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.

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