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What are the Different Types of Software?

By R. Kayne
Updated: May 16, 2024

There are many different types of software, which can be a little confusing for the uninitiated. Following is a brief definition of each type, and the differences between them.

Retail software: This type is sold off the shelves of retail stores. It includes expensive packaging designed to catch the eye of shoppers and, as such, is generally more expensive. An advantage of retail software is that it comes with printed manuals and installation instructions, missing in hard-copy form from virtually every other category. However, when hard-copy manuals and instructions are not required, a downloadable version off the Internet will be less expensive, if available.

OEM software: OEM stands for "Original Equipment Manufacturer" and refers to that sold in bulk to resellers, designed to be bundled with hardware. For example, Microsoft has contracts with various companies including Dell Computers, Toshiba, Gateway and others. Microsoft sells its operating systems as OEM software at a reduced price, minus retail packaging, manuals and installation instructions. Resellers install the operating system before systems are sold and the OEM CD is supplied to the buyer. The "manual" consists of the Help menu built into the program itself. OEM software is not legal to buy unbundled from its original hardware system.

Shareware: This software is downloadable from the Internet. Licenses differ, but commonly the user is allowed to try the program for free, for a period stipulated in the license, usually thirty days. At the end of the trial period, it must be purchased or uninstalled. Some shareware incorporates an internal clock that disables the program after the trial period unless a serial number is supplied. Other shareware designs continue to work with "nag" screens, encouraging the user to purchase the program.

Crippleware: This software is similar to shareware except that key features will cease to work after the trial period has ended. For example, the "save" function, the print function, or some other vital feature necessary to use the program effectively may become unusable. This "cripples" the program. Other types of crippleware incorporate crippled functions throughout the trial period. A purchase is necessary to unlock the crippled features.

Demo software: Demo software is not intended to be a functioning program, though it may allow partial functioning. It is mainly designed to demonstrate what a purchased version is capable of doing, and often works more like an automated tutorial. If a person wants to use the program, they must buy a fully functioning version.

Adware: This is free software that is supported by advertisements built into the program itself. Some adware requires a live Internet feed and uses constant bandwidth to upload new advertisements. The user must view these ads in the interface of the program. Disabling the ads is against the license agreement. Adware is not particularly popular.

Spyware: Spyware is normally free, but can be shareware. It clandestinely "phones home" and sends data back to the creator of the spyware, most often without the user's knowledge. For example, a multimedia player might profile what music and video files the program is called upon to play. This information can be stored with a unique identification tag associated with the specific program on a user's machine, mapping a one-to-one relationship. The concept of spyware is very unpopular, and many programs that use spyware protocols were forced to disclose this to users and offer a means to turn off reporting functions. Other spyware programs divulge the protocols in their licenses, and make acceptance of the spyware feature a condition of agreement for using the software.

Freeware: Freeware is also downloadable off the Internet and free of charge. Often freeware is only free for personal use, while commercial use requires a paid license. Freeware does not contain spyware or adware. If it is found to contain either of these, it is reclassified as such.

Public domain software: This is free software, but unlike freeware, it does not have a specific copyright owner or license restrictions. It is the only type that can be legally modified by the user for his or her own purposes.

People are encouraged to read licenses carefully when installing software, as they vary widely.

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Discussion Comments
By anon996876 — On Oct 20, 2016

It is rather odd that you state that "Public domain software [ . . . ] is the only type that can be legally modified by the user for [their] own purposes." However it is rather misleading that you don't mention that Libre-software, software licensed with the General Public License(GPL) or Affero General Public License(AGPL), does just that, granted you can't release the software to the public without also releasing the source code, which could go against someones purpose if said purpose was business related.

Mostly just pointing out that you missed Libre-software, or Open Source Software(OSS) for that matter, and that unless said software was licensed as AGPL and you aren't acting as an Application Service Provider(ASP), or to a lesser degree the GPL, you don't have to release the source code "for [your] own purposes". I mean, as long as the purpose is something like in-house use only, acting as an ASP, giving your software away for free while selling support, or any other way you can think of to make money while releasing your programs source code then it fits that narrative.

Though for the point that I bring up, many OSS projects release their source code, with BSD-like licenses (which are very lax in saying what you can not do, like the MIT license that requires that you include a copy of the licensing terms and copyright notice), out of good will and not because their license requires it.

By anon330968 — On Apr 19, 2013

The software types could also be formatting software? Or is it just types of freeware or oem software?

By anon186811 — On Jun 16, 2011

i agree with comment no. 12.

By anon151204 — On Feb 09, 2011

i just want to ask: it is a program that contains another program from a program itself? what would be the example on it? is it a software? Right?

By anon128396 — On Nov 19, 2010

at times lecturers ask in an exams that we should name different types of software, so then which one should we name.

By anon116843 — On Oct 08, 2010

Software is the set of programs,but the set of program is used only in application software,

software is of two types: 1. Application software, 2. machinery software

Where application software is nothing but designing the data by using front end software and back end software.

Eg: java and oracle,where many of them use java as front end and oracle as back end.

2. Now coming to machinery software, it is nothing but designing the coding for the new software as till now we used many software like window,windows Xp, etc. These are called machinery software, and from this software we implement the application software.

By anon97239 — On Jul 19, 2010

i think you also need to put the uses of the different parts of software.

By anon67155 — On Feb 23, 2010

another way of classifying software types is by application or purpose.

1. OS software - sub, drivers, tools

2. Programming -

3. Application - graphics, spreadsheet, games, entertainment

By anon63502 — On Feb 02, 2010

To understand the basics for newbies about types of software this article is very helpful. -Priyanka

By anon43320 — On Aug 27, 2009

more clarity with examples used in daily life is required keeping in mind new readers. -leela

By anon23235 — On Dec 19, 2008

it would be nice to add examples of each type of software, for readers like me to get a better understanding of the softwares.

By concordski — On Mar 15, 2008

i think it is important to add that there is a relatively new type of software called Software-as-a-Service or SaaS. with SaaS, an application service provider provides the software over a network (usually the internet), and the users interface with the application via their web clients.

in SaaS, the software itself is not running on the client machines; and the application service provider is responsible for updating and maintaining the software.

the updates and maintenance usually come at a subscription cost, but this needs to be balanced with the savings in IT requirements by the customer.

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