Column is a monthly feature that explores the world
of creativity and aesthetics.
Freeware and Freewhere
de Sousa, Director, AbleStable
seems on the face of it a simple idea: someone produces
a software product and gives it away. There are
however a range of interpretations of exactly what
freeware is. Some developers of freeware hold the
firm principled position that all freeware should
be given without condition, others provide their
freeware only on the proviso it is not used in a
commercial context. Join me as I ponder about the
world of freeware and present its sister service,
The Tale of Two Bright
Freeware has featured at AbleStable ever since its
launch and supports its aim by encouraging creativity.
Freeware exerts a powerful democratising affect
by providing tools that enable people to find their
own voice and expression without any associated
I began to get involved with the development of
freeware after I came across a great program that
backed up files from one location to another. SyncBack
had recently been released by Michael J Leaver
I started using it to backup the numerous files
that go to make up AbleStable. Within a week I'd
made a small donation by way of appreciation
of his work, and gave it a five star rating as
it was such a usable and useful program.
Michael got back in contact with me and told me
how, despite being downloaded tens of thousands
of times, I was the first to donate. My experience
of running AbleStable was also that people generally
take, few give anything back. That doesn't stop
the givers though... From that point on we began
to work on the program together, improving the interface
and developing its functions.
During this period we had no motivation other than
to deliver a great freeware program, and certainly
no intention of developing it as commercial software.
However, after the launch of version 3 it was
we had a huge success on our hands and we discussed
what our next move should be. We wanted to improve
SyncBack further, but the only way we'd achieve
this was to spend a lot more time on its development
and to use commercial components, and both of these
plans would require a substantial investment.
therefore decided to continue to support the Freeware
version with bug fixes, tutorials, a free forum
and more, but we'd also develop SyncBack Pro which
would ensure the project would be commercially
our new company, was formed May 2004.
I wanted to recount this tale, not simply as a
means of shamelessly promoting my commercial site,
but to make users of AbleStable aware of my association
it. AbleStable is very much a site where content
is free. My commercial work
ensures it's future viability. AbleStable
is an example of 'Freewhere'. 2BrightSparks is
illustration of how in some cases the development
of Freeware takes on a life of its own and opens
up unexpected avenues.
Definitions of Freeware
Freeware is defined in various ways depending on
your philosophy, usage, and status. It's important
not to confuse Freeware with Free Software. Free
Software doesn't mean free in the financial sense,
but rather it applies to distribution, exchanging
code, innovation, and is often released under a
'General Public Licence' (this is sometimes refereed
to as a 'GPL' or GNU license).
The GNU license aims to protect user rights, and
makes restrictions that result in certain responsibilities
that users of software carrying a GNU license must
observe. If you use GNU software and choose to distribute
copies or modify it, you must abide by its license
agreement. The important issue to remember is that
software released under the GNU license may be used
to produce a commercial product. In contrast, Freeware
is not a commercial product in the sense that it
is sold, although it may well be used to promote
So, back to a definition of what Freeware is rather
than what it isn't. The following definition is
a black and white interpretation: Freeware:
• Is software
that requires no payments in any form.
• Does not have
Can be used in personal, educational, charity,
and commercial contexts.
• Does not come
with spyware, adware, or mailware bundled inside
• Has all its
features fully working.
• Is not time
limited (not a Demo or Trial).
• Does not require
payment for access to support information.
• Allows you
to freely share the program with friends, family
The essential difference between this and a more
flexible definition centres around its use in a
commercial context, and its functionality. The following
kinds of qualifications are often applied to freeware:
and using this freeware on a commercially used computer
• The functions
of this Freeware are limited as compared with its
• The freeware
notices that appear in the program are removed in
the commercial version.
• All requests
for donations are removed in the commercial version.
There are many examples of freeware that require
these and other qualifications in their use, despite
the protest of some freeware developers and users
who argue such programs should be promoted as software
that is 'free for non-commercial use' rather than
There are however no rule books that govern the
definition of words like 'freeware'. We perhaps
view certain 'authorities' as more valuable than
others. For example, many view the Oxford English
Dictionary (OED) as the preeminent dictionary of
the English Language, however even this illustrious
publication cannot be viewed as supplying 'true'
definitions of words.
English is an international language and there are
often significant regional differences in language
usage which undermine the clarity of a reference
tool like the OED. A new version of the OED takes
many years to create and is therefore behind the
times in terms of current language usage. Add to
this the fact that other reference works like The
Collins English Language Dictionary present often
more lucid and valuable definitions, and it's clear
that defining anything is problematic. All we can
do is to agree generally on the meaning of things,
but as time passes we change our understanding of
the world and our definitions of it.
Freeware then, like any other word, is defined according
to our own perspective. You may wish it to have
certain 'principled' qualities and qualifications
that accompany it, but it is what it is to each
individual. Some will qualify its use, others will
not. You may value one kind of freeware above another,
but like most things, it comes in all shapes and
The Freeware License
An example of a freeware license that was developed
for 2BrightSparks addresses issues that are important
for any software and presents a broad use freeware
2BrightSparks grants you a limited non-exclusive
license to use FREEWARE downloadable
from 2BrightSparks for personal, educational,
charity, and commercial use, and donations
are entirely optional.
If you are using the SOFTWARE free of
charge under the terms of this Agreement,
you are not entitled to support although
we will respond to support requests
if they relate to any SOFTWARE that
is not performing it's task correctly
Our Freeware is licensed to you in accordance
with the terms and conditions of this
Agreement. You represent and warrant
that you will not violate any of the
requirements of this Agreement and further
represent and warrant that:
- You will not, and will not permit
(i) reverse engineer, decompile, disassemble,
derive the source code of, modify, or
create derivative works from our Freeware,
(ii) copy, distribute, publicly display,
or publicly perform content contained
in this Freeware other than as expressly
authorized by this Agreement.
- You will not use our Freeware to engage
in or allow others to engage in any
- You will not engage in using our Freeware
that will interfere with or damage the
operation of the services of any third
parties by overburdening/disabling network
resources through automated queries,
excessive usage or similar conduct.
- You will not sell our Freeware or
charge others for use of it (either
for profit or merely to recover your
media and distribution costs) whether
as a stand-alone product, or as part
of a compilation or anthology, without
explicit prior written permission.
- You will not use our Freeware to engage
in any activity that will violate the
rights of third parties, including,
without limitation, through the use,
public display, public performance,
reproduction, distribution, or modification
of communications or materials that
infringe copyrights, trademarks, publicity
rights, privacy rights, other proprietary
rights, or rights against defamation
of third parties.
- You may not claim any sponsorship
by, endorsement by, or affiliation with
and Freewhere: The Essential Difference
Freeware is a software tool that can be used to
increase profit for little or no effort. In contrast
Freewhere is a 'destination of resources' that may
include tools that can be used in this way, but
more often provides 'passive resources' like the
column you are reading.
Passive resources can not in themselves produce
products or services that can then be sold unless
they are plagiarised. I believe this to be a significant
distinction and one that highlights why I feel it
is ethically justifiable to restrict the use of
freeware in a commercial setting.
Freeware can be used to directly increase the profit
of a commercial entity, and it is therefore arguable
that commercial businesses have an ethical responsibility
to contribute to its ongoing development if requested
to do so. In my view this does not change the status
of freeware into commercial software. Making a donation
to a freeware author however should remain voluntary,
as otherwise its status does change to being shareware
or commercial software.
Freeware is motivated by differing aims. Those that
suggest its development is purely altruistic are
mistaken. Many companies use freeware as a powerful
marketing tool and I believe users are well aware
While I accept people have a right to define, develop,
and release freeware under a particular license,
I do not accept that commercial businesses have
an inalienable right to use it. Rights and the definition
of those rights must always rest with the author.
The two great forces of Freeware and Freewhere are
here to stay and will continue to open opportunities
that encourage us to explore and develop our own
welcomes feedback on The Column. Go to Feedback,
complete the form, and make your views known.