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Freeware (portmanteau of "free" and "software") is software that is available for use at no monetary cost or for an optional fee,[1] but usually (although not necessarily) closed source with one or more restricted usage rights.[2][3][4] Freeware is in contrast to commercial software, which is typically sold for profit, but might be distributed for a business or commercial purpose in the aim to expand the marketshare of a "premium" product. According to the Free Software Foundation, "freeware" is a loosely defined category and it has no clear accepted definition, although FSF says it must be distinguished from free software (libre).[4] Popular examples of closed-source freeware include Adobe Reader, Free Studio and Skype.


The term freeware was coined by Andrew Fluegelman when he wanted to sell in 1982[5] a communications program named PC-Talk that he had created but for which he did not wish to use traditional methods of distribution[clarification needed] because of their cost.[6] Fluegelman actually distributed PC-Talk via a process now referred to as shareware. Current use of the term freeware does not necessarily match the original concept by Andrew Fluegelman.[7]

The term freeware was used often in the 1980s and 1990s for programs released only as executables, with source code not available.[4][8]


Software license[edit]

Software classified as freeware is licensed at no cost and is either fully functional for an unlimited time; or has only basic functions enabled with a fully functional version available commercially or as shareware.[9] In contrast to free software, the author usually restricts one or more rights of the user, including the rights to use, copy, distribute, modify and make derivative works of the software or extract the source code.[2][3][10][11] 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.[12] 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.[10][11]

Relation to other forms of software licensing[edit]

Freeware should not be confused with free software or free and open source software.[13] 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.

Shareware is similar to freeware. It obliges the user to pay after some trial period or to gain additional functionality.[2] Typically, the user pays to remove restrictions on an existing installation of the software, which is then modified in place. Another form of shareware is free only for personal or educational use, e.g., IrfanView and XnView are often labelled as "freeware".

Some freeware products are released alongside separate paid versions with more or better features. This approach is known as freemium ("free" + "premium"), since the free version is intended as a promotion for the premium version.[14] The two often share a code base, using a compiler flag to determine which is produced. The BBEdit, BBEdit Lite and TextWrangler text editors for the Macintosh are examples of this model. The freeware version may be advertising supported, as was the case with the Eudora email client.

Since freeware is defined only by its price, the term may also refer to public domain software.

Method of distribution[edit]

Freeware cannot economically rely on commercial promotion. Thus the internet is 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.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Freeware" (2010). Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. Accessed January 13, 2010.
  2. ^ a b c The Linux Information Project (2006-10-22). "Freeware Definition". Retrieved 2009-06-12. 
  3. ^ a b 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." 
  4. ^ a b c "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." 
  5. ^ "Shareware: An Alternative to the High Cost of Software", Damon Camille, 1987
  6. ^
  7. ^ The Price of Quality Software by Tom Smith
  8. ^ 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." 
  9. ^ 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." 
  10. ^ a b 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." 
  11. ^ a b "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." 
  12. ^ "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." 
  13. ^ 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." 
  14. ^

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