Many questions seeking tools are of the form, "Where can I get a free tool to do Y?" or "Where can I get an 'open source' version of X?" [which usually just a disingenuous version of the first question, OP has no interest in the source itself]. See the list of questions proposed as exemplars for Software Recommendations.

I'm all in favor of free and, er, open-source, tools and some of them are even my best friends (EMACS rules!). But often the answer to such a question is "There's a very low cost version called Z" or "You can't, only commercial versions exist".

When a question explicitly involving the request "free" is involved, are only answers for literally free tools allowed? If the question is "open source", are only answers for really open source (which doesn't necessary mean free) allowed? (Winzip is arguably free for a time. It isn't open source. There are packages which are not free, but are open source).

If there are paid versions, should it be the case they they are only mentioned in response to a separate question? Only if the adjective "not free" is included in the question? Should "free" and ahem, "open source" programs be include in questions for commercial tools?

My personal belief is that the words "free", "paid", "commercial", etc. should be left out of the question, and added as an attribute of a recommended item. Then the utility of the question goes up, because all the usable answers are collected in one place, and no information is lost.

Proposal: Software Recommendations


This is really a community self-moderation issue to be discussed on the actual site, but if the answers do not specifically meet the requirements of the question, they will be deleted summarily.

If this site is going to work, we are going to have to be real sticklers that the answer actually answer the specific question asked (and, yes, these questions will have to be very specific), and those answers will have to explain how/why their solution fulfills the original author's requirements. Otherwise this site will fill with every astroturfing pseudo-spammers hovering over every question taking every opportunity to post "Hey, you should just try <my-vagely-related-software>."

That's not going to work.

  • I assume that "try my vaguely related software" would be downvoted because the software was mostly irrelevant. That seems to be a ground rule for the site. So, why wouldn't it work? – Ira Baxter Jan 28 '14 at 3:50
  • Spammers and guerrilla marketers would love a site like this to advertise their products/services at every possible opportunity. If every questions fills with dozens/hundreds of poor/unrelated answers, this site will become useless quickly (and will very likely be closed). You can't just down-vote 'spam'; it has to be obliterated on sight. – Robert Cartaino Jan 28 '14 at 14:02
  • We agree you have to be real sticklers. I include "tagging as spam (if not relevant to the question)" as part of downvoting. – Ira Baxter Jan 28 '14 at 14:37

I agree with your last paragraph, it should be an attribute in the same way as e.g. maturity, active community or speed would be valued. This allows people to weigh the different pro's and con's of the available solutions.

E.g. for "What tool can do X" you can have two valid answers:

  • "Tool A does a mediocre job, it buggy, slow and hasn't been developed for over 10 years and only works on Windows 3.1"
  • "Tool B exactly fits your needs and in my experience it's very fast. You do need to make a mandatory $1 contribution to the save the whales foundation."

Both answers need to be in the same place. Saying the software must be free excludes answer B, while many sane people would choose tool B. Thus this shouldn't be part of the question.

I think the same holds for other attributes like "Open-source" or "Fast".

The line becomes blurry when the solution must have specific things for it to be suitable, e.g. "Runs on Windows", "Can be called from Java", "Can provide the answer in under 2 seconds".

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