Topics / Computer Ethics / Free Software, Freeware and Shareware

Free Software, Freeware and Shareware

Computer software is subject to copyright laws in order to protect its authors and provide them with fair compensation for their hard work.

Without payment, there would be no incentive for programmers to spend years creating or maintaining their software.

Some software is distributed free of charge, with this in mind it is important to understand the different licences connected to computer software.

Traditional Licence

Traditional software licences are easy to understand, you pay the author for the privilege of using their software on a specified number of computers.

This does not give you any ownership of the software, or the right to modify and redistribute it to others.

Free Software

The word ‘free’ in free software refers to the freedom to modify the source code and redistribute the software.

The software may not actually be free of charge to download and purchase.


Freeware is software that is distributed free of charge.

It is usually fully functional with no expiry date.

The author retains the copyright to the program.


Shareware is software that is initially distributed free of charge, but may later require a payment to unlock or keep functionality.

Allowing users to try your software in this way creates an interest in your program and allows people to try before they buy.


CostModify source code?Fully functional?Expires?
Free SoftwareThere may be a chargeModification and redistribution allowedYesNo
FreewareNo chargeNot allowed, developer retains copyrightUsuallyNo
SharewareNo initial charge, there may be a charge laterNot allowed, developer retains copyrightDepends, some features may be disabled until you purchaseProgram may only work for a short duration, e.g. 30 days

Test your knowledge of free software, freeware and shareware with our quick quiz.

Topics / Computer Ethics / Free Software, Freeware and Shareware

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