Both shareware and freeware are terms that are used to describe software that can be downloaded from the Internet. The basic difference between them stems from whether the person downloading the software must pay for it at some time. Freeware is just that — free software — while shareware means that payment will eventually be necessary.
When someone downloads freeware, he or she is usually getting software without paying for it. With some freeware downloads, there is an optional charge; this charge may be in the form of a donation or to upgrade the freeware to the full version of the program. While this software is free, it is still subject to license terms and conditions to protect the intellectual rights of the software developers.
Shareware is software that is provided for a free trial before the user must pay for it. This allows users to try software before committing to the purchase price. Usually, the free trial is for a specific amount of time and there is no obligation to buy the software when that time is up. Shareware software products can also have some features limited, similar to freeware.
Many different limitations can be placed on shareware and freeware files. Some of the most common include watermarks on images, advertising throughout the program, screens reminding you to purchase the full program, time trials and limits on saving. Software developers can choose to include as many or as few limitations to their files.
There are many different types of files that can be downloaded as shareware and freeware. Almost all types of software can be downloaded in one of these formats, if not both. Game trials are a common version of shareware available to allow gamers to try games for a set amount of time to determine if they enjoy the game.
The main reason behind producing freeware and shareware versions of software is that people are more likely to try something that is free. Some developers produce "lite" versions of their programs, which allow users to try the software while promoting the full version. One of the main benefits of both these types of software to software developers is that their products reach a much wider audience.
One type of freeware also provides the source code for the software. Open source software allows other programmers and developers to modify the code as they wish. The difference between open source and shareware and freeware is that not only is it always free, but it also has very few limitations on its use.