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Freeware is software, most often proprietary, that is distributed at no monetary cost to the end user. There is no agreed-upon set of rights, license, or EULA that defines freeware unambiguously; every publisher defines its own rules for the freeware it offers. For instance, modification, redistribution by third parties, and reverse engineering are permitted by some publishers but prohibited by others. [1] [2] [3] Unlike with free and open-source software, which are also often distributed free of charge, the source code for freeware is typically not made available. [1] [3] [4] [5] Freeware may be intended to benefit its producer by, for example, encouraging sales of a more capable version, as in the freemium and shareware business models. [6]



The term freeware was coined in 1982 [7] by Andrew Fluegelman, who wanted to sell PC-Talk, the communications application he had created, outside of commercial distribution channels. [8] Fluegelman distributed the program via a process now termed shareware . [9] As software types can change, freeware can change into shareware. [10]

In the 1980s and 1990s, the term freeware was often applied to software released without source code. [3] [11]


Software license

Software classified as freeware may be used without payment and is typically either fully functional for an unlimited time or has limited functionality, with a more capable version available commercially or as shareware. [12]

In contrast to what the Free Software Foundation calls free software, the author of freeware usually restricts the rights of the user to use, copy, distribute, modify, make derivative works, or reverse engineer the software. [1] [2] [13] [14] The software license may impose additional usage restrictions; [15] for instance, the license may be "free for private, non-commercial use" only,[ citation needed ] or usage over a network, on a server, or in combination with certain other software packages may be prohibited. [13] [14] Restrictions may be required by license or enforced by the software itself; e.g., the package may fail to function over a network.[ citation needed ]

Relation to other forms of software licensing

This Venn diagram describes the typical relationship between freeware and open source software: According to David Rosen from Wolfire Games in 2010, open source software (orange) is most often gratis but not always. Freeware (green) seldom expose their source codes. Open-source-vs-freeware.svg
This Venn diagram describes the typical relationship between freeware and open source software: According to David Rosen from Wolfire Games in 2010, open source software (orange) is most often gratis but not always. Freeware (green) seldom expose their source codes.

The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) defines "open source software" (i.e., free software or free and open-source software), as distinct from "freeware" or "shareware"; it is software where "the Government does not have access to the original source code". [4] The "free" in "freeware" refers to the price of the software, which is typically proprietary and distributed without source code. By contrast, the "free" in "free software" refers to freedoms granted users under the software license (for example, to run the program for any purpose, modify and redistribute the program to others), and such software may be sold at a price.

According to the Free Software Foundation (FSF), "freeware" is a loosely defined category and it has no clear accepted definition, although FSF asks that free software (libre; unrestricted and with source code available) should not be called freeware. [3] In contrast the Oxford English Dictionary simply characterizes freeware as being "available free of charge (sometimes with the suggestion that users should make a donation to the provider)". [16]

Some freeware products are released alongside paid versions that either have more features or less restrictive licensing terms. This approach is known as freemium ("free" + "premium"), since the free version is intended as a promotion for the premium version. [17] The two often share a code base, using a compiler flag to determine which is produced. For example, BBEdit has a BBEdit Lite edition which has fewer features. XnView is available free of charge for personal use but must be licensed for commercial use. The free version may be advertising supported, as was the case with the DivX.

Ad-supported software and free registerware also bear resemblances to freeware. Ad-supported software does not ask for payment for a license, but displays advertising to either compensate for development costs or as a means of income. Registerware forces the user to subscribe with the publisher before being able to use the product. While commercial products may require registration to ensure licensed use, free registerware do not. [18] [19] [20] [21]

Creative Commons licenses

The Creative Commons offer licenses, applicable to all by copyright governed works including software, [22] which allow a developer to define "freeware" in a legal safe and internationally law domains respecting way. [23] [24] [25] The typical freeware use case "share" can be further refined with Creative Commons restriction clauses like non-commerciality (CC BY-NC) or no-derivatives (CC BY-ND), see description of licenses.[ original research? ] There are several usage examples, for instance The White Chamber, Mari0 or Assault Cube, [26] all freeware by being CC BY-NC-SA licensed: free sharing allowed, selling not.


Freeware cannot economically rely on commercial promotion. In May 2015 advertising freeware on Google AdWords was restricted to "authoritative source"[s]. [27] Thus web sites and blogs are the primary resource for information on which freeware is available, useful, and is not malware. However, there are also many computer magazines or newspapers that provide ratings for freeware and include compact discs or other storage media containing freeware. Freeware is also often bundled with other products such as digital cameras or scanners.

Freeware has been criticized as "unsustainable" because it requires a single entity to be responsible for updating and enhancing the product, which is then given away without charge. [17] Other freeware projects are simply released as one-off programs with no promise or expectation of further development. These may include source code, as does free software, so that users can make any required or desired changes themselves, but this code remains subject to the license of the compiled executable and does not constitute free software.

See also

Related Research Articles

Free software Software licensed to preserve user freedoms

Free software is computer software distributed under terms that allow users to run the software for any purpose as well as to study, change, and distribute it and any adapted versions. Free software is a matter of liberty, not price; all users are legally free to do what they want with their copies of a free software regardless of how much is paid to obtain the program. Computer programs are deemed "free" if they give end-users ultimate control over the software and, subsequently, over their devices.

Shareware is a type of proprietary software which is initially shared by the owner for trial use at little or no cost with usually limited functionality or incomplete documentation but which can be upgraded upon payment. Shareware is often offered as a download from a website or on a compact disc included with a magazine. Shareware differs from freeware, which is software distributed at no cost to the user but without source code being made available; and open-source software, in which the source code is freely available for anyone to inspect and alter.

Adobe Acrobat Set of application software to view, edit and manage files in Portable Document Format (PDF)

Adobe Acrobat is a family of application software and Web services developed by Adobe Inc. to view, create, manipulate, print and manage files in Portable Document Format (PDF).

Creative Commons license Public copyright license for allowing free use of a work

A Creative Commons (CC) license is one of several public copyright licenses that enable the free distribution of an otherwise copyrighted "work". A CC license is used when an author wants to give other people the right to share, use, and build upon a work that the author has created. CC provides an author flexibility and protects the people who use or redistribute an author's work from concerns of copyright infringement as long as they abide by the conditions that are specified in the license by which the author distributes the work.

Open-source software Software licensed to ensure source code usage rights

Open-source software (OSS) is a type of computer software in which source code is released under a license in which the copyright holder grants users the rights to use, study, change, and distribute the software to anyone and for any purpose. Open-source software may be developed in a collaborative public manner. Open-source software is a prominent example of open collaboration.


PC-Write was a computer word processor and was one of the first three widely popular software products sold via the marketing method that became known as shareware. It was originally written by Bob Wallace in early 1983.

Source-available software is software released through a source code distribution model that includes arrangements where the source can be viewed, and in some cases modified, but without necessarily meeting the criteria to be called open-source. The licenses associated with the offerings range from allowing code to be viewed for reference to allowing code to be modified and redistributed for both commercial and non-commercial purposes.

Freely redistributable software (FRS) is software that anyone is free to redistribute. The term has been used to mean two types of free to redistribute software, distinguished by the legal modifiability and limitations on purpose of use of the software. FRS which can be legally modified and used for any purpose is the same as free software. Non-legally modifiable FRS is freeware, shareware or similar.

<i>Ares</i> (video game)

Ares is a space strategy video game created by Nathan Lamont of Bigger Planet Software, and first released by Changeling Software in 1998. In 1999 the game was re-released as shareware by Ambrosia Software and released as open source software and freeware in 2008. The key feature of the game was its ability to zoom in and out smoothly; this allowed the player to switch between a close-up view, which emphasized space combat skills, and a strategic view of the entire map.

This is a comparison of free and open-source software licences. The comparison only covers software licences with a linked article for details, approved by at least one expert group at the FSF, the OSI, the Debian project or the Fedora project. For a list of licences not specifically intended for software, see List of free content licences.

Public-domain software

Public-domain software is software that has been placed in the public domain: in other words, there is absolutely no ownership such as copyright, trademark, or patent. Software in the public domain can be modified, distributed, or sold even without any attribution by anyone; this is unlike the common case of software under exclusive copyright, where software licenses grant limited usage rights.

Connect Business Information Network, formerly known as MacNET, was a proprietary dial-up online network with a graphic user interface similar to AppleLink.

Photoshop plugins are add-on programs aimed at providing additional image effects or performing tasks that are impossible or hard to fulfill using Adobe Photoshop alone. Plugins can be opened from within Photoshop and several other image editing programs and act like mini-editors that modify the image.

Courier is an email client used on Microsoft Windows. The software was originally released in 1996 as Calypso by Micro Computer Systems (MCS).

Free content Creative work with few or no restrictions on how it may be used

A free content, libre content, or free information, is any kind of functional work, work of art, or other creative content that meets the definition of a free cultural work.

Copyleft Practice of mandating free use in all derivatives of a work

Copyleft is the practice of granting the right to freely distribute and modify intellectual property with the requirement that the same rights be preserved in derivative works created from that property. Copyleft in the form of licenses can be used to maintain copyright conditions for works ranging from computer software, to documents, art, scientific discoveries and even certain patents.

Proprietary software, also known as non-free software, is computer software for which the software's publisher or another person reserves some rights from licensees to use, modify, share modifications, or share the software. It sometimes includes patent rights.

Software categories are groups of software. They allow software to be understood in terms of those categories, instead of the particularities of each package. Different classification schemes consider different aspects of software.


  1. 1 2 3 "Freeware Definition". The Linux Information Project. 2006-10-22. Retrieved 2009-06-12.
  2. 1 2 Graham, Lawrence D (1999). Legal battles that shaped the computer industry. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 175. ISBN   978-1-56720-178-9 . Retrieved 2009-03-16. Freeware, however, is generally only free in terms of price; the author typically retains all other rights, including the rights to copy, distribute, and make derivative works from the software.
  3. 1 2 3 4 "Categories of free and nonfree software" . Retrieved 2017-05-01. The term “freeware” has no clear accepted definition, but it is commonly used for packages which permit redistribution but not modification (and their source code is not available). These packages are not free software, so please don't use "freeware" to refer to free software.
  4. 1 2 Frequently Asked Questions regarding Open Source Software (OSS) and the Department of Defense (DoD) , retrieved 2012-06-11, Also, do not use the terms "freeware" or "shareware" as a synonym for "open source software". DoD Instruction 8500.2, “Information Assurance (IA) Implementation”, Enclosure 4, control DCPD-1, states that these terms apply to software where "the Government does not have access to the original source code". The government does have access to the original source code of open source software, so these terms do not apply.
  5. 1 2 Rosen, David (May 16, 2010). "Open-source software is not always freeware". Retrieved 2016-01-18.
  6. Lyons, Kelly; Messinger, Paul R.; Niu, Run H.; Stroulia, Eleni (2012). "A tale of two pricing systems for services". Information Systems and E-Business Management. 10 (1): 19–42. doi:10.1007/s10257-010-0151-3. ISSN   1617-9846. S2CID   34195355.
  7. "Shareware: An Alternative to the High Cost of Software", Damon Camille, 1987
  8. Archived 2006-06-14 at the Wayback Machine
  9. The Price of Quality Software by Tom Smith
  10. Corbly, James Edward (2014-09-25). "The Free Software Alternative: Freeware, Open Source Software, and Libraries". Information Technology and Libraries. 33 (3): 65. doi: 10.6017/ital.v33i3.5105 . ISSN   2163-5226.
  11. Free Software Foundation. "Words to Avoid (or Use with Care) Because They Are Loaded or Confusing" . Retrieved 2017-05-01. 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 definition.
  12. Dixon, Rod (2004). Open Source Software Law. Artech House. p. 4. ISBN   978-1-58053-719-3 . Retrieved 2009-03-16. On the other hand, freeware does not require any payment from the licensee or end-user, but it is not precisely free software, despite the fact that to an end-user the software is acquired in what appears to be an identical manner.
  13. 1 2 "ADOBE Personal Computer Software License Agreement" (PDF). Retrieved 2011-02-16. This license does not grant you the right to sublicense or distribute the Software. ... This agreement does not permit you to install or Use the Software on a computer file server. ... You shall not modify, adapt, translate, or create derivative works based upon the Software. You shall not reverse engineer, decompile, disassemble, or otherwise attempt to discover the source code of the Software. ... You will not Use any Adobe Runtime on any non-PC device or with any embedded or device version of any operating system.Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  14. 1 2 "ADOBE READER AND RUNTIME SOFTWARE - DISTRIBUTION LICENSE AGREEMENT FOR USE ON PERSONAL COMPUTERS" . Retrieved 2011-02-16. Distributor may not make the Software available as a standalone product on the Internet. Distributor may direct end users to obtain the Software, with the exception of ARH, through electronic download on a standalone basis by linking to the official Adobe website.
  15. "IrfanView Software License Agreement" . Retrieved 2011-02-16. IrfanView is provided as freeware, but only for private, non-commercial use (that means at home). ... IrfanView is free for educational use (schools, universities and libraries) and for use in charity or humanitarian organisations. ... You may not distribute, rent, sub-license or otherwise make available to others the Software or documentation or copies thereof, except as expressly permitted in this License without prior written consent from IrfanView (Irfan Skiljan). ... You may not modify, de-compile, disassemble or reverse engineer the Software.
  16. "freeware" . Oxford English Dictionary (Online ed.). Oxford University Press. (Subscription or participating institution membership required.)
  17. 1 2 Wainewright, Phil (July 6, 2009). "Free is not a business model". ZDNet . CBS Interactive.
  18. Foster, Ed (11 Jan 1999). "An exercise in frustration? Registerware forces users to jump through hoops". InfoWorld . InfoWorld Media Group. 21 (2). ISSN   0199-6649.
  19. "Is registerware an anti-piracy necessity?". InfoWorld . InfoWorld Media Group. 21 (5). 1 Feb 1999. ISSN   0199-6649.
  20. Foster, Ed (14 Oct 2002). "Since you asked..." InfoWorld . InfoWorld Media Group. 24 (41). ISSN   0199-6649.
  21. Foster, Ed (18 Nov 2002). "A vote for fair play". InfoWorld . InfoWorld Media Group. 24 (46). ISSN   0199-6649.
  22. "Creative Commons Legal Code". Creative Commons. January 9, 2008. Archived from the original on February 11, 2010. Retrieved February 22, 2010.
  23. Peters, Diane (November 25, 2013). "CC's Next Generation Licenses — Welcome Version 4.0!". Creative Commons. Archived from the original on November 26, 2013. Retrieved November 26, 2013.
  24. "What's new in 4.0?". Creative Commons. 2013. Archived from the original on November 29, 2013. Retrieved November 26, 2013.
  25. "CC 4.0, an end to porting Creative Commons licences?". TechnoLlama. September 25, 2011. Archived from the original on September 2, 2013. Retrieved August 11, 2013.
  26. "AssaultCube - License". Archived from the original on 25 December 2010. Retrieved 2011-01-30. AssaultCube is FREEWARE. [...]The content, code and images of the AssaultCube website and all documentation are licensed under "Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported
  27. "Legal requirements". Advertising Policies Help. Retrieved 6 November 2016.