If you’ve been to a computer show in recent months you might have seen it: a shiny silver drink can with a ring-pull logo and the words “opencola” on the side. Inside is a fizzy drink that tastes very much like Coca-Cola. Or is it Pepsi?There’s something else written on the can, though, which sets the drink apart. It says “check out the source at opencola.com.” Go to that Web address and you’ll see something that’s not available on Coca-Cola’s website, or Pepsi’s — the recipe for cola. For the first time ever, you can make the real thing in your own home.
Although originally intended as a promotional tool to explain open source software, the drink has taken on a life of its own. Anybody can make the drink, and anyone can modify and improve on the recipe as long as they, too, license their recipe under the GNU General Public License.
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When the name of your product is Free Beer, the jokes are inevitable. And for the group of Danish students and artists who came up with Free Beer, that's part of the point, but only part. Because while the name of their beer is meant to be playful, the point they are trying to make with it is a rather sophisticated one.
Free Beer is an honest-to-god beer, but one based on a concept that has its roots in the free software movement. "Free software" began in the early 1980s when software developers first started asserting intellectual property rights over their works. The problem wasn't so much that developers were making money off software, but rather that, by asserting these rights, they were no longer allowing the free and informal sharing of code. The free software movement's objection, which was largely cast in moral terms, was essentially that while charging money for software was fine -- everyone has to eat -- it is not right to prevent others from using, studying, distributing, or improving on it.
Free Beer .