Understanding the Differences Between Freeware, Shareware and Open Source

With the many different types of software available on the internet, sometimes the lines get blurry and users get confused about what rights they have when using certain software programs. And, not understanding exact usage rights when downloading and using software can lead to problems down the road.


Freeware is often confused with open source, however there are some major differences that should be noted. Freeware is essentially free to download, use and distribute, provided it is an exact copy of the software. The user does not have access to the source code, meaning they cannot modify it in any way, and the original programmer still maintains the copyright. There is normally no way to update or offer support to the users of the software.


Shareware also has a copyright, and is allowed to be downloaded and used only as a trial basis. The concept behind shareware is to let a user try the software before purchasing, but there is normally a set time limit that it can be used before having to pay, or limited functionality until the full version is purchased. The user does not have access to the source code, and no modifications can be made. In the case of shareware, it is up to the developer to offer support and updates for the software users.

Open Source

The source code in open source software is available to everyone. It can be modified, used and the source code can be re-distributed to other developers and users. Most of the time, the software is free, which is sometimes where the confusion between freeware and open source can come from. However, it is possible that some open source applications are not free, but the source code may be. There is usually a large support community with an open source project, and frequent updates and modifications by members, which means that the user is not dependant on just one developer.

It can be confusing when trying to understand the different software options, but it is important to know usage rights before downloading and using a software program.