Freeware: Is the term used too liberally?


Freeware” is obviously a portmanteau of the words FREE and SOFTWARE and has been used liberally for many years now to categorize software, but I often have serious doubts over whether certain products deserve to be labeled thus.

Take, for example, the myriad of developers/publishers who offer a Premium (or commercial version) of their software as well as the so-called Freeware. In almost every case, when compared to the commercial versions, the Freeware edition is restricted in some way; often characterized by providing less features/options and inferior efficacy. Technically, these products do fall within the parameters of the official “Freeware” definition – this from Wikipedia: “Freeware is software that is available for use at no cost or for an optional fee (donation)” – but I raise the question, is being ‘free’ enough to warrant the label. If an application is not full featured, unrestricted, and entirely effective then surely something like “Crippleware” or “Limitware” might be more appropriate, even if it is free.

Take Auslogics Disk Defrag for example; I have recommended this free product many times over the past couple of years. Now I see Auslogics have released a Pro version of the software. The thought which immediately pops into my head is – so the free version isn’t up to scratch then. If Auslogics now have a Pro version which they expect users to pay for then obviously it must be better, more efficient, than the free version. If not, then what motivation would there be for people to part with their money. So, logic then dictates that the free edition must be inferior and will not do the best possible job for its users.

For many major publishers the so-called freeware they release is merely a tool to encourage (and in some cases trick) users into upgrading. How many of these types of products include a pop-up or nag screen exhorting users to part with their hard-earned and upgrade to the superior Premium version. When you think about it, it’s a very low cost avenue of advertizing.

With the exception of certain security products, if a developer/publisher offers a free version and a commercial version, I tend to shy away and look elsewhere. The rationale being that the freeware cannot possibly represent their best efforts.


I recently came across another slightly different yet similar example; Tonido – cloud strorage/sync software. Tonido caught my eye because it is advertized as being free and as you all know, I am always very interested in any software which is free. Early on in my research I came across this feature comparison chart HERE. Note the limitations –  including just 250MB free storage!!

It might be free but seriously would you consider installing Tonido Free? Given those severe restrictions I certainly could not recommend it. So that just leaves us with one motivation left for even releasing such a cut down free edition, doesn’t it?

One of my pet peeves when searching around the net for Freeware to perform a particular function is the liberal use of the terms “Free to download” and “Download for free”. How many of you have fallen for that one only to discover, post installation, that you do indeed need to pay in order to actually use/activate the software? Again, strictly speaking, the terminology is technically accurate but it can be (and often is) deliberately misleading. I’m somewhat surprised that none of the business ethics or advertising watchdogs have cottoned on to that one.

Perhaps it’s time someone re-defined the parameters required to merit the label “Freeware”:

  • Freeware: Full, unlimited, unrestricted computer software available free of any charges or subscriptions, including all updates.

How does that sound? It would certainly reduce the “Freeware” category numbers dramatically. What do you think?


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About the Author

Jim Hillier

Jim is the resident freeware aficionado at DCT. A computer veteran with 30+ years experience who first started writing about computers and tech back in the days when freeware was actually free. His first computer was a TRS-80 in the 1980s, he progressed through the Commodore series of computers before moving to PCs in the 1990s. Now retired (aka an old geezer), Jim retains his passion for all things tech and still enjoys building and repairing computers for a select clientele... as well as writing for DCT, of course.

11 Comments

  1. I’m almost close to being 100% in agreement with you Jim, just that if a piece of software is Free, with no strings attached, and there is an upgraded software for a small fee, why disregard the Free version. Some companies make their honest money by allowing new potential customers to sample for Free their older versions. If users are satisfied with the older products, does it not make perfect sense to allow these companies to profit from only those who want all the added bells and whistles now, and not later. Support for this Free version will come when they advance the paid version.

    Apart from this, I’m fully in agreement with you Jim. And those words “free to download”, “free to try”, “download for free”, etc, are an insult. They are a waste of time and waste of bandwidth, Mindblower!

    • I’m not talking about older commercial versions which are given away for free MB, they would be full, unrestricted versions… no problem there. What I’m talking about is severely cut down (free) editions which are obviously inferior and just as obviously primarily released in order to elicit a paid upgrade. I really do not believe that type of software deserves to be labeled ‘freeware’ and should be called something else which reflects its restricted nature.

  2. LotSoft scares the hell out of me. I took their “free” Video Converter a few months ago. I accidentally updgraded and lost my “free” license. When I tried to email them to get back the original activation code, they totally ignored me. Now I no longer can use their product. Their contact used to be Kerry Kong. I don’t know if she still works there. I did a lot of debugging on their BDLot DVD Clone Ultimate and Kerry gave me a lifetime license. Since they don’t answer my emails, I assume Kerry no longer works there and I’m afraid to upgrade the product for which they gave me an alleged lifetime license in fear that it is not really so. I have sent them no less than a dozen letters by email and everyone was ignored. I don’t trust that company worth a hill of beans. Their support sucks regardless of what they promise..

    Richard Rein

    • Hey Richard – Sorry to hear of the problems you’ve experienced.

      Firstly: When these types of products are given away for free in a promotion it is absolutely standard practice that the key relates to the giveaway version only and is not recoverable if you uninstall or accidentally upgrade. That is generally always one of the accepted conditions.

      Secondly: In all honesty, I do think it is a little unfair to criticize when you haven’t actually tried upgrading and don’t know for sure that the lifetime key will not work.

      Also, it’s been my experience these companies do have a high turnover rate for staff. If you’ve been emailing your original contact directly it may well be that the emails are being automatically rejected by the system because he/she no longer works there. Have you tried emailing to the generic addresses? – either Support@bdlot.com or Sales@bdlot.com

  3. It seems these days it is ethical to use any trick to catch the novice computer user. Much of my time is spent removing things from friends’ computers. Everyone wants their computing to be easy, unfortunately MS makes it way to difficult for the average home computer user. This opens the door for whoever wants to catch the unaware.

    For a long time it has been a world of crippleware, free software lacking some added features. Usually, these features are embedded in the “freeware” you download, but you need a key/password/sn etc. to activate the blocked features. This is OK with me. I am mostly a casual user not making money from my PC. If the features that come with the “free” version are to my liking, I will use the software. If the software starts to bug me about upgrading, it is gone.

    There is still a LOT of GREAT true freeware out there and I use a lot of it for my various hobbies. I also install some on peoples’ computers I provide support for. Either to make things just a little easier for them, or to make things just a little easier for me when I service their PC. Anyone who can afford it should send a little in the direction of these programmers.

    • Hey Tom – Was called out to a client’s house just the other day and he had 14 toolbars installed on his laptop… I kid you not. When I asked where they came from and if he wanted to keep any he said he had no clue how they got there and no, he didn’t want any of them.

  4. Good comments from all. I am computer savvy enough to be suspicious with the “FREE” label on software, especially ‘free download’, which isn’t free when one pays (the company which operates the server) for ‘up/downloading.
    I find that modern advertising quite often have ‘free gifts’ with a product, but as we know, a gift is free anyways, is it not!

    I agree with the main point of your article, and it is VERY annoying to find the vendors of free software subversively adding unwanted ‘junk’ if one does not look closely at all the information on their page to find the correct link for downloading the program required, especially PC speed-up, toolbars and another browser.

    Fortunately I use Revo Uninstaller if I have made a bad choice of a program.

    As Mindblower says, dishonest ‘free-loaders’ are an insult to mankind, to say the least.

    John in Oz

  5. I just wanted to drop a note Your way to let You know that I really enjoy and appreciate You aiding the less computer literate such as Myself with Your expertise.. Thanks a million and I’ll keep looking forward to Your posts… STE VE