Licensing models - free software


The term freeware generally denotes software products that may be downloaded and used at no cost, for an unlimited period of time. This is in contrast to the trial licensing model, for example, where the software may be used fully and freely, but for a limited amount of time (usually 15 to 90 days).

There is an important distinction to be made, however, depending on how the software is used and on vendor policies. Using a product at home for activities that do not generate income is deemed as personal use, whereas using it in a company or other similar scenarios is classified as commercial use. It is common practice for software vendors to make an application freeware for personal use and at the same time require a fee to be paid for commercial use. Nevertheless, there is a considerable amount of software that is freeware for both personal and commercial use.

A special case is educational use which refers to software used by students or members of the faculty. Some software vendors allow link this case to the personal use category, whereas others offer discounted prices or simply consider it as commercial use.

The above distinction is taken into consideration when assigning the Softpedia "100% Free" or "100% Clean" awards for software that is tested and found to not contain any kind of malware or third-party components or services. The "100% Free" designation is granted only to products that are freeware for both personal and commercial use. Software that is only free for personal use will receive the "100% Clean" award.

It is very important to understand the difference between freeware and so-called ad-supported freeware programs. The latter include one or more components which are ultimately intended to generate revenue for the software's distributor. See this page for more information.

Free software

Software under any one version of the GNU GPL license falls within a somewhat similar category and is referred to as free software. As stressed by the FSF (Free Software Foundation), free in this context goes beyond the "no payment" concept - it's about the freedom to use, share, study and modify a piece of software. For this to be possible, the source code for that software must be made freely available, which also applies to modified and shared (distributed) versions.

It's worth noting that the GPL clearly states that entities that modify or distribute original or derivate software may charge any amount of money for this service. However, this rarely happens and almost every product licensed under the GPL can be obtained without paying any kind of fee.

free software may be used at no cost for both personal and commercial purposes. However, if a person or company creates a derived software product by modifying the original source code and wishes to distribute the result, it must be done under the same free software terms, including the source code modifications.

Programs licensed under this model qualify for the Softpedia "100% Free" award.


Donationware is a variation of the freeware licensing model. Software categorized as donationware may be downloaded and used at no cost, but the developers accept donations, either for themselves or for a non-profit organzation of their choice.

The amount can be either fixed, one of several choices or completely at the user's discretion.


Freemium applications offer some (or most) of their features for free, but charge for an advanced set of features or, in some cases, to remove advertisements from the application's interface.