Everything you need to know about abandonware

Firmware. Malware. Shareware. Vapourware. There are many names out there for different kinds of programs and software in the world. Another such name is abandonware.

The programs that fall under this title are those that have been abandoned by their creator or owners. Abandonware is old, it’s often free, and out there to download.

But what else do you need to know about abandonware?

What is abandonware?

Abandonware is software that no longer receives support or attention from its creator/owner.

Initially, the term ‘abandonware’ referred to games that ran on obsolete hardware. These days, while still often used in reference to video games, abandonware stretches to any type of software that has been abandoned.

It could be an abandoned operating system, an abandoned video game, or abandoned business software.

However, just because software has been abandoned by its developers or owners, it doesn’t mean it’s not still available for download or purchase. And this can cause problems.

Why does it happen?

Abandonware is a product of the ever-changing technology landscape. With a constant push for innovation – for the ‘new’ — the old eventually becomes unviable, uninteresting, or simply used up.

Software is not made to last forever, and all sorts of things can trigger a program to wind up as abandonware.

For example, end-of-life software. This is software that is no longer viable in the tech market, and is not worth updating — and so the developer retires it. Once they completely stop offering bug fixes or any form of support, it becomes abandonware.

Another cause of abandonware is when the company or developers that created and own the software go out of business. Sometimes, it’s still possible to find and download their old products, despite the fact that the business no longer exists.

Alternatively, while the organisation that created the software remains intact, it may have new owners or changed business direction. And, as a result, the software in question gets dropped in favour of new projects.


A common question when it comes to abandonware (particularly with old video games) is ‘is it legal?’

The answer is no. Downloading abandonware is illegal. This is because, more often than not, abandonware is still under copyright. As such, downloading it without permission is technically illegal — even though the owner has abandoned the software. (And may not be checking for copyright violations.)

However, many feel that distributing abandonware is not piracy. After all, it’s not causing anyone to lose money, and the software would go unused otherwise.

In the case of end-of-life software turned abandonware, keeping your downloaded and paid for program isn’t illegal. But it isn’t advisable either.

The problem

So, why is abandonware an issue for businesses?

The biggest issue with businesses using abandonware is that it comes with some major security risks.  Namely, the risks of outdated software. Abandonware is characterised by its lack of developer support. That is, no bug fixes, no updates, no improvements — and therefore, deteriorating security.

With time, bad actors can find back doors into software. And when that software isn’t getting regular security updates, those back doors are more likely to be found.

Beyond that, abandonware is software that will never get better. It won’t get upgrades with cool new technology.

In short, organisations using abandonware miss out on new tech.


To sum up, abandonware is dead software without support. It might be free to download, but it isn’t freeware – you pay with security and quality.

Useful links

Vapourware: the emperor’s new clothes of the software world

The security risks of outdated software

What is a bad actor in cybersecurity?