What is abandonware?

Perhaps you have come across the term "abandonware", e. B. if you were looking for (old) software or a game. But what does that actually mean? What does abandonware mean for the (former) rights holders, for users and for those who offer such software for download? I will answer these and other questions for you in this guide. Do you have any additions or questions? Then please leave a comment.

What is abandonware? Is it legal to download old programs and games from the Internet? And where is the demarcation from deliberately offered free apps? Here you get answers on the topic!
What is abandonware? Is it legal to download old programs and games from the Internet? And where is the demarcation from deliberately offered free apps? Here you get answers on the topic!

What does the word abandonware mean?

The words are in the word "abandonware" abandon and Software. While the latter is self-explanatory, the former means something like "leave" or "give up". In combination, the verb abandon can also be translated as “leave behind”. The manufacturers or programmers leave the corresponding product (app, game, operating system, etc.) behind, no longer offer support and no longer sell any data carriers or downloads. If the license rights or the copyright are also given up, then it is possible that programs and games that become abandonware can be further distributed by third parties.

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Commercial and open source abandonware

One often speaks of abandonware when it comes to commercial programs, systems and games whose rights and source texts have been repudiated by the author company. This could be due to a restructuring, but also to declining sales, a new generation of apps or the closure of the company. In 1996 z. B. the games company Atari dense, whereupon source texts and original and backup versions of well-known games almost ended up on the dump. In addition to commercial software, open source programs can also become abandonware if they no longer have a maintainer.

Are abandonware distribution and download legal?

With regard to systems, programs and games that can be described as abandonware, there are many sites on the Internet that offer numerous downloads. But that doesn't mean that it's also legal. Because basically there are still people or companies who have rights to the code or who have been creatively involved in the graphic interface. Uploading and downloading could therefore be regarded as illegal if it did not happen from an official authority. However, as already defined above, nobody cares about the rights with “real” abandonware, which is why the following applies: Where there is no lawsuit, there is no judgment. So anyone who downloads old C64 or DOS games whose developer company is no longer on the market should be OK.

De-commercialized software is not abandonware

When considering the topic, you also have to make a small distinction. Because abandonware was more or less deliberately left out of sight. One could say that the offering company has simply lost interest in it and is therefore no longer concerned with possible pirated copies, changed versions or wildly scattered downloads. The situation is different with de-commercialized systems, programs and games. These are knowingly and willingly offered by the rights holder free of charge and / or the offer is extended to certain platforms for free software. The free download is then wanted all round.

Abandonware platforms and Internet archives for software

In addition to the archiving of software titles and games left behind by the respective fan base, there are also various groups, organizations and institutions that take care of the maintenance of source codes and running programs in a structured manner. Wikipedia mentions on the appropriate bottom including the following:

  • Internet Archive
  • Library of Congress
  • International Center for the History of Electronic Games (ICHEG)
  • Computer History Museum
  • Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)
  • Keeping Emulation Environments Portable Project
  • European Federation of Game Archives, Museums and Preservation Projects (EFGAMP)

Further source: replaying; Example of an abandonware page for old games: internet arcade

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