The Meaning of OEM Software

There is much confusion surrounding the direct sale of OEM software

OEM stands for Original Equipment Manufacturer and OEM software is a phrase that refers to software that is sold to computer builders and hardware manufacturers (OEMs) in large quantities. These OEMs bundle this software with the computer hardware they produce. The third-party software that comes with digital cameras, graphics tablets, smartphones, printers, and scanners are examples of OEM software.

Man in office with desktop computer and laptop

What Is OEM Software?

In many cases, this bundled software is an older version of a program that is also sold on its own as a stand-alone product. Sometimes it is a feature-limited version of the retail software, often dubbed as a Special Edition (SE) or Limited Edition (LE). The purpose is to give users of the new product software to work with out of the box, but it's also to tempt users to purchase the current or fully-functional version of the software.

A twist on this practice is offering earlier versions of the software. On the surface, this may sound like a great deal but there's a possibility that the software manufacturer may not upgrade older software to the latest version.

OEM software may also be an unlimited, fully-functional version of the product that can be purchased at a discount with a new computer because the system builder sells in large quantities and passes the savings on to the buyer.

There are often special license restrictions attached to OEM software which restricts the way it can be sold. For example, the end-user license agreement (EULA) for fully functional OEM software may state that it can only be sold with the accompanying hardware.

The Legality of OEM Software

There's confusion about the legality of OEM software because unethical online sellers have taken advantage of consumers by offering discounted software under the OEM label when the sale of the software was not authorized by the publisher.

There are many instances where it is legal to purchase OEM software. However, the phrase has been used to trick consumers into buying counterfeit software. In these cases, the software was never published under an OEM license, and the seller is offering pirated software which may not be functional or which may not be delivered.

Software downloaded from torrents is usually pirated software. Using this software comes with the possibility of being sued by the software company for copyright violation.

Users of pirated software are on their own when it comes to tech support. If the software has an issue or needs an update, the manufacturer will ask for the software serial number and that number will be checked against the legal software numbers.

To counteract this counterfeit software, many software manufacturers such as Adobe and Microsoft are moving to a cloud-based subscription model. In this model, there is no software to download, the software apps run in the cloud and users work in a web browser. For example, Adobe requires a legitimate Creative Cloud account and, every now and then, users are asked to provide their Creative Cloud username and password.

To protect yourself, purchase or download OEM software directly from the software manufacturer or from a reputable software reseller.

The Shift From OEM Software to Trial Periods

In today's web-based environment, the practice of bundling OEM software is being replaced by trial periods in which the fully functional version of the software can be used for a limited period. After this time period, the software is either disabled until the user purchases a license or content is watermarked until a license is purchased.

OEM Software and Smartphones

Though bundling is a dying practice, smartphone manufacturers install software, commonly known as bloatware, on devices. Depending on the device manufacturer, apps may be installed on a device that has little or no relevance to what the user does or may be interested in.

The consumer can't choose what is installed on a new device and it may be difficult to uninstall unwanted apps. In Android devices, much of this software is hard-wired into the Android OS because the manufacturer modified the Android OS and that software can't be deleted or, in many cases, disabled.

Some smartphones contain apps that encourage the user to purchase extra features as they use the application. This happens in games that have a free and a paid version of the app. The free version has ads that offer upgrades to the paid premium version.

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