Open Source - Does it always mean free?


One thing I am confused about is the term open source. Wiki says it means free but I have often heard that Open Source does not necessarily mean free…for example, if I have developed a software and sell it for $50 including source code, it will be also termed as Open Source, no?

Thanks for any inputs

Hi cancer10,

Check out this wikipedia article.

There are companies who offer their open source software for a price. But in general, Open Source also means free of charge and free to use, modify and redistribute the software code.

As for you hearing “open source is not necessarily free”, usually the people who say that are referring to the cost of ownership of such software. Although getting and using the software is free, learning it, installing it, setting it up, running it, updating it, and getting stuck on it, all have certain costs or risks. These costs will be in either your (or your company’s) time or money or both. So in that sense, using any open source software is not “cost free”.


No open source does not means free. Open source really means that it works on all operating systems.You may get many open source software’s or tools called as free but they are almost trial versions and many features are disabled in them. I use project management templates of Getprojecttemplate which is open source and free with the features they had given or shown while promoting.

Are you sure about that? I can think of many open-source products that don’t meet that criterion.

It’s true that, by their nature, it’s easier to adapt an open-source product to different platforms and environments, but that doesn’t mean there is a commercial or other reason for doing so.


Open source means that you can access and edit the source code. It doesn’t automatically mean that it’s free, although it usually is - while you could charge for it, once you’ve given other people the wherewithal to recreate it from scratch it becomes very hard to enforce payment or ownership. It doesn’t mean that it works on all operating systems either - given that some actual OSs are themselves open source, that would be contradictory!

Open Source only means that the code is not encrypted in any form and each user could modify the code to their requirement.
It does not mean all Open Source is free and that it will work on all OS.

My Understanding : Open Source Software distribution only allows a user to download the said open source software, modify it to their requirements and may also be redistributed given that the licensing terms stay in the same format as all code is present in un-encrypted format so that it can be easily viewed and modified. Also its wrong to assume that the Open Source Software will work on all OS. It may or may not work and there are Open Source Software working only on specific OS.

Open source doesn’t even mean that you are necessarily allowed to copy it. Almost all JavaScript is open source but it rarely has a notice in it that allows you to copy and use it when you find it on someone ese’s site.

It isn’t that the source is available that makes it free - it is the open source licence that specifies how you are allowed to use it and which also permits people to charge for open source products. Where free is applied to open source software it is in the free speech sense rather than the free beer sense - it is perfectly legitimate for open source software to be sold.


Many answers here are correct, open source is free as in you are free to utilise it as you want, as long as you want, and in any way you want including selling it to other people or giving it away for free. I just wanted to add a couple of comments as to some of these perceptions, “free as in free beer”, “works on every operating system”, “can/can’t charge for it” come about.

  1. Most open source software is licenced under the GPL, LPGL and MIT/BSD licenses and can therefore be passed on to anyone once you have the source code for no charge. Because of this, you actually can’t economically charge for open source software, because there may be a way to get the same software for no charge, just by getting it from someone else for free. However many smaller software developers make a good living off producing open source software because:
  • they continually develop and improve the software, possible for a platform - for example a CMS - that is very popular. What you are selling is the support and long term stability of your product in a market that may not have a lot of stability
  • they actually do provide good and cost efficient support by email or forum. This can be to end users, but also to wholesalers, such as some libraries do for software developers.
  • the niche they occupy is actually quite small, with 3-10 players worldwide
  • Some providers simply ask for a reasonable price per installation, even though they have no means to enforce it and many people pay out of thankfulness or moral obligation. This works by the way also for non-open source licence models

So in summary, the software is often also free as in free beer, but again this may not be the primary reason why it is downloaded, bought or used.

  1. Open source software often works on more operating systems that closed source, because if the need is big enough, you may have a way to compile the source code yourself and plug any gaps on your platform. For closed source software this decision fully depends on the manufacturer of the software, so it is less likely to happen.

  2. Because of how 1) works, many people seem to think that you are not allowed to charge anyone something for open source software. I’m not sure if this is a wrong reversal of causality that is quite common, or some sort of self-deprecating morals that cut you out from valueing your own work. I’ve been selling custom build software and business solutions by using open source licences for many years and it is a win-win(-win) for all parties involved, even though my customers pay fully for the software:

  • My customers can do absolutely anything they want with the software, only excluding stopping me and my upstream open source suppliers to use the underlying modules for other clients. In return they get to use all of the upstream intellectual property without having to pay for it.
  • I can provide them security from buying from a small supplier by having control over all deliverables to the extend of replacing the supplier
  • They can stop me from aggresive distribution to their competitors by non-competition clauses. In my view, custom software reflects each specific business anyway, so their competitor would be stupid to want it.
  • They are free to distribute the software, but of course that would undermine their own investment. So they will only distribute to their successor/ business buyer

Hope this helps,


Open source can mean many different things, as you can see from the responses here. If the software is accompanied by a license, you would be well advised to read the license. I have seen open source licenses written in a way that could be interpreted to mean any software that you incorporate the open source software into (even if it is just a minor function or feature) must also be open source. That could mean that you have to open your own commercial software program to a competitor’s prying eyes.

In fact most of the open source software that people see on the web (the entire content of every web page in existance) is usually subject to copyright and is NOT allowed to be copied without the permission of the script owner. You may NOT use open source software unless there is a licence with it that grants you permission to do so and then your use is limited to that granted by the licence.

I agree Mike with you that it is not for commercial or any other reason. I would like to know your views on it. There are several aspects when it comes to open source software. One of the point is that the crack files or keys of these software are available. Thus anyone can try out using these software. Project management templates is an example of such type. What is your opinion on it?