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 the same process as 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


Freeware software is available for use without charge and typically has limited functionality with a more capable version available commercially or as shareware. It is typically fully functional for an unlimited period of time.[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.[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)".[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]

Shareware can be freely distributed, but the license only allows limited use before paying the license fee.[22] Some features may be disabled prior to payment, in which case it is sometimes known as crippleware.

Both freeware and shareware sometimes have a limited evaluation period, after which the software is automatically disabled or starts displaying a request to pay a registration fee. In the latter case it is colloquially known as nagware.

Creative Commons licenses


The Creative Commons offer licenses, applicable to all by copyright governed works including software,[23] which allow a developer to define "freeware" in a legal safe and internationally law domains respecting way.[24][25][26] 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,[27] 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].[28] 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.

Free trial


A free trial is another related concept in which a product or service is offered in a small quantity, or for a limited period, without the need for payment.[29]

When a software monopoly has a strong network effect, it may be more profitable for it to offer a free trial.[30] Also, customers acquired via a free trial have a much lower customer lifetime value as opposed to regular customers, but they also respond more to marketing communications.[31]

Some factors that may encourage or discourage people to use free trials include:[32]

  • perceived usefulness
  • perceived ease of use
  • perceived risk
  • social influence
  • gender

See also



  1. ^ a b c "Freeware Definition". The Linux Information Project. 2006-10-22. Retrieved 2009-06-12.
  2. ^ 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.
  3. ^ a b c d "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. ^ a b 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. ^ a b 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. ^ Stallman, Richard M. "Words to Avoid (or Use with Care) Because They Are Loaded or Confusing". Free Software Foundation. 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. ^ a b "ADOBE Personal Computer Software License Agreement" (PDF) (in Arabic). Adobe. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2011-05-10. 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}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  14. ^ a b "ADOBE READER AND RUNTIME SOFTWARE – DISTRIBUTION LICENSE AGREEMENT FOR USE ON PERSONAL COMPUTERS". Adobe. 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. ^ a b Wainewright, Phil (July 6, 2009). "Free is not a business model". ZDNet. CBS Interactive. Archived from the original on May 23, 2010.
  18. ^ Foster, Ed (11 Jan 1999). "An exercise in frustration? Registerware forces users to jump through hoops". InfoWorld. 21 (2). InfoWorld Media Group. ISSN 0199-6649.
  19. ^ "Is registerware an anti-piracy necessity?". InfoWorld. 21 (5). InfoWorld Media Group. 1 Feb 1999. ISSN 0199-6649.
  20. ^ Foster, Ed (14 Oct 2002). "Since you asked..." InfoWorld. 24 (41). InfoWorld Media Group. ISSN 0199-6649.
  21. ^ Foster, Ed (18 Nov 2002). "A vote for fair play". InfoWorld. 24 (46). InfoWorld Media Group. ISSN 0199-6649.
  22. ^ "Categories of free and nonfree software". Retrieved 2023-04-03. 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.
  23. ^ "Creative Commons Legal Code". Creative Commons. January 9, 2008. Archived from the original on February 11, 2010. Retrieved February 22, 2010.
  24. ^ 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.
  25. ^ "What's new in 4.0?". Creative Commons. 2013. Archived from the original on November 29, 2013. Retrieved November 26, 2013.
  26. ^ "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.
  27. ^ "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
  28. ^ "Legal requirements". Advertising Policies Help. Retrieved 6 November 2016.
  29. ^ "FREE TRIAL | definition in the Cambridge English Dictionary". Cambridge Dictionary. Retrieved 3 April 2024.
  30. ^ Cheng, Hsing Kenneth; Tang, Qian Candy (September 2010). "Free trial or no free trial: Optimal software product design with network effects". European Journal of Operational Research. 205 (2): 437–447. doi:10.1016/j.ejor.2010.01.014. ISSN 0377-2217.
  31. ^ Datta, Hannes; Foubert, Bram; Van Heerde, Harald J. (April 2015). "The Challenge of Retaining Customers Acquired with Free Trials". Journal of Marketing Research. 52 (2): 217–234. doi:10.1509/jmr.12.0160. ISSN 0022-2437.
  32. ^ Zhu, Dong Hong; Chang, Ya Ping (January 2014). "Investigating consumer attitude and intention toward free trials of technology-based services". Computers in Human Behavior. 30: 328–334. doi:10.1016/j.chb.2013.09.008. ISSN 0747-5632.