Difference Between Freeware and Open Source Software



Short Bytes: The world of technology is filled with terms making use of the suffix ‘-ware’. The word ‘ware’ doesn’t inherently have anything to do with computers or technology. So, why is it in ‘software’? Here, we’ll discuss the differences between two confusing ‘ware’ terms–freeware and open source software.

The word ‘ware’ means an article of merchandise (among other things, but those aren’t the relevant meanings). The word is often combined with another word to describe the product, like in the word silverware. The fact that the word software has the suffix ‘-ware’, shows that it was intended to be sold. We all know how computer people love puns and other jokes in the technical terminology, so now we have software, hardware, firmware, freeware, shareware, malware, spyware, and the list goes on. But the funny thing is, there are a few of them that are oxymoronic, or self-contradictory, like freeware and shareware.

All that aside, there are some very large ideas that distinguish freeware and shareware from open source software. Freeware was often peddled to bolster a brand or spread awareness of a product. Free antivirus programs are a very good example of this. Companies like AVG and McAfee provide free versions in an attempt to lure you into the paid version (I’m not suggesting you shouldn’t pay for an antivirus). While these programs are free of cost, they are not free as in freedom. You typically aren’t allowed to distribute the software without the permission of the owner. There are, however, some pieces of software where the owner or vendor provides permission to distribute, and those are known as shareware. Despite all this, even though you have a copy of it, (all technical difficulties aside) you are not permitted to alter it or sell it, and you don’t have access to the source code for it. That is how software can be free of cost but still doesn’t afford you the freedom to do what you wish to do with it.

Cue the GNU project and the GPL and several others that have followed its wake–the Apache License, the MIT License, and the BSD License. While these licenses differ on certain ideas ranging from small to large, they all enforce freedom of distribution, alteration, use, and sale of the licensed software in both binary and source code form. Some of them are stricter than others in certain areas, like the GPL not allowing for the use of any code or statically linked library that isn’t GPL, thereby forcing authors of new code wishing to use GPL code to write more GPL code. The LGPL alleviates this restriction, but it’s still much stricter than many other licenses. It’s important to note, though, that this does not restrict the freedoms of the author or the licensed code because the author is not forced to use GPL code and the GPL licensed code is protected from being incorporated into projects that are not open themselves.

Looking at the history of freeware, there are definitely some notable pieces of software or collections of software that helped define industry standards, for example, much of Google’s work with home automation protocols and Android related projects have assisted in producing industry standards. But the list of freeware derived standards is shorter than the list of standards that have resulted from open source.

Not only software can be open source, there is also open source hardware like the Arduino. There are open source 3D printing designs, art, science, algorithms, safety standards, movies, music, digital design assets, books, and the list goes one. Open source makes the world more open. It helps move things that were out of reach into grasp.

Next time you create something you really enjoy, whether it’s a piece of art, a small script that’s super useful, a small program, a piece of music, consider giving something to open source in recognition of what open source has given you. Just be sure to research the limitations and responsibilities of the license you choose.

Have any Fossbytes readers contributed to open source? Let us know in the comments below.

Also Read: What Is Open Source Hardware And Why Should You Care?

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