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<title>Words to Avoid (or Use with Care) Because They Are Loaded or Confusing - GNU Project
- Free Software Foundation (FSF)</title>

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<h2>Words to Avoid (or Use with Care) Because They Are Loaded or Confusing</h2>

There are a number of words and phrases that we recommend avoiding, or
avoiding in certain contexts and usages.  Some are ambiguous or
misleading; others presuppose a viewpoint that we hope you
disagree with.</p>

<div class="announcement">
Also note <a href="/philosophy/categories.html">Categories
of Free Software</a>.</div>

  <a href="/philosophy/philosophy.html">Other Texts to Read</a>
| “<a
| “<a
| “<a
| “<a
       href="#CloudComputing">Cloud Computing</a>”
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| “<a
| “<a
| “<a
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| “<a
       href="#DigitalGoods">Digital Goods</a>”
| “<a
       href="#DigitalLocks">Digital Locks</a>”
| “<a
       href="#DigitalRightsManagement">Digital Rights Management</a>”
| “<a
| “<a
       href="#ForFree">For free</a>”
| “<a
       href="#FreelyAvailable">Freely available</a>”
| “<a
| “<a
       href="#GiveAwaySoftware">Give away software</a>”
| “<a
| “<a
       href="#IntellectualProperty">Intellectual property</a>”
| “<a
       href="#LAMP">LAMP system</a>”
| “<a
       href="#Linux">Linux system</a>”
| “<a
| “<a
| “<a
       href="#MP3Player">MP3 player</a>”
| “<a
| “<a
| “<a
| “<a
| “<a
| “<a
| “<a
| “<a
       href="#SellSoftware">Sell software</a>”
| “<a
       href="#SoftwareIndustry">Software Industry</a>”
| “<a
| “<a
       href="#TrustedComputing">Trusted Computing</a>”
| “<a

<h4 id="Alternative">“Alternative”</h4>
We don't present free software as an "alternative", because it
presents a goal of having free software alongside proprietary
software.  That presupposes that proprietary software is

We believe that the only ethical way to distribute software is as free
software.  Thus, we aim to make free software more than an
alternative.  Our goal is a world where all programs are free, so that
all their users are free.

<h4 id="BSD-style">“BSD-style”</h4>
The expression “BSD-style license” leads to confusion because it
<a href="/philosophy/bsd.html">lumps together licenses that have
important differences</a>.  For instance, the original BSD license
with the advertising clause is incompatible with the GNU General
Public License, but the revised BSD license is compatible with the
To avoid confusion, it is best to
name <a href="/licenses/license-list.html"> the specific license in
question</a> and avoid the vague term “BSD-style.”</p>

<h4 id="Closed">“Closed”</h4>
Describing nonfree software as “closed” clearly refers to
the term “open source”.  In the free software movement,
<a href="/philosophy/open-source-misses-the-point.html"> we do not want to
be confused with the open source camp</a>, so we
are careful to avoid saying things that would encourage people to lump us in
with them.  For instance, we avoid describing nonfree software as
“closed”.  We call it “nonfree” or
<a href="/philosophy/categories.html#ProprietarySoftware">

<h4 id="CloudComputing">“Cloud Computing”</h4>
The term “cloud computing” is a marketing buzzword with no
clear meaning.  It is used for a range of different activities whose
only common characteristic is that they use the Internet for something beyond
transmitting files.  Thus, the term is a nexus of confusion.  If you
base your thinking on it, your thinking will be vague.

When thinking about or responding to a statement someone else has made
using this term, the first step is to clarify the topic.  Which kind
of activity is the statement really about, and what is a good, clear term for
that activity?  Once the topic is clear, the discussion can head for a
useful conclusion.

Curiously, Larry Ellison, a proprietary software developer,
also <a href="http://news.cnet.com/8301-13953_3-10052188-80.html">
noted the vacuity of the term “cloud computing.”</a>  He
decided to use the term anyway because, as a proprietary software
developer, he isn't motivated by the same ideals as we are.

One of the many meanings of "cloud computing" is storing your
data in online services.  That exposes you to
<a href="http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/apr/25/hackers-spooks-cloud-antiauthoritarian-dream">surveillance</a>.

Another meaning (which overlaps that but is not the same thing)
is <a href="/philosophy/who-does-that-server-really-serve.html">
Software as a Service</a>, which denies you control over your computing.

Another meaning is renting a remote physical server, or virtual server.
These can be ok under certain circumstances.

<h4 id="Commercial">“Commercial”</h4>
Please don't use “commercial” as a synonym for
“nonfree.” That confuses two entirely different
A program is commercial if it is developed as a business activity.  A
commercial program can be free or nonfree, depending on its manner of
distribution.  Likewise, a program developed by a school or an
individual can be free or nonfree, depending on its manner of
distribution.  The two questions—what sort of entity developed
the program and what freedom its users have—are independent.</p>
In the first decade of the free software movement, free software
packages were almost always noncommercial; the components of the
GNU/Linux operating system were developed by individuals or by
nonprofit organizations such as the FSF and universities.  Later, in
the 1990s, free commercial software started to appear.</p>
Free commercial software is a contribution to our community, so we
should encourage it.  But people who think that
“commercial” means “nonfree” will tend to
think that the “free commercial” combination is
self-contradictory, and dismiss the possibility.  Let's be careful not
to use the word “commercial” in that way.</p>

<h4 id="Compensation">“Compensation”</h4>
To speak of “compensation for authors” in connection with
copyright carries the assumptions that (1) copyright exists for the
sake of authors and (2) whenever we read something, we take on a debt
to the author which we must then repay.  The first assumption is
<a href="/philosophy/misinterpreting-copyright.html">false</a>, and
the second is outrageous.
“compensating the rights-holders” adds a further swindle:
you're supposed to imagine that means paying the authors, and
occasionally it does, but most of the time it means a subsidy for the
same publishing companies that are pushing unjust laws on us.

<h4 id="Consume">“Consume”</h4>
It is erroneous to speak of "consuming" digital information, music,
software, etc. etc., since using them does not consume them.  See the
following entry,</p>

<h4 id="Consumer">“Consumer”</h4>
The term “consumer,” when used to refer to computer users,
is loaded with assumptions we should reject.  Playing a digital
recording, or running a program, does not consume it.</p>
The terms “producer” and “consumer” come from
economic theory, and bring with them its narrow perspective and
misguided assumptions.  They  These tend to warp your thinking.</p>
In addition, describing the users of software as “consumers”
presumes a narrow role for them: it regards them as cattle sheep that
passively graze on what others make available to them.</p>
This kind of thinking leads to travesties like the CBDTPA
“Consumer Broadband and Digital Television Promotion Act”
which would require copying restriction facilities in every digital
device.  If all the users do is “consume,” then why should
they mind?</p>
The shallow economic conception of users as “consumers” tends
to go hand in hand with the idea that published works are mere
To describe people who are not limited to passive use of works, we
suggest terms such as “individuals” and

<h4 id="Content">“Content”</h4>
If you want to describe a feeling of comfort and satisfaction, by all
means say you are “content,” but using the word as a
noun to describe written and other works of authorship adopts an
attitude you might rather avoid.  It regards these works as a
commodity whose purpose is to fill a box and make money.  In effect,
it disparages the works themselves.</p>
Those who use this term are often the publishers that push for
increased copyright power in the name of the authors
(“creators,” as they say) of the works.  The term
“content” reveals their real attitude towards these works and their authors.
(See <a href="http://archive.salon.com/tech/feature/2000/06/14/love/print.html">Courtney
Love's open letter to Steve Case</a> and search for “content
provider” in that page.  Alas, Ms. Love is unaware that the term
“intellectual property” is also <a href="#IntellectualProperty">
biased and confusing</a>.)</p>
However, as long as other people use the term “content
provider”, political dissidents can well call themselves
“malcontent providers”.</p>
The term “content management” takes the prize for vacuity.
“Content” means “some sort of information,”
and “management” in this context means “doing
something with it.”  So a “content management
system” is a system for doing something to some sort of
information.  Nearly all programs fit that description.</p>

In most cases, that term really refers to a system for updating pages
on a web site.  For that, we recommend the term “web site revision
system” (WRS).</p>

<h4 id="Creator">“Creator”</h4>
The term “creator” as applied to authors implicitly
compares them to a deity (“the creator”).  The term is
used by publishers to elevate authors' moral standing above that of
ordinary people in order to justify giving them increased copyright
power, which the publishers can then exercise in their name.
We recommend saying “author” instead.  However,
in many cases “copyright holder” is what you really

<h4 id="DigitalGoods">“Digital Goods”</h4>
The term “digital goods,” as applied to copies of works of
authorship, erroneously identifies them with physical
goods—which cannot be copied, and which therefore have to be
manufactured and sold.</p>

<h4 id="DigitalLocks">“Digital Locks”</h4>
“Digital locks” is used to refer to Digital Restrictions
Management by some who criticize it.  The problem with this term is
that it fails to show what's wrong with the practice.</p>
Locks are not necessarily an injustice.  You probably own several
locks, and their keys or codes as well; you may find them useful or
troublesome, but either way they don't oppress you, because you can
open and close them.</p>
DRM is like a lock placed on you by someone else, who refuses to
give you the key — in other words, like handcuffs.  Therefore,
we call them “digital handcuffs”, not “digital
A number of campaigns have chosen the unwise term “digital
locks”; therefore, to correct the mistake, we must work firmly
against it.  We may support a campaign that criticizes “digital
locks”, because we might agree with the substance; but when we
do, we always state our rejection of that term and conspicuously say
“digital handcuffs” so as to set a better example.</p>

<h4 id="DigitalRightsManagement">“Digital Rights Management”</h4>
“Digital Rights Management” refers to technical schemes
designed to impose restrictions on computer users.  The use of the
word “rights” in this term is propaganda, designed to lead
you unawares into seeing the issue from the viewpoint of the few that
impose the restrictions, and ignoring that of the general public on
whom these restrictions are imposed.</p>
Good alternatives include “Digital Restrictions
Management,” and “digital handcuffs.”</p>

<h4 id="Ecosystem">“Ecosystem”</h4>
It is a mistake to describe the free software community, or any human
community, as an “ecosystem,” because that word implies
the absence of ethical judgment.</p>

The term “ecosystem” implicitly suggests an attitude of
nonjudgmental observation: don't ask how what <em>should</em> happen,
just study and explain what <em>does</em> happen.  In an ecosystem,
some organisms consume other organisms.  We do not ask whether it is
fair for an owl to eat a mouse or for a mouse to eat a plant, we only
observe that they do so.  Species' populations grow or shrink
according to the conditions; this is neither right nor wrong, merely
an ecological phenomenon.</p>

By contrast, beings that adopt an ethical stance towards their
surroundings can decide to preserve things that, on their own, might
vanish—such as civil society, democracy, human rights, peace,
public health, clean air and water, endangered species, traditional
arts…and computer users' freedom.

<h4 id="ForFree">“For free”</h4>
If you want to say that a program is free software, please don't say
that it is available “for free.” That term specifically
means “for zero price.” Free software is a matter of
freedom, not price.</p>
Free software copies are often available for free—for example,
by downloading via FTP.  But free software copies are also available
for a price on CD-ROMs; meanwhile, proprietary software copies are
occasionally available for free in promotions, and some proprietary
packages are normally available at no charge to certain users.</p>
To avoid confusion, you can say that the program is available
“as free software.”</p>

<h4 id="FreelyAvailable">“Freely available”</h4>
Don't use “freely available software” as a synonym for “free
software.” The terms are not equivalent.  Software is “freely
available” if anyone can easily get a copy.  “Free
software” is defined in terms of the freedom of users that have
a copy of it.  These are answers to different questions.

<h4 id="Freeware">“Freeware”</h4>
Please don't use the term “freeware” as a synonym for
“free software.” The term “freeware” was used
often in the 1980s for programs released only as executables, with
source code not available.  Today it has no particular agreed-on
When using languages other than English, please avoid
borrowing English terms such as “free software” or
“freeware.” It is better to translate the term “free
software” into
<a href="/philosophy/fs-translations.html">your language</a>.</p>

By using a word in <a href="/philosophy/fs-translations.html">your
own language</a>, you show that you are really referring to freedom
and not just parroting some mysterious foreign marketing concept.
The reference to freedom may at first seem strange or disturbing
to your compatriots, but once they see that it means exactly what
it says, they will really understand what the issue is.

<h4 id="GiveAwaySoftware">“Give away software”</h4>
It's misleading to use the term “give away” to mean
“distribute a program as free software.”
This locution has the same
problem as “for free”: it implies the issue is price, not
freedom.  One way to avoid the confusion is to say “release as
free software.”</p>

<h4 id="Hacker">“Hacker”</h4>
A hacker is someone
who <a href="http://stallman.org/articles/on-hacking.html"> enjoys
playful cleverness</a>—not necessarily with computers.  The
programmers in the old
<abbr title="Massachusetts Institute of Technology">MIT</abbr> free
software community of the 60s and 70s referred to themselves as
hackers.  Around 1980, journalists who discovered the hacker community
mistakenly took the term to mean “security breaker.”</p>

Please don't spread this mistake.
People who break security are “crackers.”</p>

<h4 id="IntellectualProperty">“Intellectual property”</h4>
Publishers and lawyers like to describe copyright as
“intellectual property”—a term also applied to
patents, trademarks, and other more obscure areas of law.  These laws
have so little in common, and differ so much, that it is ill-advised
to generalize about them.  It is best to talk specifically about
“copyright,” or about “patents,” or about
The term “intellectual property” carries a hidden
assumption—that the way to think about all these disparate
issues is based on an analogy with physical objects,
and our conception of them as physical property.</p>
When it comes to copying, this analogy disregards the crucial
difference between material objects and information: information can
be copied and shared almost effortlessly, while material objects can't
To avoid spreading unnecessary bias and confusion, it is best to adopt
a firm policy <a href="/philosophy/not-ipr.html"> not to speak or even
think in terms of “intellectual property”</a>.</p>
The hypocrisy of calling these powers “rights” is
<a href="/philosophy/wipo-PublicAwarenessOfCopyright-2002.html">
starting to make the World “Intellectual Property”
Organization embarrassed</a>.</p>

<h4 id="LAMP">“LAMP system”</h4>
“LAMP” stands for “Linux, Apache, MySQL and
PHP”—a common combination of software to use on a web
server, except that “Linux” in this context really refers
to the GNU/Linux system.  So instead of “LAMP” it should
be “GLAMP”: “GNU, Linux, Apache, MySQL and

<h4 id="Linux">“Linux system”</h4>
Linux is the name of the kernel that Linus Torvalds developed starting
in 1991.  The operating system in which Linux is used is basically GNU
with Linux added.  To call the whole system “Linux” is
both unfair and confusing.  Please call the complete
system <a href="/gnu/linux-and-gnu.html"> GNU/Linux</a>, both to give
the GNU Project credit and to distinguish the whole system from the
kernel alone.

<h4 id="Market">“Market”</h4>
It is misleading to describe the users of free software, or the
software users in general, as a “market.”</p>
This is not to say there is no room for markets in the free software community.
If you have a free software
support business, then you have clients, and you trade with them in a
market.  As long as you respect their freedom, we wish you success in
your market.</p>
But the free software movement is a social movement, not a business,
and the success it aims for is not a market success.  We are trying to
serve the public by giving it freedom—not competing to draw business
away from a rival.  To equate this campaign for freedom to a business'
efforts for mere success is to deny the importance of freedom
and legitimize proprietary software.</p>

<h4 id="Monetize">“Monetize”</h4>
The natural meaning of “monetize” is “convert into
money”.  If you make something and then convert it into money,
that means there is nothing left except money, so nobody but you has
gained anything, and you contribute nothing to the world.</p>
By contrast, a productive and ethical business does not convert all of
its product into money.  Part of it is a contribution to the rest of
the world.</p>

<h4 id="MP3Player">“MP3 player”</h4> Player”</h4>
In the late 1990s it became feasible to make portable, solid-state
digital audio players. Most support the patented MP3 codec, but not
all.  Some support the patent-free audio codecs Ogg Vorbis and FLAC,
and may not even support MP3-encoded files at all, precisely to avoid
these patents.  To call such players “MP3 players” is not
only confusing, it also puts MP3 in an undeserved position of
privilege which encourages people to continue using that vulnerable format.
We suggest the terms “digital audio player,”
or simply “audio player” if context permits.</p>

<h4 id="Open">“Open”</h4>
Please avoid using the term “open” or “open
source” as a substitute for “free software”.  Those terms
refer to a <a href="/philosophy/open-source-misses-the-point.html">
different position</a> based on different values.  Free software is
a political movement; open source is a development model.

When referring to the open source position, using its name is
appropriate; but please do not use it to label us or our work—that
leads people to think we share those views.</p>

<h4 id="PC">“PC”</h4>
It's OK to use the abbreviation “PC” to refer to a certain
kind of computer hardware, but please don't use it with the
implication that the computer is running Microsoft Windows.  If you
install GNU/Linux on the same computer, it is still a PC.</p>

The term “WC” has been suggested for a computer running

<h4 id="Photoshop">“Photoshop”</h4>
Please avoid using the term “photoshop” as a verb, meaning
any kind of photo manipulation or image editing in general.  Photoshop
is just the name of one particular image editing program, which should
be avoided since it is proprietary.  There are plenty of free
alternatives, programs
for editing images, such as the <a href="/software/gimp">GIMP</a>.</p>

<h4 id="Piracy">“Piracy”</h4>
Publishers often refer to copying they don't approve of as
“piracy.” In this way, they imply that it is ethically
equivalent to attacking ships on the high seas, kidnapping and
murdering the people on them.  Based on such propaganda, they have
procured laws in most of the world to forbid copying in most (or
sometimes all) circumstances.  (They are still pressuring to make
these prohibitions more complete.)
If you don't believe that copying not approved by the publisher is
just like kidnapping and murder, you might prefer not to use the word
“piracy” to describe it.  Neutral terms such as
“unauthorized copying” (or “prohibited
copying” for the situation where it is illegal) are available
for use instead.  Some of us might even prefer to use a positive term
such as “sharing information with your neighbor.”</p>

<h4 id="PowerPoint">“PowerPoint”</h4>
Please avoid using the term “PowerPoint” to mean any kind
of slide presentation.  “PowerPoint” is just the name of
one particular proprietary program to make presentations, and there
are plenty of free alternatives, program for presentations, such as TeX's <tt>beamer</tt> 
class and OpenOffice.org's Impress.</p>

<h4 id="Protection">“Protection”</h4>
Publishers' lawyers love to use the term “protection” to
describe copyright.  This word carries the implication of preventing
destruction or suffering; therefore, it encourages people to identify
with the owner and publisher who benefit from copyright, rather than
with the users who are restricted by it.</p>
It is easy to avoid “protection” and use neutral terms
instead.  For example, instead of saying, “Copyright protection lasts a
very long time,” you can say, “Copyright lasts a very long
If you want to criticize copyright instead of supporting it, you can
use the term “copyright restrictions.” Thus, you can say,
“Copyright restrictions last a very long time.”</p>

The term “protection” is also used to describe malicious
features.  For instance, “copy protection” is a feature
that interferes with copying.  From the user's point of view, this is
obstruction.  So we could call that malicious feature “copy
obstruction.”  More often it is called Digital Restrictions
Management (DRM)—see the
<a href="http://DefectiveByDesign.org"> Defective by Design</a>

<h4 id="RAND">“RAND (Reasonable and Non-Discriminatory)”</h4>
Standards bodies that promulgate patent-restricted standards that
prohibit free software typically have a policy of obtaining patent
licenses that require a fixed fee per copy of a conforming program.
They often refer to such licenses by the term “RAND,”
which stands for “reasonable and non-discriminatory.”</p>
That term whitewashes a class of patent licenses that are normally
neither reasonable nor nondiscriminatory.  It is true that these
licenses do not discriminate against any specific person, but they do
discriminate against the free software community, and that makes them
unreasonable.  Thus, half of the term “RAND” is deceptive
and the other half is prejudiced.</p>
Standards bodies should recognize that these licenses are
discriminatory, and drop the use of the term “reasonable and
non-discriminatory” or “RAND” to describe them.
Until they do so, writers who do not wish to join in the
whitewashing would do well to reject that term.  To accept and use it
merely because patent-wielding companies have made it widespread is to
let those companies dictate the views you express.</p>
We suggest the term “uniform fee only,” or
“UFO” for short, as a replacement.  It is accurate because
the only condition in these licenses is a uniform royalty fee.</p>

<h4 id="SellSoftware">“Sell software”</h4>
The term “sell software” is ambiguous.  Strictly speaking,
exchanging a copy of a free program for a sum of money is
selling; but people usually associate the term
“sell” with proprietary restrictions on the subsequent use
of the software.  You can be more precise, and prevent confusion, by
saying either “distributing copies of a program for a fee”
or “imposing proprietary restrictions on the use of a
program,” depending on what you mean.</p>
See <a href="/philosophy/selling.html">Selling Free Software</a> for
further discussion of this issue.</p>

<h4 id="SoftwareIndustry">“Software Industry”</h4>
The term “software industry” encourages people to imagine
that software is always developed by a sort of factory and then
delivered to “consumers.”  The free software community
shows this is not the case.  Software businesses exist, and various
businesses develop free and/or nonfree software, but those that
develop free software are not run like factories.</p>
The term “industry” is being used as propaganda by
advocates of software patents.  They call software development
“industry” and then try to argue that this means it should
be subject to patent
monopolies.  <a href="http://swpat.ffii.org/papers/europarl0309/"> The
European Parliament, rejecting software patents in 2003, voted to
define “industry” as “automated production of
material goods.”</a></p>

<h4 id="Theft">“Theft”</h4>
Copyright apologists often use words like “stolen” and
“theft” to describe copyright infringement.  At the same
time, they ask us to treat the legal system as an authority on ethics:
if copying is forbidden, it must be wrong.</p>
So it is pertinent to mention that the legal system—at least in
the US—rejects the idea that copyright infringement is
“theft.” Copyright apologists are making an appeal to
authority…and misrepresenting what authority says.</p>
The idea that laws decide what is right or wrong is mistaken in
general.  Laws are, at their best, an attempt to achieve justice; to
say that laws define justice or ethical conduct is turning things
upside down.</p>

<h4 id="TrustedComputing">“Trusted Computing”</h4>
<a href="/philosophy/can-you-trust.html">“Trusted computing”</a> is
the proponents' name for a scheme to redesign computers so that
application developers can trust your computer to obey them instead of
you.  From their point of view, it is “trusted”; from your
point of view, it is “treacherous.”

<h4 id="Vendor">“Vendor”</h4>
Please don't use the term “vendor” to refer generally to
anyone that develops or packages software.  Many programs
are developed in order to sell copies, and their developers are
therefore their vendors; this even includes some free software packages.
However, many programs are developed by volunteers or organizations
which do not intend to sell copies.  These developers are not vendors.
Likewise, only some of the packagers of GNU/Linux distributions are
vendors.  We recommend the general term “supplier” instead.

<div class="announcement">
Also note <a href="/philosophy/categories.html">Categories
of Free and Nonfree Software</a>.</div>

<hr />
<h4>This essay is published
in <a href="http://shop.fsf.org/product/free-software-free-society/"><cite>Free
Software, Free Society: The Selected Essays of Richard
M. Stallman</cite></a>.</h4>


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