This question is just the latest of many where I have had to say something along the lines of

By the way, you specified , but unless you plan to change the code, then will open more possibilities if you are just looking for something that you don't have to pay for

I can only think of two reasons for requesting open-source:

  1. you are going to fork the code
  2. you want something where the code has been peer-reviewed, or can be; for instance, for security apps.

There are more gratis than open-source apps, so ought we to consider a pop-up when someone uses the tag?


2 Answers 2


We already have something similar. If you want some software free of financial costs, wouldn't you usually start typing "free" in the tags input? Try it and see what happens: both your tags appear, together with their excerpts. Rather a pop out than a pop up, but I'd say by that it's clear what each of them means.


Don't you think this is sufficient? If people don't read, that can't be helped.

  • 2
    I never tried that! So, why not something similar for Open Source? Many, if not most, people asking for FOSS, just want the F part and can't code. Why not help them too? Aug 22, 2018 at 9:25
  • on what should that trigger? As I wrote, most start typing "free" and possibly pick open-source because they don't read the details and don't know the term "gratis". Shall we blacklist "open", or what would you suggest?
    – Izzy Mod
    Aug 22, 2018 at 11:26
  • I was thinking of triggering it on use of the Open Source tag. Which, of course, we can't blacklist, as some truly do need it. Aug 22, 2018 at 11:40
  • 1
    The red box you see in the screenshot is because free is blacklisted. So we won't get it in a different way. Also, I doubt that (most) people type "open-source" just because they want it for free. And this is not MS with their "Clippy" assistant popping up some "did you mean" everywhere (that would be as annoying as the new tag-hovers are ;) // My opinion, though. Maybe there are some alternative answers?
    – Izzy Mod
    Aug 22, 2018 at 12:01
  • And maybe someone liked Mr. Clippy !! ;-) Don't worry, it's major thing. I can keep pasting the same text as comment, in case it helps. Gradually we can train the newer users Aug 22, 2018 at 12:18

If someone has wrote "open source", it is because they mean it. If they had wrote "free software" then it might be ambiguous, but nobody ask for "open source" software without having at least a basic understanding of what that means and how it differs from "gratis".

It is a requirement they choose, so I don't think that telling them to broaden their requirements is generally useful.

In the case of Open-source mail merge software:

  • The question was already too broad, as "merge" can mean pretty much anything. For instance, any email client like Thunderbird is able to merge mailboxes, you just have to import the two mailboxes, and CTRL-A,CTRL-X,CTRL-V the first into the second. The question was already too broad (as well as unclear), so there is no need to broaden its license requirement. Once the question is made less broad by clarifying exactly what kind of merge, then a broadening of the license requirement may be considered if the question is ultra-specific and has no open source solution (which I doubt)
  • In addition to writing "open-source" in the title, in the question body, and as a tag, the asker took the time to write this in a comment: "Looking at what exists, I had trouble finding any FOSS software that would have [XYZ] functions". When someone is specifically looking for open source, there is no point asking them to modify their question to include non-open source.

There are dozens of reasons for using open source. Forking and audit are only two of them. Maybe they work in a company that has an open source policy, maybe they plan to redistribute their solution, maybe they have a philosophical reason, maybe they are tired of nags or privacy invasions that often come with shareware/freemium, or something else. It is not our role to try and guess whether they really need open source, nor disbelieve them if they think they do.

  • 3
    "If someone has typed "open source" into the tags input area, it is because they mean it" - sorry, Nicolas, but I beg to differ. I frequently ask, and point out that there are generally more options for gratis than open source, and the OP suddenly realizes that they do not need Open Source after all. Not everyone is a developer, and most laypeople do not understand what Open Source actually means, generally equating it with "I don't have to pay". I do appreciate the other reasons that you pointed out, but am not so sure that the majority of our "customers" do. Aug 28, 2018 at 6:35

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