What Is Freeware?

Freeware programs are available at zero cost

Screenshot of a blue button that reads FREE!

Freeware is a combination of the words free and software, to literally mean “free software.” The term, therefore, refers to software programs that are 100% free of charge. However, it’s not exactly the same as “free software.”

Freeware means that there are no paid licenses required to use the application, no fees or donations necessary, no restrictions on how many times you can download or open the program, and no expiration date.

Freeware, however, can still be restrictive in some ways. Free software, on the other hand, is completely and totally void of restrictions and allows the user to do absolutely whatever they want with the program.

Freeware vs Free Software

Basically, freeware is cost-free software and free software is copyright-free software. In other words, freeware is software under copyright but available at no cost; free software is software with no limitations or constraints, but might not actually be free in the sense that there’s no price attached to it.

Note: If it’s easier to make sense of it this way, consider freeware to mean free software price-wise, and free software to mean “free-use software.” The word “free” in freeware pertains to the cost of the software, while “free” in free software pertains to the freedoms given to the user.

Free software can be modified and changed at the will of the user.

This means that the user can make changes to the core elements of the program, re-write whatever they want, overwrite things, completely repurpose the program, fork it into new software, etc.

For free software to truly be free requires the developer to release the program without restrictions, which is normally accomplished by giving away the source code.

This type of software is often called open-source software, or free and open-source software (FOSS).

Free software is also 100% legally redistributable and can be used to make a profit. This is true even if the user didn’t spend anything for the free software or if they make more money from the free software than what they paid for it. The idea here is that the data is totally and completely available for whatever the user wants.

The following are considered the required freedoms that a user must be granted in order for the software to be considered free software (Freedoms 1-3 require access to the source code):

  • Freedom 0: You're able to run the program for any purpose.
  • Freedom 1: You can study how the program works, and change it to make it do whatever you want.
  • Freedom 2: You're given the ability to share and make copies of the software so that you can help others.
  • Freedom 3: You can improve on the program, and release your improvements (and modified versions) to the public, so that everyone benefits.

Some examples of free software include GIMP, LibreOffice, and Apache HTTP Server.

A freeware application may or may not have its source code freely available. The program itself does not cost and is completely usable without charge, but that doesn’t mean that the program is editable and can be transformed to create something new, or inspected to learn more about the inner-workings.

Freeware might also be restrictive. For example, one freeware program might be free only for private use and stop working if it’s found to be used for commercial purposes, or maybe the freeware is restricted in functionality because there’s a paid edition available that includes more advanced features.

Unlike the rights given to free software users, freeware users’ freedoms are granted by the developer; some developers might give more or less access to the program than others. They also might restrict the program from being used in particular environments, lock down the source code, etc.

TeamViewer, Skype, and AOMEI Backupper are examples of freeware.

Why Developers Release Freeware

Freeware often exists to advertise a developer's commercial software. This is usually done by giving out a freeware version with similar but limited features. For example, the freeware edition might have advertisements or some features might be locked down until a license is provided.

Some programs might be available at no cost because the installer file advertises other paid-for programs that the user might click on to generate revenue for the developer.

Other freeware programs might not be profit-seeking but instead are provided to the public for free for educational purposes.

Where to Download Freeware

Freeware comes in many forms and from many sources. There isn’t just one place where you can find every single free application.

A video game website might offer freeware games and a Windows download repository might feature freeware Windows apps. The same is true for freeware mobile apps for iOS or Android devices, freeware macOS programs, etc.

Here are some links to our own popular freeware lists:

You can find other freeware downloads on websites like Softpedia, FileHippo.com, QP Download, CNET Download, PortableApps.com, Electronic Arts, and others.

Free software can be had from places like the Free Software Directory.

Note: Just because a website is offering a download for free does not mean that the software is truly freeware, nor does it mean that it's free from malware. See How to Safely Download and Install Software for safety tips on downloading freeware and other kinds of programs.

More Information on Software

Freeware is the opposite of commercial software. Unlike freeware, commercial programs are only available through a payment and don't normally contain advertisements or promotional alerts.

Freemium is another term related to freeware that stands for “free premium.” Freemium programs are ones that accompany a paid-for edition of the same software and are used to promote the professional version. The paid edition includes more features but the freeware version is still available at no cost.

Shareware refers to software that's usually available for free only during a trial period. The purpose for shareware is to become familiar with a program and use its features (often in a limited way) before deciding whether to purchase the full program.

Some programs are available that let you update your other installed programs, sometimes even automatically. You can find some of the better ones in our Free Software Updater Tools list.

Was this page helpful?