Freeware is software offered free of charge, downloadable off of the Internet. If the software requires the user to view ads while using the program, it is technically adware. Freeware is also different from shareware in that shareware requires a payment if the software is to be used past a trial date.
Though freeware does not require financial compensation, it does have a user license or EULA (End User License Agreement). Each license is specific to the software it is bundled with, but some restrictions are common to most programs. For example, most freeware forbids the user to alter the program, repackage it, or sell it. It might allow redistribution, however, as long as the program is unchanged and the license agreement intact.
Understandably, freeware does not often come with technical support, and some programs do not have an extensive Help menu. Many operators write programs in their spare time and do not have the resources to offer tech support. That said, other programs not only have an extensive built-in manual, but they also have their own websites with FAQs and USENET newsgroups dedicated to users helping users. Some authors personally answer email from end users, though this can't be counted upon.
Often, a program is only available for free if it is for personal use, while commercial or business use requires a paid license. It is important to read any license that comes with the program. The license will appear during the initial stages of the installation process. As with most software, freeware is offered "as is" and the user assumes all responsibility for its use.
Freeware has proven to be an incredible benefit to computer users since online services became popular in the late 1980s. Many talented coders report that writing handy programs is an addictive hobby. Others use it as a stepping-stone to garner sales for more robust editions offered at a cost. And still other programs bring traffic to sites that rely on a suite of related shareware programs for income.
While there are countless freeware programs, some have become staples in the online community. Others have changed status over the years to shareware or adware. There are several sites dedicated to freeware only. Most of the popular download sites, including TuCows, ZDNet and SnapFiles, also distribute shareware. Programs that are free will be noted as such.