Free as in Puppy

When explaining to people what we mean by “Free Software”, almost all of us have turned at some point or another to the famous Beer vs. Speech analogy to explain the difference between “libre” free and “gratis” free.  We’ve probably also all run into someone for whom the difference doesn’t really matter, as long as they don’t pay, they don’t really care about restrictions.

This goes for all kinds of software, not just those that are distributed free of charge.  Many people consider Windows to be free, because they don’t buy windows they buy a computer and it just comes with it.  Others find ways of obtaining illegal copies or licenses of commercial software, and to them too this makes that software free.  For them, “gratis” is all that matters, whether legal or not, restricted or not, all they care about is the money.

In an effort to counter that mentality, I’d like to introduce a new twist on that Beer vs. Speech analogy and throw in a Puppy.  I want to say that Windows, whether obtained illegally or from an OEM purchase, is “Free as in Puppy”.  And not just Windows either, Flash is Free as in Puppy, as is Acrobat Reader.  So is any software that you can get without paying for it if using it ends up costing you in some other way.

As everybody knows (or should know), there’s no such thing as a free puppy.  Even if someone is giving them away from a box on the side of the road, and you don’t have to pay to get one, there’s no such thing as a free puppy.  Because that puppy, no matter how freely you obtained it, is going to need food at least, probably also veterinary visits.  There’s also a high likelihood that some furniture and/or carpets are going to have to be replaced because of it.  That’s not to mention all of the time and effort a puppy requires of you.

Windows is the same way, no matter how freely you obtain it, it’s going to cost you in terms of cpu and memory robbing anti-virus software you’ll have to run, time spent keeping the registry clean, removing malware, not to mention the seemingly random times the system gets borked somehow and leaves you with the infamous Blue Screen of Death.  Even when it’s in good health, it’s going to make you run around the internet looking for software to install, never knowing really what’s trustworthy and what isn’t.  And heaven help you if you do get a real nasty virus, because getting that fixed is likely to cost more than buying a new computer.

And when that finally does happen, they’re going to try and sell you on the latest and greatest Free Puppy from Microsoft, which requires double the hardware power of your last computer, yet still keeps staining the carpet.

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13 Responses to Free as in Puppy

  1. phil says:

    Linux is free as puppy too, no?
    it’s Libre free as well, granted — but you still have to spend time familiarizing yourself with it, dealing with bugs, visiting forums and mailing lists to get it all to work perfectly — it’s more satisfying and there certainly is more freedom than proprietary software — but it’s still going to make messes every now and then, just like the windows puppy

    • Michael Hall says:

      Fair enough, but at least with FLOSS anything fixing or cleaning that needs to be done can be done without money. The point I was hoping to make was that Windows, and some other notoriously insecure apps like Flash and Acrobat, will ultimately cost you real money.

      • Jef Spaleta says:

        Without money? That’s too narrow. You really need to think about the opportunity cost of resources more generally. Including volunteer resources.

        Every time unpaid volunteer’s time is worth something. Difficult to put a price on it, but that resource is very real and has an opportunity cost associated.

        The free as in puppy analogy is very good, and it does apply to FOSS software. The FOSS ecoysystem is like a family who has a kid and a puppy. The kid has tons of spare time and is essentially cheap labor which can be used to walk the dog and to clean up after it. But that is time the kid can’t use to practice his violin or do his homework or go to swim practice..or clean his room. And the kid could get tired of the puppy or the kids goes off to boarding school…poor puppy..poor untended open source software project.


  2. Conzar says:

    It seems to me that all computer systems are Puppies. I haven’t owned a computer system that didn’t require system maintenance, user maintenance, installation of software, etc. Some puppies require more attention then others, and this analogy can be applied to OS’s too.

  3. arand says:

    The bsod is in my experience quite the thing of the past:
    (…)not to mention the seemingly random times the system gets borked somehow and leaves you forced to reboot for no apparent reason.
    …There are plenty of good reasons past the bsod, which is more of a cliche by now.

    What would the FOSS equivalent be? Gerbils? Turtles? : )

  4. Randall says:

    Excellent analogy!
    To address one of the prior commenters, the puppy in the proprietary world is inbred. Genetic defects have resulted from a perpetually closed breeding pool. This creates medical and behavioural conditions that require constant attention and expense.

  5. Simon says:

    Sorry but your post makes no sense whatsoever.

  6. Paul says:

    Puppies (and kittens) are fun, though. People like them. Speaking for myself, when I read “free as in puppy” in the title it at first sounded like a positive thing.

    As others have commented, Linux is has it’s own share of technical problems. Some issues can only be solved in the command line- which is intimidating for most- or by editing config files by hand. It’s gotten better, but it happens. BSODs have become an infrequent occurrence, as with kernel panics.

    Most people are familiar with Windows and have never used desktop Linux. Therefore, they would need to expend time and effort learning something new.

    For the record, I use Mac OS X, iOS, Windows 7 & XP, CentOS, Tomato, and Ubuntu.

  7. Michael says:

    Proprietary drivers on Ubuntu are like puppies, they will likely cost you many headaches. FLOSS drivers on Ubuntu are like kittens, in other words they are shit.

  8. David Consiglio, Jr. says:

    Windows is free as in puppy.
    Mac is free as in tiger.
    Ubuntu is free as in houseplant.

    The puppy has already been explained.

    Mac if free as in Tiger because a tiger eats massive amounts of meat (software) but is really sleek and attractive.

    Ubuntu is free as in houseplant insomuch as it may require tiny amounts of water (like the cost of water for a plant).

    All of them require maintenance, so that’s a wash.

  9. Martijn says:


    I think that you’d better search for another analogy than “Puppy”, just because there is a Linux distribution called Puppy Linux. For example you can call it Kitten and then you will have the same idea.
    I guess the Puppy Linux community would be grateful if you do.

    • Michael Hall says:

      I know, and that did come to mind, but the analogy had already been made so there wasn’t much sense in changing the story now.

  10. Paul says:

    @David Consiglio, I don’t understand your “Mac is free as in tiger” analogy. What do you mean by the “eats massive amounts of meat (software)” part? I can tell you mean something negative, but I don’t know what exactly.

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