Free Software, Freeware, Shareware

46 Computer Science Topics

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Free Software

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 utilise, change, and distribute a program, with one condition. The condition is that any redistributed version of the software must be distributed with the original terms of free use, modification, and distribution, which is known as copyleft.  Unlike freeware, free software is not free of charge.

To modify a program, you need to access its source code, functionality which free software offers and which freeware does not.  Free software grants the user freedom to redistribute copies.  A user must provide 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 can be described as free software if the program’s users are in possession of the four essential freedoms:

  • Freedom 0 – The freedom to execute the program in any way you wish, for any purpose.
  • Freedom 1 – The freedom to examine how the program works and modify it, so that 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 that 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 as well.

Legal considerations

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 cannot be described as free.


The implementation of a few rules about the manner of distributing free software are allowed, so long as they don’t conflict with the central freedoms.  For example, copyleft is a rule which states that when redistributing the program, you cannot add restrictions which would serve to deny other people the central freedoms.  This rule does not contradict the central freedoms: rather, it works to maintain and uphold them.


Freeware is software that is distributed for free.  These programs are available as fully functional software for an unlimited period of time.  Ownership of any freeware is maintained by its developer.  The developer can change future releases from freeware to a paid product if he so wishes.  Additionally, freeware is typically distributed without its source code.  This is done to avoid any sort of changes enacted 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 even be allowed to distribute the software.


Shareware is a demo software that is shared for free, but for a limited evaluation period only: 15 to 30 days is fairly standard.  After the limited period the program expires, and the user can no longer use the program.  If the user is interested in using the program after the trial period has expired, the shareware provider may require that he purchase a license for the software.  It is also referred to as trialware, as it is available for free during the trial period.  After the trial period, the user has to purchase a license from the developer in order to continue using the program.

Basically speaking, shareware is distributed on a trial basis, with an understanding that at some later point the 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.