Free Software Vs Open Source Vs Freeware Vs Shareware

In order to understand the software development industry more closely, you have to know the way certain words are used. Unfortunately, many developers use them interchangeably, some confuse their meaning altogether, while others actually don’t know what they even mean.

Today, we will clear some things up and help you understand some of the most commonly confused software terms within the industry.

Free Software

To make one thing clear, the “free” in this case does not mean that it is free for purchase. Actually it means “freedom” and is also sometimes called libre software.

Free software is the software that grants the user the freedom to share, modify, and study. This kind of software allows you to do almost anything that you want. You can even improve versions and profit from them.

However, free software is not only limited to non-commercial use. A commercial program can indirectly allow users to access the given freedoms.

Open Source Software

Open-source software and free software are similar but both terminologies refer to a similar group of licenses and software. Each term on its own alludes to different underlying terminologies.

In order for open-source software to be considered as such, it needs to have free distribution of software, the source code needs to be publicly available, the software can be changed and distributed in a different format from the original software, and the software should not restrict the usage of other software.

Historically speaking, the term open-source software came before free software. Both of them support the ideology of free software (for instance the right to use, study, share and modify) but their objectives and ideologies are very much different.


Generally speaking, Freeware refers to a type of software that you can use without incurring any costs. However, compared to open source software and free software, freeware allows only minimal freedom to the end-user.

Freeware is often used free of charge, however any modification, redistribution and other kinds of improvements can only be done by getting permission from the author. Because of that, freeware is often shared without adding its source code.

Probably the two most popular freeware software are Skype and Adobe Acrobat Reader. The programs are free to use but you will not have any luck in finding their source codes available to the public.

Most developers market freeware as fermium with the intention of encouraging users to buy a more capable version.


Shareware is a type of program that initially comes without any costs attached for its usage. In fact, users are often encouraged to distribute copies. However, the initial phase is usually viewed as the trial phase and in most cases comes with a certain time limit.

Once the limit for its free usage runs out it will be deactivated and you are welcomed to continue using it but only by paying for the software this time.

Although not completely free, shareware comes with its benefits and is greatly valued by users. In fact, the biggest benefit of this type of program is being able to test it out and see how it works for you before buying it. It holds a significant advantage as opposed to other programs where you are not able to see how the program functions before purchasing it. But shareware gives you the freedom to test everything out before making your final decision.

The best examples of shareware include Adobe Acrobat 8 Professional, Winzip, PHP Debugger, and Getright.

This type of software is thus not free in regards to usage, distribution, and modification.