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Free software is a software that gives the user freedom to execute, reproduce, distribute, study, modify and enhance the software. To be specific, free software is a matter of freedom and not of price.
It means a user can freely utilize, change and distribute a program restricted to one condition – any redistributed version of the software must be distributed with the original terms of free use, modification and distribution, which is known as copyleft. And unlike freeware, free software is not free of charge.
To modify a program, you need to access its source code which a free software offers and whereas a freeware does not. Free software gives freedom to redistribute copies. A user must executable forms of the program and the source code for both the modified and original versions.
The Four Essential Freedoms in a Free Software
A program is free software if the program’s users have the four essential freedoms:
- Freedom 0 – The freedom to execute the program as you wish, for any purpose.
- Freedom 1 – The freedom to examine how the program works and modify it so it does your computing as you wish. Access to the source code is a prerequisite for this.
- Freedom 2 – The freedom to disseminate copies so you can help other users.
- Freedom 3 – The freedom to share copies of your modified versions to other users. With this you are sharing the benefits of your modifications to others. Access to the source code is a prerequisite for this.
In order for these freedoms to be real, they must be permanent and irrevocable as long as you do nothing wrong. If the software developer can revoke the license, or subsequently add restrictions to its terms, without your doing anything wrong to give cause, the software is not free.
Some rules about the way of distributing free software are allowed, when they don’t conflict with the central freedoms. For example, copyleft is the rule that when redistributing the program, you cannot add restrictions to deny other people the central freedoms. This rule does not contradict with the central freedoms; rather it keeps them.
Freeware is software that is distributed for free. These programs are available as fully functional software for an unlimited period. Ownership of any freeware is maintained by its developer. The developer can change future releases from freeware to a paid product if he wishes so. Also, a freeware is typically distributed without its source code. This is done to avoid any sort of changes by its users. The license with which a free program is shared may allow the software to be freely copied but not sold. In some cases, one may not be allowed to even distribute the software.
Shareware is a demo software that is shared for free but for a limited evaluation period only, like 15 to 30 days. After the limited period the program expires, and the user can no longer use the program. Only if you are interested in using the program further, the shareware provider may require that you purchase a license for the software. It is also referred to as trialware as if it is available for free during the trial period. After the trial period, user has to purchase.
So, basically it is distributed on trial basis and with an understanding that sometime later a user may be interested in paying for it. Also, some sharewares are offered as liteware. In liteware certain capabilities are disabled. One can access complete functions only after buying or upgrading to the complete version of the program. Thus, shareware software is often used for marketing purposes.