What Is Abandonware?

Programs without support or updates are considered abandonware

Abandonware is software that has been abandoned or ignored by its developer, whether on purpose or unintentionally.

There are a variety of reasons a software program is left ignored by a developer. 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 doesn't necessarily mean the program is no longer available for purchase or download, but instead means it’s simply no longer maintained by the creator, meaning there's no technical support, and patches, updates, service packs, etc., are no longer released.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's selling it or reusing it, etc.

Image of a man on a rock in the water representing the concept of high and dry or abandoned
Mark Airs / Getty Images

How Software Becomes Abandonware

There are a multitude of reasons 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 doesn't 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. 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 isn't available for purchase from the official developer. This means 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 there's 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?

In actuality, abandonware doesn't 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 don't have the means and/or desire to enforce the copyright.

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

Basically, 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 exist for the sole purpose of distributing abandonware. Here are just a few examples:

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

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 Abandonware Facts

Abandonware can actually apply to other things besides just software, such as mobile phones and video games. 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. However, 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 from 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 considered abandonware since it applies to the above concepts (updates and support are no longer available from Microsoft) but is also discontinued software since Microsoft released an official statement.

  • Is abandonware illegal?

    Not necessarily. Just because software is abandoned doesn't mean it's illegal to use. However, a piece of software that wasn't free in the past, once abandoned, may be technically illegal to download.

  • Where do you find abandonware?

    You can find abandonware on several online sites. For example, for abandoned games, there are sites like My Abandonware with thousands and thousands of abandoned games from the late 1970s onwards. Popular abandoned software is usually always accessible.

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