not very popular.

But I don’t think this is a problem. It is in use for years. Richard Stallman recommends it when you don’t want to take sides. Wikipedia mentions that it was used by the European Commission, South Africa, Spain, and Brazil.

Possible synonyms for : , , , , ….

Software available for free

If software must be free as in beer, we could use . is too ambiguous.

Possible synonyms for : , , ….


FLOSS may cost money

Note that both tags might be used on the same question, as FLOSS doesn’t need to be available gratis.

However, it is gratis in most cases. I’d only use it in the following scenario:

"You look for gratis FLOSS recommendations and you already know that there is a FLOSS solution which costs money."

In general it should be sufficient to use without . But answers recommending FLOSS for sale would still be on-topic.

Only use these tags for requirements

If one doesn’t care if the software is proprietary or FLOSS, as long as it is gratis, the tag should not be used.

See the question: "Feature tags" only for required or also for optional features?

There is no "official" definition

There is no institute or something like that which defines the scope of "FLOSS". So while it seems likely that it means "Software that is both, Open Source and Free Software", it could also be understood as "Software that is Open Source and/or Free Software" (I don’t endorse it). That could be a "hack" to solve the mentioned problem of exceptions (where a software only applies to one, not both definitions).

  • 3
    Most people don't care about these nuances. FLOSS is not well-known except to a few nerds. Ditto for gratis, it isn't a common term. “Open source” is reasonably well-known and the nitpick between open source and free is neither consensual nor important here. Commented Feb 5, 2014 at 0:16
  • @Gilles: Users that don’t know the term FLOSS can still add the tag open-source to their question, as it would be a synonym. Hovering over the tag will also show "Open source" in its description, as it’s part of the expansion of FLOSS.
    – unor
    Commented Feb 5, 2014 at 0:21
  • the term FLOSS is too close to dentistry. Open Source is a reasonable term, and a superset of the FSF’s freedom definition, so OSS or “free software” will work.
    – mirabilos
    Commented Feb 5, 2014 at 15:21
  • 1
    @mirabilos: Open Source is not a superset of Free Software. There is software that is Free Software but not Open Source, and there is software that is Open Source but not Free Software.
    – unor
    Commented Feb 12, 2014 at 3:27
  • @unor “There is software that is Free Software but not Open Source” from the definitions, I doubt that, but feel free to share a link… (still, FLOSS is bad because it’s a dentistry thing and way too close to FLOS which is a bad thing in the Unix world)
    – mirabilos
    Commented Feb 12, 2014 at 7:25
  • @mirabilos: For example (I linked to a table comparing licenses in my answer, see "there are exceptions"), Netscape’s early versions of Mozilla were released under NPL 1.0 which is a license approved by the FSF, but not approved by the OSI, so: these Mozilla versions are Free Software but not Open Source.
    – unor
    Commented Feb 12, 2014 at 13:46

In spite of having recently used one myself, I'm not too fond of these tags, especially "gratis." These seem like Meta tag, especially "gratis"; it's hard to see how this is actually a real topic. Can someone actually be an expert in "gratis"? Could someone be more likely to know the answer to something tagged "gratis" than something not tagged "gratis"?


I think we should get rid of all mentions of "free software," in the sense where it is being referred to as pricing.

The concept of saying "preferably free" is completely useless in all cases. We're trying to make these questions as un-localized as possible, and any software that fits the criteria outlined, free or commercial, is useful to the question. But by saying they prefer something that is free, you're eliminating some very valid possibilities.

Not everyone cares about free software. There are people out there that are perfectly willing to pay reasonable prices for software that meets their needs, and we certainly don't want to start creating duplicated questions to have one list of free software and one list of paid software.

It's a useless and even counter-productive criteria that users are going to put on a lot of questions and will probably bring down the overall quality of the site. So long as a user can provide the same outline and experience of the product as a piece of free software, and they recommend it, there should not be anything in the question preventing it from being posted as an answer.

  • 9
    I disagree. Pricing requirements can be important sometimes. If the price is a requirement, so be it. For example “software with features X and Y of Mathematica but affordable to a starving non-student” is a perfectly legitimate question, and different from “software with features X and Y of Mathematica and price is no object” (whose answer is “Mathematica, duh”). I don't know whether free/costless should be a tag, but it can be a requirement. Commented Feb 5, 2014 at 0:38
  • 1
    @Gilles Then we create duplicates (exact same question except This can be free or paid...
    – hichris123
    Commented Feb 5, 2014 at 0:42
  • 1
    @Gilles I don't see why that's a good reason to split the questions. If they can't use a paid software, then they can just wait for something free to pop up. But the vast majority of questions asking for free software will be because the person simply doesn't want to pay for it, not because they don't have the money to pay for it. Splitting the software up between two questions is simply not useful. Then I just have to look in two places.
    – animuson StaffMod
    Commented Feb 5, 2014 at 0:44
  • 4
    @animuson That's no different from saying “if they can't use a Windows software, they can just wait for something for Linux to pop up” or “if they can't use GUI-driven software they can just wait for something Braille-driven to pop up”. Commented Feb 5, 2014 at 1:01

I think the tag "Costless" will be a better tag name for free.

  • I rather think it's to differentiate between "FOSS" (freely accessible source code, i.e. open-source) and "affordable" (not necessarily free-of-cost; see my comment on Angelo's answer). Looking e.g. at Android apps and their pricing, I will never understand the whining about 99 cent, especially when there is a free trial. // Costless is just the opposite of priceless, right? ;)
    – Izzy Mod
    Commented Feb 6, 2014 at 23:44

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