When Free Software is not Free

I don’t normally pitch my videos on the forum, but I’m interested in everyone’s opinion. Have we hit a wall – a paywall – with free software? Are we at an inflection point? Let me know your thoughts. Hit the comments on YouTube and amp up the volume of the video :slight_smile:


Maybe for commercial off the shelf stuff, but there are options. I use a fair amount of open source based applications - Home Assistant for home automation & control, Inkscape for 2D design (although I do also pay for Affinity Designer), FreeCad for 3D part design, Blender for 3D shape/art design, an old pre-paywall version of Office (or I’d use OpenOffice) and Corel.

I pay for those apps that provide a compelling feature set or use case that justifies the price. For instance, VCarve Pro. But I tend to pay for the chargeable upgrades only when I really need something that’s new so I’ll often skip a version or two.

We don’t have to play the paywall game.

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Hey Jim - thanks for the input. I pay for a couple key applications like Fusion and Affinity but that’s about it. It was quite painful to pay for Fusion, but since I already used the 3D design, CAM, and PCB design (after they bought Eagle), it made sense. I can’t say the same for other applications.

All that said, how much longer will Home Assistant, Blender, and Inkscape be completely free? Seriously, money is a serious motivator and so many free packages are now “free” and paid for the good stuff.

Anyway - thanks for the input!!


I think as long as there’s a community of nerds who want to make them better. Open Source allows them an opportunity to make the software do what “it should” - everyone has an opinion on software but OS allows the motivated ones to do something about it.

Now if someone figured out a way to take a fork of a project and customize it in response to some unmet market need, that might cause the original to be abandoned which would then kill the OS developers - no one wants to write software no one will use. Onefinity might have done something like that to the Buildbotics code but they never really made it better and they’re now moving on from it.

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Hey all,

= 2 ct :slight_smile:

PS: Hey Tom @cyberreefguru,

your video is disabled, cannot be watched, so I don’t know what reflections you made on the topic

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Hey Tom, hey @JimHatch, hey all,

I have observed the software market since about 1990, and I find unixoid operating systems are an example for what happened then: RedHat, SuSE and Solaris were proprietary software that you had to pay for. Of course they benefitted of lots of free and open source software available that they packaged with their offers, but they had a core that was proprietary, non-free, and to pay. In the 2000s, they realized how the quality and the quantity of capabilities improves when the community contributes. So they all issued free versions of their operating systems that are still available as free and open software today. Instead of only pay developers that work on their proprietary software, they now pay developers that contribute to free and open software. IBM today pays multiple developers that work full-time on the free and open Linux kernel, and many others do.

Similar happened with StarOffice and Netscape Communicator Suite: Today they are free and open as LibreOffice and Mozilla Firefox and Thunderbird.

So I don’t think that open projects that are loved and needed by the community are in danger – the community could always fork.

Blender says:

Get Involved

Blender is being made by hundreds of contributors from around the world; by studios and individual artists, professionals and hobbyists, scientists and students, VFX experts and animators, and so on. All of them are united by the desire to have access to a fully free/open source 3D creation pipeline.

What you can pay for, is e.g. for training, e.g. Blender Studio project (Access to all training, assets and films for €11.50/month). If you look at how powerful blender is today, as you can make entire films with it, it is clear that mastering such a software within an acceptable amount of time is something people would pay for. But you still have the choice to use such an offer or to keep stuck on the tutorials and training that the community or various people offer that are of more or less good quality or are sponsored by advertising/commercials.


Hey Tom @cyberreefguru,

EDIT: I can watch it directly on Youtube, but I have difficulties to follow any of your videos. Would it be possible that you simply post the script?

Hi @Aiph5u - does this help:


And all excellent points. None of my examples in the video are truly free software nor are they open source; and yes, true open source software is truly free (at least until it is no longer maintained and won’t operate properly).


I dunno; if you’re using a free version of a software package, you’re not really a customer, are you? It’s their property, and we’ve paid nothing for it; I don’t think they owe us anything. Although it may be a bad business decision. Unix and its descendants and the C language got traction initially because Bell Labs gave them away to educational institutions.

As a hobbyist, personally I don’t see the problem. I often use Onshape for CAD. It’s basically a web-based version of Solidworks CAD, and is free if you keep your files public. Now I mostly use the hobbyist (free) version of Fusion 360, since I’m, well, a hobbyist😉 . CAD capabilities equivalent to Solidworks, and a very powerful and flexible CAM package. I’ve looked at a few open-source CAM packages and the ones I looked at seem like buggy unworkable toys compared to Fusion.

I don’t understand the “app store” thing at all. Who does CAD on a phone or tablet?


Hey Barry, hey all,

yes, and when they began to charge for it, without meaning to, they have induced the emergence of the Free Software movement, starting with the free and open GNU world of software, which today is a big part of any unixoid distribution, and regarding the unixoid operating systems themselves, because during the USL v. BSDi lawsuit, no one dared to sell a Unix (even Microsoft worked on a Unix at that time – Xenix) without a licence from AT&T, a young computer science student came to the idea to write its own unixoid kernel for the new Intel 80386 processor which, unlike its Intel predecessors used in IBM PCs, finally had memory management, which made it capable of running a unixoid system, a kernel which he called “Linux” and is free and open and today is an indispensable part of a large percentage of the computers in industry and business, and also of the majority of smartphones, despite, or precisely because of, being free and open.

(And since IBM, who are known for wrong decisions, failed to realize the potential of the new Intel 80386 processor, and instead issued a new PC that was incompatible(!) with the PC-compatible hardware standards IBM had established previously, with new features from which nothing remained except the well-hated PS/2 keyboard and mouse connectors (that took place of the reliable 5-pin DIN keyboard connector) until they were displaced by USB, IBM sold their PC division finally. The first computer that used the Intel 80386 was not IBM, but Compaq in the Deskpro 386 (I owned one and tested the very new Linux kernel on it in the early 1990s - something that was not possible on the IBM AT :frowning:))

So any software that is developed but proprietary and charged for, can induce a free and open alternative. If you compare AutoCAD with FreeCAD, due to the money that Autodesk puts into it (that it collects through its subscription model), with Autodesk’s Fusion360 you possibly may have a more capable software in comparison to the free and open alternative FreeCAD, but if you look at Blender, it’s difficult to say whether for your project it would be worth acquiring or subscribing to proprietary software instead of using the free and open Blender.

By the way, I am not a hobbyist and many CNC users are not, and in this case the decision to use a specific software depends not only on the capabilities of the software, but also on the price/performance ratio.

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I have been on both side of this argument. I wrote engineering software that used libraries from UG-Nx abd Catia, MS tool suite (commercial)… but we also used VS Code, GitHub, Qt, OpenCascade and MySql and a lot more (open source).

Today as a retiree, I use the apps FreeCad, Inkscape, LibreOffice, TOR, Firefox, IfranView, VS Code, GitHub and the libraries Qt, OpenCascade and MySql and a lot more.

In the spirit of OpenSource I have also worked on some of these projects. This is my way of giving back to the community.

Making money on software can be just as hard as making money building cutting boards. I ran into a similar issue as Qt changed their licensing structure from GPL to a subscription base.

With that said I too avoid Autodesk like the plague. I did buy VCarvePro, and it has it’s place, but I am really migrating to FreeCad. FreeCad is full 3D and Parametric (think spreadsheet driven) For me I want to make projects with multiple pieces… think furniture. FreeCad does this well. Now don’t think this is an easy piece of software to learn in 10 min… FreeCad has a substantial learning curve (think Autodesk capabilities) By the way I have contributed time to FreeCad also.

A long ramble to say in my opinion go true open source (and give back money or time) and don’t use products that are only there to guide you into paid product.


Aiph5u I am curious what is it you can do in AutoCad that you cannot do in FreeCad? I am not trying to stir the pot, but comparisons are hard to do.

I am no AutoCad expert, my background is Unigraphics NX. (NX Open) and frankly I am surprised how close FreeCad can come to the big commercial products.

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Hey Carl and Lynn,

I don’t know, I don’t use Autodesk software (not even Eagle, but gEDA, then Lepton EDA instead). What I referred to is the many positive reports of people that use Fusion360, so I said “with Autodesk’s Fusion360 you possibly may have a more capable software in comparison to the free and open alternative FreeCAD, where I referred to the CAM part (called “Path Workbench” in FreeCAD) and I also think the toolpath capabilities of Vectric VCarve Pro could be worth paying for. But I use FreeCAD and Blender. I also use many other free and open software. I think FreeCAD is very versatile but I don’t compare since I don’t have the time to learn all softwares only to compare them, especially not when I don’t like their subscription model, and especially not when they only run on Windows that I don’t use.

Did you have access to AutoCAD and compared it with FreeCAD? You already said what you think of FreeCAD, and I agree, and as long as it helps me very well I see no reason to switch to something else, especially not to proprietary software. FreeCAD has excellent tutorials in many languages and is very versatile, so I would recommend it to anyone.

VCarve Pro has a trial version but it doesn’t allow to export g-code, so the trial version is just to get familiar with the user interface and the capabilities.

If someone doesn’t want to spend money but create an object and run it as g-code and mill it on the CNC, one should start with FreeCAD and see if something is missing.

But I also encounter opinions like this. In a world that increasingly unlearns to let the different opinion of the other to exist benevolently, I think I like to link to it.


I am afraid my wife was the AutoCad engineer, but she is an electrical. I am as she would say a knuckle dragging mechanical. So my AutoCad is limited to REAL simple stuff.

My comparison is really to Siemens (UG) NX … last used 2022. So you got me thinking if I could choose from both right now, as in zero cost for both which would I choose? Considering we had a stack of PRs against NX that never seemed to get fixed, I think FreeCad… at least I have a chance of fixing it.

In respect to “In a world that increasingly unlearns to let the different opinion of the other to exist benevolently” I heartly agree. I love to be shown the err of my wise… done respectfully of course. With colleagues at work we could argue all morning (often switching sides multiple times) then buy each other a beer at lunch. If I am not learning I am dead.

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@Aiph5u Are you a Linux user? I’ve toyed with the idea of moving to Linux after many years as a windows user because of work.

I am considering the move as I have an ageing PC i think i might get more life from it by moving. I’d be curious to hear your views, in the context of modelling, CAD and CAM.

I have downloaded FreeCAD but i really havent given it a go.


Hey Carl and Lynn,

if you are used to work with the proprietary NX software (did you? or just with the nx open api?) then you must be able very well to judge on how good FreeCAD competes. But of course, even if your experience surely helps, the learning of a specific software takes a lot of time.

Hey Andy,

yes, I use Linux and (among different distributions in the 90ies) the Debian GNU/Linux distribution since it exists without a pause, the only thing is I switched to the Devuan fork at the moment when, with Debian 8 “Jessie”, Debian made the use of systemd as the init system mandatory, and since I think systemd is not a PID 1 replacement but a disease (and first of all since they made udev now being a part of systemd, so udev would be missing if you don’t use systemd), I used the possibility to cross-upgrade from Debian 7 “Wheezy” to Devuan 8 “Jessie”. I run it on most of my PCs and notebooks just as I ran Debian before. The majority of packages in the repository is of course identical (mirrored), it’s just you don’t have to use systemd, you have the free choice of the init system (Init Freedom). Recently I wrote this and it’s still valid if you’d like to try:

Linux-based systems are usually excellent to get the most performance out of aging PCs. I use FreeCad and Blender, I would suggest for CAD/CAM and 3D applications to have enough RAM. But I run them not only on my Xeon with 64 GB RAM, but also on e.g. a small passively cooled Celeron with 24 GB RAM, everything runs smoothly. I have the swap on a SSD just in case, so it is very fast.


Both actually… NX-Open API allowed us to merge our apps into the NX GUI … think a plug in. Which was both good and bad … it was nice to have the full GUI, but if the lib you were using exited well it exited NX … which means you had a 30 second restart time.

I would NOT consider myself an NX modeling expert but certainly qualified. Doing compound fillets between airfoils and their platforms was often tricking, and left to true modelers (used to call them draftsmen :wink: )

:grin: your extensive and precise replies make me smile. I will give your reccomendations on linux a go. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

Ive been a blender user on/off since maybe early 2000 but prefer the procedural node based modelling of Houdini3D which is now finding its way into Blender, hence the renewed interest.

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Carl - I’ve used Fusion and Eagle for years. I ended up purchasing a license for Fusion a while back, after Eagle was integrated. In short, Autodesk is making Fusion an end-to-end design environment; concept to production.

In the past we did CAD work in CAD applications, PCB work in PCB applications, and then prayed the PCB fit the model once produced. Now, it’s all in one. 3D modeling easily converted into a PCB and back again. Things like the height of packages and how they fit into an enclosure were essentially rolling the dice until Fusion came along. Now you can design the PCB, select the parts, and ensure the enclosure matches (or vice verse if your Apple ;)).

Quite honestly I’m surprised by the innovation Autodesk is putting into Fusion. And I’m super concerned that its value will ultimately command an equivalent price – pricing me out of the market. Or, they will move more and more features behind a higher and higher paywall. Again, pricing me out of the market. So for right now, I think the end to end experience in Fusion is bar none. It’s not perfect, but it is the only game in town that I am aware of.

+/- 0.02


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