Abandonware is an industry term for software that’s no longer published. In most cases you’re talking about software created by companies that have gone out of business, but in some cases the term applies to old and unsupported versions of software.
So Burger Time is definitely abandonware, but some folks would tell you that the original Tomb Raider is too because it’s out of print.
Is abandonware legal?
As far as I understand it, the answer has to be absolutely not. Copyright law protects software works for something like 75 years and if the software was copyrighted, someone owns that copyright even if the original company is long gone.
It could be some patent troll who bought the original intellectual property. Perhaps it’s just the owner of the original company or their children. Someone, somewhere, owns it.
In the case of something like the 1997 version of Microsoft Office, there is absolutely an active copyright on it. If you’re the sort of person who absolutely positively lives by the rules you need to know this.
However, a growing group of people view abandonware as a victimless crime. Even more people think that abandoned software for abandoned or obsolete computers should be free for everyone to use.
The abandonware movement started because a few people needed to get old versions of software to keep using them. Perhaps they had an accounting system that worked for them on their old Commodore 64 and the floppy finally wore out. That sort of thing.
Abandonware really took off when people started looking for copies of games they missed from childhood. Most abandonware sites today focus on older games, and if you have the ability to install and use these blasts from the past you’ll find the hours melting away.
Where to find abandonware
Google is going to be your friend, of course. A Google search for “abandonware” is going to turn up a ton of places. My Abandonware is one of the sites that seems to have the largest selection. You can also check out the selection at The Internet Archive. For those who are feeling less adventurous, a trip to Classic Reload will turn up hundreds of games that run in a browser so you don’t have to worry about downloading something from a site you don’t trust.
There’s a certain allure to these simpler, more casual games. They’re fun and challenging but don’t take the multi-hour commitment of today’s console games.
The graphics can be pretty weak, especially if you start looking into games from the early 1980s. But that’s kind of the fun of it.
Today, we intentionally play games that mimic that pixelated look. These are the “OGs” of gaming, the ones that set the stage for everything that was to come.