For other uses, see Free software (disambiguation).

Freeware is proprietary software that is available for use at no monetary cost. In other words, freeware may be used without payment but may usually not be modified, re-distributed or reverse-engineered without the author's permission.[1][2][3] Two historic examples of freeware include Skype and Adobe Acrobat Reader.

Freeware, although itself free of charge, may be intended to benefit its owner, e.g. by encouraging sales of a more capable version ("Freemium" or Shareware business model). The source code of freeware is typically not available, unlike free software and open source software which are often distributed free of charge.[1][3][4][5]


The term freeware was coined in 1982[6] by Andrew Fluegelman when he wanted to sell a communications program named PC-Talk that he had created but for which he did not wish to use commercial distribution channels.[7] Fluegelman actually distributed PC-Talk via a process now referred to as shareware, no longer called freeware.[8]

The term freeware was used often in the 1980s and 1990s for programs released without source code.[3][9]


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.[10] In contrast to what the FSF calls free software, the author usually restricts the rights of the user to use, copy, distribute, modify, make derivative works, or reverse-engineer the software.[1][2][11][12] The software license may impose various additional restrictions on the type of use, e.g. only for personal use, private use, individual use, non-profit use, non-commercial use, academic use, educational use, use in charity or humanitarian organizations, non-military use, use by public authorities or various other combinations of these type of restrictions.[13] For instance, the license may be "free for private, non-commercial use". The software license may also impose various other restrictions, such as restricted use over a network, restricted use on a server, restricted use in a combination with some types of other software or with some hardware devices, prohibited distribution over the Internet other than linking to author's website, restricted distribution without author's consent, restricted number of copies, etc.[11][12] Restrictions may be required by the licence, or enforced by the software (e.g., not usable over a network).

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.[5]

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)".[14]

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.[15] 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 less 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 do not ask money for license but display advertisement to either compensate for development costs or as a mean 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.[16][17][18][19]


Freeware cannot economically rely on commercial promotion. In May 2015 advertising freeware on Google AdWords was restricted to "authoritative source"[s].[20] 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.[15] 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


  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 2011-02-16. 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. "Shareware: An Alternative to the High Cost of Software", Damon Camille, 1987
  8. The Price of Quality Software by Tom Smith
  9. Free Software Foundation, Inc. "Words to Avoid (or Use with Care) Because They Are Loaded or Confusing". Retrieved 2011-02-16. 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.
  10. 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.
  11. 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.
  12. 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.
  13. "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.
  14. "freeware". Oxford English Dictionary (3rd ed.). Oxford University Press. September 2005. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  15. 1 2 Wainewright, Phil (July 6, 2009). "Free is not a business model". ZDNet. CBS Interactive.
  16. 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.
  17. "Is registerware an anti-piracy necessity?". InfoWorld. InfoWorld Media Group. 21 (5). 1 Feb 1999. ISSN 0199-6649.
  18. Foster, Ed (14 Oct 2002). "Since you asked...". InfoWorld. InfoWorld Media Group. 24 (41). ISSN 0199-6649.
  19. Foster, Ed (18 Nov 2002). "A vote for fair play". InfoWorld. InfoWorld Media Group. 24 (46). ISSN 0199-6649.
  20. "Legal requirements". Advertising Policies Help. Google. Retrieved 6 November 2016.

External links

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