Greetings again from the tech room,


This month’s diddy involves some explanation to a few common terms used throughout the world wide web.


So when was the last time you paid for online software?  Don’t answer that, but rather when was the last time you HAD TO PAY for online software?  


With the daily influx of software, programs, and apps, more and more software manufacturers are offering “free” or “trial versions” of their product to give users the opportunity to decide if they want to purchase it.  Often the term, freeware, shareware, or open source is tossed around to encompass anything you can download free on the web, however their differences can mean serious consequences for the end-user like yourself.


Freeware – a hybrid of the word “free” and “software”, generally it is computer software that is available to the public.  It is usually free or offered for an optional fee.  Check the fine print on items like these because normally the author restricts one or more rights to copy, distribute, and make derivation works of the software.  Legally, the difference between freeware and open source is that you don’t have access to the source code and therefore you are not able to improve it or get support if it fails.  Freeware is usually a very small program, released by a student or enthusiast.


Shareware – aka trialware or demoware is proprietary software that is provided to end-users without payment, but on a trial basis.  It is usually limited to a specific number of uses, after which you are supposed to provide your credit card and pay for it.  It is developed and released by the author who keeps full control of the intellectual property.  Like freeware, you do not have access to the source code and it cannot be modified.  Shareware is normally offered as a download from an Internet site or CD.  It is supposed to give buyers the opportunity to use the program and judge its usefulness before purchasing a license for the full version.  Check the fine print here also because typically users are given incomplete versions or trials under the stipulation that they will be purchasing the full copy in the future.  Shareware is usually a mid-sized utility or app, written by a developer or small software company.  Since the developer does not have the resources to market their product, they release it as shareware or try-before-you-buy.


Open Source – refers to any software that also provides available source code.  This type of software is normally regulated under a software license that permits users to study, change, and/or improve the software.  Literally it provides the best of both worlds, because it is free to the end-users and developers.  Also most open source software has communities that support each other and collaborate on future development.  Legally the “free” of open source refers exclusively to the code.  It is possible to have support, services, documentation, and even binary versions which are not free.   Open source covers the middle ground.  Examples of open source are Linux, FreeBSD, PostgreSQL, and Apache.


Now that you know the difference, just be careful before you download.  I suggest reading the fine print and/or checking with other end-users first.


Until next time, have a good Memorial Day weekend, and surf the internet safely.



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James Keel

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