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Episode 20: Guide To xWare

Looks like cost-cutting is still on the agenda. After our last little bit of a spat on open sauce I thought things would go quiet, but apparently not. I get copied on an email from Paul, our CFO, to the Boss, asking about our software purchasing policy. Particularly with respect to shareware. The Boss corrects him by saying that open source is freeware not shareware, except when it's not. Or something along those lines. It's clear neither of them has a clue. They respond to my corrections with a request that I document the different forms of software licensing. So, ten cups of coffee and a cheese sandwich later, here's the Joe Bloggs 'Guide To xWare'.

Hardware - The bits of equipment that usually require electricity to make them work. Examples of hardware include hammers, nails and computers. Don't get these confused. While a computer can be used to hammer a nail in, using a hammer to work out your expenses is not worth the effort, unless the hammer can be used as a negotiating instrument.

Software - The stuff you need to make the computer hardware do something, anything. Software is mostly written by programmers or by other software. It's called software mainly to differentiate it from hardware (which is called hard because it hurts when you stub your toe on it).

Firmware - Software which stands up for itself. It lives in bits of hardware so it's harder to get to it. Usually it's embedded in a chip and must be updated using a special process that involves rendering your equipment useless when it fails (as it often does).

Freeware - Software that is copyrighted and often has strict licensing conditions attached though it does not have a price (i.e. it's free of charge). No source code is supplied. Called freeware because when you realise it doesn't do what you want you are free to delete and look for something else.

Vapourware - Software that is promised endlessly and yet never materialises. With vapourware the bigger the promise, the louder the noise, the more successful it becomes. The primary purposes of vapourware are to create publicity, look good in corporate brochures and to garnish a CV. Some organisations make the mistake of attempting to make vapourware real but this leads to disappointment all round, so is best avoided if possible.

Bloatware - Software that is so packed full of functions and features that it is impossible to work out how to do even the simplest tasks. Good examples of bloatware accept the complexity and add to it by building wizards, helpful interfaces and yet more layers of software. Called bloatware because the user gets so sick of it they feel fit to burst.

Shareware - Also called 'try before you buy', this is software that is copyrighted and usually does not supply the source code. You are free to try the software, (sometimes for a strictly defined period only), and then, once you are happy, you are morally obliged to pay for it. Relying on the user's ethics is risky, so some shareware authors have resorted to reducing the functionality, adding guilt-tripping messages (nagware) and sometimes electrocuting and killing users who don't pay.

Sweatware - Software that someone is sweating blood over. Normally a work in progress, it bears all the hallmarks of a labour of love that's slowly turned to hate. Source code and suicide notes are often provided.

Adware - Free software that provides a useful set of functions but which is supported by the use of advertisements. Once the user is hooked, and the adverts go from cute to irritating to angina-inducing, an advert-free product can be purchased at a price.

Spyware - Software, (not always free), that watches what your are doing and regularly phones home with the details. Blocking spyware is a niche hobby that is taking over from over-clocking as the work displacement activity of choice for technically aware users. In fact adding spyware functionality to your product is now a good move if you are interested in acquiring a dedicated user-base.

Blogware - Software that is the subject of a regular blog. Licensing, cost and ease of use are not interesting at all. The successful blogware product must be preceded by several months (or years) of blogs that mention design patterns, programming languages, frameworks, middleware and pizza.

Open source - Software that is provided with the source code and which is licensed under one of the 432 different open source licences currently available. A successful open source product should provide it's own unique licence that is subtly different from every other open source licence (no easy task). Most of open source software is supplied at minimal cost or can be freely downloaded. Open source is not freeware or shareware.

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