The main feature that distinguishes free from non-free software is not price, but freedom. So even if you are not paying for a particular software it doesn’t mean that it is free software. To clarify this issue let get some definitions going…
Proprietary (Non-Free) Software
A proprietary software is a computer software where the author or developer of the software retains the intellectual property right to the software. The major way in which this is achieved is by not releasing the source code of the software. This creates an avenue to lock in the user, without the knowledge of how the software actually works. It is usually illegal for proprietary software to be modified by the user. So if a new feature is desired, the user has to wait till the time when the develop or author feels such features are worthy to be added or upgraded – – and in most cases they are not even added. Examples of proprietary software include Windows, total video player and converter, MS Office, Encarta Encyclopaedia, UC browser, Antivirus softwares, and so many more. There are different ways in which most proprietary softwares are distributed, two prominent ways are as a freeware or shareware.
A freeware is a software that you are allowed to use without any monetary charge or fee. But you are not allowed (“free” as in freedom) to modify it because they are usually distributed without the source code – – so it would even be nearly impossible if you want to. In some cases a freeware might accompany another related product bought like a computer hardware, a book or magazine. Sharing a freeware might also be illegal and difficult, without the permission of the author of the software. Examples are adobe acrobat reader, skype, UC Browser, etc.
This type of software allows it to be shared with other people. And most times shareware limit the use to personal or non-commercial installations, when it’s intended for commercial purposes a license would have to be bought. There are cases when a shareware might be timed-limited (i.e. you might be allowed to use the software for a specified time period like 30 days) or you could constantly be reminded about the importance for you to purchase a license or donate a variable sum to the developer of the software. The source code for the shareware is not also distributed along with the software, and so users can’t modify or reverse-engineer it. Many examples of software find themselves in this categories some examples include Sublime Text, Vmware, etc.
Free Open Source Software (FOSS)
This is the type of software we talk and write a lot about – – it’s even the source of the site’s name (fossnaija.com). Put simply a FOSS is a type of computer software were the user of the software if free to modify or share. The author guarantees this freedom of the user by using a ‘free’ software license (Gnu General Public license being the common one) and also releasing the source code for the user to study, change or distribute. And over the years this has helped in ensuring that many people have the opportunity to work on/modify the source code of FOSS. Examples include, Linux, VLC, Mozilla Firefox, LibreOffice, RhythmBox, MySQL and so many more.