What Is Abandonware?

Programs without support or updates are considered abandonware

Image of a man on a rock in the water representing the concept of high and dry or abandoned
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Abandonware is software that has been abandoned or ignored by its developer, whether on purpose on unintentionally.

There are a variety of reasons that a software program is left ignored by a developer, and even the term itself isn’t super specific and can refer to many types of software program types like shareware, freeware, free software, open source software, and commercial software.

Abandonware does not necessarily mean that the program is no longer available for purchase or download but instead means that it’s simply no longer maintained by the creator, meaning that there is no technical support and that patches, updates, service packs, etc., are no longer released.

In some cases, even copyright infringement is ignored by the creator because everything about the software is abandoned and left as-is without a second thought to how the program is being used, who is selling it or reusing it, etc.

How Software Becomes Abandonware

There are a multitude of reasons that a software program could be considered abandonware.

  • The program hasn’t been updated in a long time and the developer feels no need to release a new version
  • A commercial program is no longer supported but the company still exists
  • A business owning a commercial program no longer exists
  • A business purchases the rights to a program either directly or indirectly through a business acquisition, but then does not continue development
  • Finances restrict the creator from further developing the software
  • The software can only be used with older hardware or operating systems that are no longer available or mainstream
  • A developer releases a newer version and abandons the previous one
  • The developer has passed away and there isn’t anyone in charge of the project
  • Old shareware is released by the developer but isn’t maintained
  • The license server necessary for a program to activate and work is permanently unavailable, and the related software cannot function

    In all of these cases, the same general concept applies: the entity developing or owning the software treats it as a dead program.

    How Abandonware Affects Users

    Security risks are the clearest effect that abandoning a software program has on the users. Since upgrades are no longer released to patch potential vulnerabilities, the software is left open to attacks and is considered unsafe for everyday use.

    Abandonware also no longer moves forward when it comes to features and other capabilities, meaning that not only does the program not improve but it also likely becomes unusable in the coming years compatibility-wise as different operating systems and devices are released that the program will probably not support.

    Abandoned software can still be purchased as used software from existing users but abandonware is not available for purchase from the official developer. This means that if a user missed out on buying the software through official channels, they no longer have that opportunity with the abandonware.

    Users cannot get official support for their software. Since abandonware means that there is no longer support from the company, any general questions, technical support requests, refunds, etc.

    are left unanswered and seemingly unnoticed by the creator.

    Is Abandonware Free?

    Abandonware does not necessarily mean freeware. Although some abandonware may have once been downloadable for free, that’s not true for all abandonware.

    However, since the developer is no longer involved in the program’s development, most likely because the business no longer exists, it’s often true that they do not have the means and/or desire to enforce the copyright.

    What’s more is that some distributors of abandonware get approval from the copyright holder so that they are given the proper permissions to give out the software.

    Therefore, whether you're downloading abandonware legally is entirely circumstantial, so it's important to check with each distributor specifically.

    Where to Download Abandonware

    Lots of websites exists for the sole purpose of distributing abandonware. Here are just a few examples of abandonware websites:

    Important: Be careful when downloading popular but old software programs and games. Make sure you’re running an updated antivirus program and be sure you know how to run a malware scan should the need arise.

    • My Abandonware: Thousands of old games from as early as the late 70s
    • VETUSWARE.COM: Huge list of abandonware games, software programs, and operating systems for Windows, DOS, Linux, and macOS
    • Abandonia: DOS game downloads
    • Abandonware DOS: Retro game downloads for Windows and DOS
    • OldVersion.com: Outdated software programs, video games, and abandonware for Windows, macOS, Linux, and Android
    • The Vintage Software Collection: Internet Archive's collection of abandonware software programs

    Note: Lots of old PC games and software programs are packaged within ZIP, RAR, and 7Z archives - you can use 7-Zip or PeaZip to open them.

    More Information on Abandonware

    Abandonware can actually apply to other things besides just software, like mobile phones and video games, but the same overall idea applies that the device or game is abandoned by its creator and left without support for its users.

    Some programs would be considered abandonware if the commercial program is owned by a company but no longer supported, but if that same program is then archived and offered for free, it might be considered by some to no longer be abandonware.

    Abandonware is sometimes considered different than discontinued software in that the developer hasn’t officially released a statement that the program is being discontinued. In other words, while all discontinued software is abandonware, not all abandonware is always considered discontinued software.

    For example, Windows XP is abandonware since it applies to the above concepts (updates and support are no longer available from Microsoft), but is discontinued since Microsoft has released an official statement.

    A different program that is also no longer supported, is called abandonware too, but without an official release describing its demise, it's not technically considered “discontinued.”

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