Proposal of New Terms: "Locked" and "Unlocked" Software

A tragic ambiguity has plagued the Free Software movement throughout its history, consistently causing confusion and misunderstanding for normal people who are introduced to the idea of Free Software. This has lead to countless conversations going something like this:

Normal person: “Hey, did you catch the game last weekend?”

Free Software enthusiast: “No, I was too busy creating and using Free Software! Free Software is amazing!”

Normal person: “Oh, nice. I like that too. Paying $2.99 for an app on the iOS store is a pain.”

Free Software enthusiast: “Actually, that isn’t what I’m talking about. I am talking about free as in freedom, not free as in --”

Normal person interrupting: “Okay, well, I have to pick up the kids from school. See ya!”

The ambiguity between free as in freedom and free as in free beer causes most people, when they first hear about it, to think that Free Software means software that they aren’t charged anything to use. Overcoming this misunderstanding takes time and explanation, but often, people don’t have the time or interest to discuss something like that.

To address this ambiguity, some people have borrowed the word “Libre” from French and Spanish, but this also leaves people without any understanding of Free Software at first introduction, because they are not familiar with the term Libre, so it requires additional explanation.

Some people use the term “open-source” to be more descriptive, but this is also unsatisfactory. I have come to agree with Richard Stallman that “open-source” is a corporate term that has been used to co-opt the Free Software movement. “Open-source” software is not necessarily Free Software. For example, take a look at Unreal game engine. The source code is publicly available, but its license requires that if you use Unreal in a commercial product, you must pay a royalty to the developers of Unreal. That is “open-source”, but it is certainly not Free Software.

To be more inclusive and conciliatory, some people use the terms “FOSS” (Free and Open Source Software) or “FLOSS” (Free/Libre and Open Source Software). However, this might be the worst solution of all. Not only is it useless to introduce Free Software to normal people (it requires significant explanation), it also creates a category that lumps Free Software together with “open-source” software. There is no good purpose for such a category. When we talk about Free Software, it should be to the explicit exclusion of “open-source” software that is not Free. When we talk about or promote FOSS, we are making people think about “open-source” software that is not Free!

I suppose that a person could use the term FOSS to refer to software that is both Free AND “open-source”, but why? That also makes no sense, because it is redundant. The source code of Free Software is already available to everyone who uses it, so adding “and open-source” is completely useless. Indeed, it is actually counterproductive, because most people will likely interpret “FOSS” to mean “Free Software” and “open-source software.” That is, a category which includes “open-source” software that is not Free.

I propose new terms for talking about Free Software: Unlocked Software. I believe this term may be superior because it lacks any ambiguity: unlocked does not imply being without cost, but it DOES mean free as in freedom. The opposite term, “locked software,” is also easier to understand for normal people than “propietary software.” New conversations could go like this:

Normal person: “Hey, did you catch the game last weekend?”

Unlocked Software enthusiast: “No, I was too busy creating and using Unlocked Software! Unlocked Software is awesome!”

Normal person: “Interesting, what is unlocked software? I have never heard of that.”

Unlocked Software enthusiast: “Unlocked Software is kinda like an “unlocked” phone: you are free to use it however you wish, and it respects your freedom. More specifically, Unlocked Software respects the four freedoms: (1) to use the software for any purpose, (2) to study it, (3) to share it with others, and (4) to modify it to your liking.”

Normal person: “Wow, freedom is cool! Let’s talk more about this sometime.”

What do you all think?

  1. No matter what the term, it will be co-opted and redefined.
  2. Unlocked also means “free to access” as in an “unlocked password manager” or “unlocked bank account.”

Perhaps something along the lines of “owned” versus “borrowed” or “licensed.” Or something like “untethered”—to mean not tied to an outside owner, or “unshackled” versus “imprisoned”.

Education of the masses is a … fickle … thing…


I wont use this, because it sounds silly. I mean I can unlock functionality by paying money to a software (like Discord), but that makes Discord no libre software, it makes it just free (no costs) as long as I don’t need the locked functions. :wink:

But there is also another reason:
In other languages than English there is not such a problem of “free”. In Germany we use “gratis” or “kostenlos” for software that costs nothing while “frei” (free) is typical not used for money, few exceptions like “Freibier” (free beer). But I never heard a German speaking about “free software” as software without costs.

You think it the wrong way around. It describes not the free software that is also open source. It describes the open source software that is also free/libre.


I personally describe what I use as gratis and libre open-source software. I suppose if I wanted to reduce it even further, I would drop “open-source”, to make it gratis and libre software. Another idea I had is “commons” software, which is dedicated to the commons.

I would not use unlocked or locked as a form of measurement for “openness”: just because the entrance to a building is unlocked does not mean you own or control it.

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Just because software is unlocked (Free), that does not mean that I own it. In many cases, the author still holds copyright and is the licensor, while I am the licensee. The software is “unlocked” because I have the ability to run it as I wish, study it, redistribute it, and modify it.

As I tried to say in the original post, lumping Unlocked Software (Free Software) together with “open-source” software is unclear and counterproductive. If we are talking about Unlocked Software, there is no need to reference “open-source,” because it is redundant.

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Another idea is going up to the broader legal terms: copyleft; permissive; and copyright.

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You already said it in first post and you’re right if F(L)OSS would describe free software. But F(L)OSS describes that a part open source software is even free/libre. To describe free software with open source is redundant, specifying open source with free or libre is not redundant. That’s what I tried to say above.

But I also could explain it further: we could write FS (free software), but than it is such a short thing, that it could be everything like “Failed Security”. FS is also no term that slips as good as “F(L)OSS” out of mouth.

I did not write that those terms are good or bad. I just described why it makes at least some logical sense that they exist. On the other hand they’re also more technical terms that I wouldn’t even consider to use in conversations with common people. So we can stop the discussion about F(L)OSS anyway, because it’s outside of your needs in any case.

However, all of this has nothing to do with my other opinion, that locked and unlocked is even more confusing (for me and even more for newbies). If I speak about games (like you did inside the quote) and the “enthusiast” said “creating unlocked software” I would ask if he’s speaking about cracking games and as normal person I would loose interest after that longer explanation (in fact, people loose interest a way too fast on such topics - you can’t do a lot to improve it).

I have no idea if there is a term that is better than free or libre software. But “unlocked” is not.

I disagree. If anything, that’s “source-available” software for me.
I refuse to let the term “open source” be diluted by anything that runs against the free spirit.
For me, open source and free software are essentially the same thing.

Well libre is very closely related to the word “liberty”, and thus other related words are “rights”, “privileges”, or “choice”. I think out of all of these, I prefer “privileged” software as an alternative, or even “liberated” software; I think “chosen” or “rightful/righteous” software may be a bit pretentious and predisposes a moral bias.

As for free, I replace it with “gratis” whenever I personally use the FSF phrasing, but it also has other related words: complimentary; costless; and gratuitous. The etymology of gratis comes from the word “favor”. Some alternative phrasings can be “favored” software or “gifted” software.

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But that doesn’t make it right. weirdnerd made a good example with Unreal Engine. It already makes a huge difference if source code is available or not, even if that piece of software is not libre. Devs can modify Unreal Engine, study its code if needed and so on - everything that is not possible with proprietary code. I’m just not allowed to do everything I could do with FOSS.

@weirdnerd, because you spoke about Unreal Engine, just 2 little corrections:

  1. Unreal Engine is known as game engine, but it is also an engine for other industries. For example it’s also focused for automobile and architecture, but a friend also used it once for a medical machine to visualize something (other software couldn’t do that well).
  2. Unreal Engine can be used for commercial games without royalty up to a specific number of income. So you can create an FOSS (edit: can’t be completely free, because of engine license) game and earn for example 1.000$ (let’s say as total donation or on steam shop), you don’t need to pay anything.
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Imagine that Ubuntu is forces you to swallow it SNAP, it same to FOSS or FLOSS things like is pushing you to think that is free sofware but does not and is far from Real Libre Software.
Sadly Purism is moving away from real free software. So Purism could be Evil and i will kick out Purism.
I have all my hopes in @francois-techene to move Purism* to Free Software HORIZONS.
Fingers crossed :crossed_fingers: | francois-techene*

Free/Libre Software always requires explanation.

About the misconcept of free as “without pay” is good to say, “If you want to be free you need to pay the price”.

Free Software should be in that direction.

Freedom requires sacrifice and fight for it.

In jail you don’t have to pay for a bed, food or a roof. You have everything … except you have not freedom.

When you have freedom, you pay for a roof, a bed, and meals.


Rather than talk about symantics, we should consider only the reality. Anyone who starts using free software as a basis and builds on top of the free software owns nothing, except perhaps the kudos for the good work on their app. If they obey the opensource license, they have to distribute that app for free. Free beer abounds. That is the reality. Plenty of free beer for everyone. No one can meter the free beer nor enforce a payment from anyone who uses it. But someone does have to refill the barrel occasionally or no one gets anything at all after their first few drinks.

There are a lot of podcasts these days with people making big money from donations to keep the podcast going. Generally, if the value is there people will donate.

Why not do the same for opensource software? The biggest challenge is centralizing the payment method in a credible way and encouraging people to pay for their apps. I will not sign up, create a login, get a password, register my credit card, and make a software purchase/donation for only one app, and do the same in twenty different websites, to get twenty different apps. No way. But I might sign up, create a login, get a password, register my credit card, and make several dozen software purchase/donations in the same website over time, just like I do making purchases from Amazon. Such an app store should have an option to download either the free or the paid version, with both versions being the same. The culture there would be to encourage people to pay for their apps. Other than that, it would work just like the Android Play Store. The store could even give out the source code for free and charge if the customer wants the compiled version.

A lot of Linux apps are just pretty lame. But with proper monitization, a lot of very good apps could be distributed through such a store. Talented app writers need to be paid if we want them to work on much needed apps. People will donate if they are receiving value. And the more opensource apps exist, the fewer closed apps can exist as their code might infringe on opensource licenses.

With a little effort and a change in culture in how people think about opensource software, a booming industry can develop. Linus Tarvolds didn’t start Linux because he wanted to charge everyone to use Linux. He didn’t even ask for donations, and his talents are known world wide. Hi isn’t exactly starving either.

Any serious linux, opensource code writer who wants to get paid writing opensource apps should start the first credible Linux app Store and host as many good apps there as you can. Most people don’t mind paying a reasonable amount for apps they find valuable and might even donate larger amounts if they are really impressed. A five dollar app times one-thousand paid users per month is sixty thousand dollars per year. Four apps like that and you’re making just shy of a quarter of a million dollars per year.


You can do that now via GitHub Sponsors.
No app store required, and the money goes to the projects directly.

In contrast to that, a decent app store requires a lot of work and possibly a small team. It would compete with countless package repositories which are already available for free. Gaining a user base may be difficult.

Btw, there’s one more way to support open-source projects: donate your time by contributing. Highly appreciated by most projects.

That software is not truly Unlocked. For example, it does not respect the four freedoms.

I didn’t know that, but I have changed my mind to agree with you. After reading the Open Source Definition, I see that, according to that definition, Unreal Engine is not open-source. However, many people still think of it as open-source. I think fewer would consider it Free Software. So, using “Unlocked” or “Free” might be more clear in this case.

In any case, open-source is a term that was developed to replace the term “Free Software,” so I do not want to use it.

Yes, true. The advantage of the term “Unlocked Software” is that it avoids ambiguity, so that people will more readily recognize that they don’t fully understand the term. One of the problems with the term Free Software is that people usually assume that they do understand what the term means, so no further explanation is necessary. Like in my first example conversation above, the person assumed that Free Software means software that can be used without paying anything (e.g., Google Maps) instead of software that is Unlocked (e.g., Emacs).

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That was what I tried to point out. It’s not even close to “respecting freedoms”. I just wanted to share how confusing this term can be for someone without knowledge about free software.

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If you want to be more precise with the distinction make up new words with new meanings and get people to use them.

From my perspective there is a limit to the value of overly precise language, often also leading to analysis paralysis and as such this isn’t necessary.

Rebranding existing words will likely have a harder time than just making up new though.

If we’re deciding whether or not to use terms because of why they were developed instead of using words based on their current meanings then we’re going to fail to be understood and are really just fighting for words to lose all meaning.

It’s one thing to learn from the past it’s another to not be able to move on from the past.

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As far as I understand Wikipedia, it’s a specific definition by an organization called “Open Source Initiative”. It’s not the same definition of open source in general.

Generally, open source refers to a computer program in which the source code is available to the general public for use or modification from its original design. Code is released under the terms of a software license. Depending on the license terms, others may then download, modify, and publish their version (fork) back to the community.

That means important is that source code is available, but the licenses tell what you’re aloud to do.

Or the German Wikipedia makes it more clear.

Open-Source-Software kann unter Einhaltung der Lizenzbedingungen meistens kostenfrei genutzt werden.


Open-Source-Software can usually be used under observance of license conditions without costs.

So even if you usually don’t need to pay, the license requirement to pay doesn’t exclude from the definition of “open source”.
You can specify “open source definition according to Open Source Initiative”, then you’re right. But that’s a special definition, not a general one of that term.

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We can do nothing about open source software here, term designed to co-opt the philosophy of Free Software.
PureOS is endorsed by the Free Software Foundation because PureOs respect the four freedoms. Open source only offers one or two of the four freedom of Free Software.

We need educate more about the philosophy of Free Software rather than change names since Free Software is present about 40 years ago.

The sponsors or donation idea is welcome also. But I seriously wouldn’t support if the payment method is on Github given the copilot system they use.