Freeware is computer software which is made available free of charge. Typically freeware is distributed without source code. Freeware usually carries a license that permits redistribution but may have other restrictions, such as limitations on its commercial use.
The term was coined by Andrew Fluegelman when he wanted to distribute a a communications program named PC-TALK that he had created but did not wish to use traditional methods of distribution because of their cost. Previously, he held a trademark on the term "freeware" but this trademark has since been abandoned.
Commercial vendors often release freeware as a loss leader to attract customers to other services or products available for a fee. Others release freeware because other methods of distribution are unlikely to make a profit or because the software is outdated and is no longer worth selling.
Freeware is distinct from the following categories of software:
- Free software and open-source software. The word "free" in "free software" refers to freedom, not price; specifically, it refers to software whose license terms permit its use, modification and redistribution, with or without charge. The word "free" in "freeware" refers only to price. The word "gratisware" as a synonym for "freeware" makes this distinction clearer, but is not in common use.
- Crippleware, Shareware. Shareware is distributed similarly to freeware except that it requires payment after some trial period or for more features (the "full version"), in the case of crippleware.
- Adware. Adware is distributed similar to freeware, but it requires the user to view advertisements to use the software.
- Donationware. The authors of donationware ask that anyone using their software make a donation to the authors or to some third party such as a charity. Because the donation is optional, donationware may also be freeware or fall into some other category.
- Public domain software. Software in the public domain has no copyright and therefore may be distributed without charge. Freeware is usually copyrighted and its license may restrict certain activities.
- Abandonware. Abandonware is commercial software that has not been sold for a long time or whose copyright holder is defunct; it has been "abandoned". The licenses of most such software forbid redistribution or require payment, so distributing it violates the author's copyright (though there may be no author around to enforce it). "Legal abandonware" is a misnomer for commercial software that has been re-released by the copyright holder as freeware.]
- Postcardware. The software is essentially freeware, however the author requests that you send him a post card expressing thanks and enabling him to provide feedback to users.