The Differences Between Shareware and Freeware

Shareware is any software that is available for users to try for a limited period of time. The software is usually proprietary, in other words copyrighted, and there is a cost to use the application or program beyond the trial period. In rare cases, shareware may be available for free over a long period of time, could be years in theory, but there is usually a subscription charge or license fee for users at some stage.

Freeware is free software. The software may or may not be proprietary. In other words, the entire program may not be copyrighted. It could be an open source software. It is possible for the source code to be proprietary but the rest may be up for a community of open source software developers to contribute and improve. The entire software may be proprietary and copyrighted but it may still be made available for free if the developers choose so.

Historical and Technical Differences between Shareware and Freeware

Freeware was used as a term for the first time by Andrew Fluegelman. He wanted to promote PC-Talk, a new communications program. He came up with the word freeware to highlight that the software was free. The word shareware predates the inception of freeware. The first time shareware was used was in a magazine called InfoWorld. This was back in 1970. However, the term did not become popular immediately. There was no shareware at that point in time. The first well known shareware was a word processor called PC-Write. It was developed by Bob Wallace and distributed in 1982, as a shareware.

Both shareware and freeware are free at first. Shareware may become chargeable after the initial trial. Freeware may remain free forever. Both shareware and freeware can be modified, developed, improved or become unavailable in the future. The changes are brought about by the developers. Even those who develop and distribute freeware retain the rights to make changes, unless it is an open source program and there is no proprietary control or claim.

Pros & Cons of Shareware and Freeware

Freeware and shareware can be downloaded. Some shareware are available in compact discs. Today, freeware and shareware include the premise of mobile applications or apps and games, and even web hosting server software. While freeware is essentially a developer or a team giving back something to the community, perhaps pursuing their mission of helping people, shareware is more about a developer allowing users to try the program or application before beginning to pay for it. Many users realize that they have to pay for a shareware after the trial period but may not necessarily continue using the software till then. Even with freeware, it is not a given that people will continue to use the same software forever, regardless of whether or not it is available for free.

Freeware usually comes with a EULA or end user license agreement. All such licenses are specific to the concerning freeware. There is no generic license as such. Shareware may have such end user license agreements but there will be applicable copyright laws as well. Freeware is also under the purview of copyright laws unless the developers state explicitly that they do not want to have proprietary rights and control.

All features of a freeware are free. All features of a shareware may or may not be free. It is typical for shareware to limit some features and make them available only to the paying users. This is a simple tactic to get people to pay for greater access. It is not uncommon for freeware to have different versions but it is more to satiate different needs. People who need fewer features may not want some larger and heavier software. In case of shareware, the versions available are chosen on the basis of the marketing strategy of the developers.

Freeware is always distributed for free. Shareware may not be distributed for free. There are software that come with free trials but only when a user signs up and actually pays for a month. There could be refunds and money back guarantees but the upfront payment is made imperative. Freeware can be shared freely. All users can share the freeware with their friends and people they know. There is no bar on how, when and why users can share the software. Shareware cannot be shared by users whenever and however they like. Prior permission of the developers is required to share or distribute shareware. This does not mean one cannot simply share access. New users must pay the license fee to get exclusive and dedicated access to the features of the software.

Some of the most popular freeware in the world are Adobe PDF, Yahoo Messenger, Google Talk and MSN Messenger. Some popular shareware are WinZip, GetRight and CuteFTP. The most noteworthy pros of freeware are the free access for users and the protection of copyright for the developers. The notable pros of shareware are free distribution and sharing but protection under copyright laws.

The noted cons of freeware are lack of revenue and a dearth of option to monetize the software in the future. Freeware must remain a freeware, even after modification or any upgrade that has been brought about by the developer. The cons of shareware are lack of modified versions and the attrition of users during the transition phase. Shareware can only be available for free as a temporary or truncated version of the original software. There is no certainty that free users will become paying customers.

For users, the biggest drawback of freeware is lack of technical or customer support. The software may go kaput and the entire program may malfunction. There will be no one to offer any help but friends who may have a better understanding and even they will be helpless because the program is copyrighted and no one can make changes to it. Freeware also comes loaded with advertisements, which is never a pleasant experience for users. Shareware too has its limitations for users. Such software do not always have adequate support. The updates may be infrequent. Even the paid version may not always have all the desired features. Some advanced functions may be accessible only when one agrees to pay more.