Software categories

The concept of software categories is a challenging topic, and with the continuous development of new software it is becoming increasingly difficult to categorize new software. There is no universally agreed upon set of categories, and different classification schemes consider different aspects.

Broad categories

Computer software can be put into categories based on common function, type, or field of use. There are three broad classifications:

By copyright status

The GNU Project categorizes software by copyright status: free software, open source software, public domain software, copylefted software, noncopylefted free software, lax permissive licensed software, GPL-covered software, the GNU operating system, GNU programs, GNU software, FSF-copyrighted GNU software, nonfree software, proprietary software, freeware, shareware, private software, and commercial software. [1]

Free software

Free software is software that comes with permission for anyone to use, copy, and/or distribute, either verbatim or with modifications, either gratis or for a fee. In particular, this means that source code must be available. "If it's not source, it's not software." If a program is free, then it can potentially be included in a free operating system such as GNU, or free versions of the Linux system.

Free software in the sense of copyright license (and the GNU project) is a matter of freedom, not price. But proprietary software companies typically use the term "free software" to refer to price. Sometimes this means a binary copy can be obtained at no charge; sometimes this means a copy is bundled with a computer for sale at no additional charge.[1]

Open source software

Open source software is software that is available free of charge. It can be used and disseminated at any point, the source code is open and can be modified as required. The one condition with this type of software is that when changes are made users should make these changes known to others. One of the key characteristics of open source software is that it is the shared intellectual property of all developers and users. The Linux operating system is one of the best known examples of open source software [2]

Copylefted software

Copylefted software is free software whose distribution terms ensure that all copies of all versions carry more or less the same distribution terms. This means, for instance, that copyleft licenses generally disallow others to add additional requirements to the software (though a limited set of safe added requirements can be allowed) and require making source code available. This shields the program, and its modified versions, from some of the common ways of making a program proprietary. Some copyleft licenses block other means of turning software proprietary.

Copyleft is a general concept; to copyleft an actual program, you need to use a specific set of distribution terms. There are many possible ways to write copyleft distribution terms, so in principle there can be many copyleft free software licenses. Two different copyleft licenses are usually “incompatible”, which means it is illegal to merge the code using one license with the code using the other license; therefore, it is good for the community if people use a single copyleft license. [1]

Non-copylefted free software

Noncopylefted free software comes from the author with permission to redistribute and modify, and also to add additional restrictions to it.

If a program is free but not copylefted, then some copies or modified versions may not be free at all. A software company can compile the program, with or without modifications, and distribute the executable file as a proprietary software product. The X Window System illustrates this. The X Consortium releases X11 with distribution terms that make it noncopylefted free software. If you wish, you can get a copy which has those distribution terms and is free. However, there are nonfree versions as well, and there are (or at least were) popular workstations and PC graphics boards for which nonfree versions are the only ones that work. If you are using this hardware, X11 is not free software for you. The developers of X11 even made X11 nonfree for a while; they were able to do this because others had contributed their code under the same noncopyleft license. [1]


Shareware is software which comes with permission for people to redistribute copies, but says that anyone who continues to use a copy is required to pay a license fee. Shareware is not free software, or even semifree. There are two reasons it is not: For most shareware, source code is not available; thus, you cannot modify the program at all. Shareware does not come with permission to make a copy and install it without paying a license fee, not even for individuals engaging in nonprofit activity. In practice, people often disregard the distribution terms and do this anyway, but the terms do not permit it. [1]


Like shareware, freeware is software you can download, pass around, and distribute without any initial payment.... However, the great part about freeware is that you never have to pay for it. No 30-day limit, no demo versions, no disabled features—it's totally free. Things like minor program updates and small games are commonly distributed as freeware. Though freeware does not cost anything, it is still copyrighted, so other people can't market the software as their own. [3]

Microsoft TechNet and AIS Software categories

There are seven major categories according to this classifications, and they are: platform and management, education and reference, home and entertainment, content and communication, operations and professional, product manufacturing and service delivery, and line of business.

Platform and management

Platform and management software includes desktop and network infrastructure and management software that allows users to control the computer operating environment, hardware components and peripherals, and infrastructure services and security. [4]

Education and reference

Education and reference includes educational software that does not contain resources, such as training or help files for a specific application. [4]

Home and entertainment

Applications designed primarily for use in or for the home, or for entertainment. [4]

Content and communications

Content and communications applications include common applications for productivity, content creation, and communications. These typically include office productivity suites, multimedia players, file viewers, Web browsers, and collaboration tools. [4]

Operations and professional

Used for specific job titles; contains applications designed for business uses such as enterprise resource management, customer relations management, supply chain and manufacturing tasks, application development, information management and access, and tasks performed by both business and technical equipment. [4]

Product manufacturing and service delivery

Product manufacturing and service delivery applications help users create products or deliver services in specific industries. Categories in this section are used by the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS).


Line of business



  1. 1 2 3 4 5 "Categories of Free and Nonfree Software - GNU Project - Free Software Foundation (FSF)". 2012-10-18. Retrieved 2012-11-12.
  2. "Heidelberg - Glossary - O". Retrieved 2012-11-12.
  3. "Freeware Definition". Retrieved 2012-11-12.
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 "This Topic Is No Longer Available". Retrieved 2012-11-12.

External links

Wikiversity has learning materials about Computer Software
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