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Shareware is a marketing method for computer software. Shareware software is typically obtained free of charge, either by downloading from the Internet or on magazine cover-disks. A user tries out the program, and thus shareware has also been known as "try before you buy". A shareware program is accompanied by a request for payment, and the software's distribution license often requires such a payment.



The term shareware was coined by Bob Wallace to describe his word processor PC-Write in the mid-1980s. Wallace came up with the name that stuck, but many consider the "fathers" of the shareware marketing model to be Jim "Button" Knopf and Andrew Fluegelman. Their coordinated offerings of PC-File (database) and PC-Talk (telecommunications) programs, respectively, pre-dated PC-Write by several months. Button referred to his distribution method as "user supported software," and Fluegelman called his freeware. Among the three of them, they clearly established shareware as a viable software marketing method. Via the shareware model, PC-File and PC-Talk made Button and Fluegelman millionaires[citation needed].

During the late 1980s and early 1990s, shareware software was widely distributed over bulletin board systems globally. Popular software, especially games and compression utilities, was rapidly passed along between bulletin boards. The market naturally pruned off less popular software for many reasons, including the cost of local and long distance modem telephone calls, the time required to transfer files, the network effect of popular software being more readily available, and the isolation of individual bulletin board systems. Coupled with the difficulty to create software at the time, the market seemed composed only of high quality, popular works.

As more individuals discovered the Internet during the early and mid 1990s, most of these barriers were reduced. Niche market software was more accessible. Less popular and obscure software could be distributed from anywhere on the Internet rather than waiting to be passed through countless isolated systems. Without the limiting factors in place, the perceived number of software titles exploded while the perceived quality plummeted.

During the late 1990s, search engines and common distribution hubs further smashed the distribution barriers. A new generation of software creation tools --Rapid Application Development -- enabled the creation of major titles in less time and allowed inexperienced programmers to create minor software titles in a matter of hours. Hundreds of shareware titles were created every month. It became difficult to prune the low quality shareware software from the gems.

During the early 2000s, a new way to filter the software became available. Major download sites began to rank titles based on quality, feedback, and downloads. Popular software was sorted to the top of the list. Blogs and online forums further enabled individuals to spread news about titles they like. With this additional pruning in place, consumers can more easily find quality shareware products while still preserving the ability to find obscure and niche software.



Free/open source software and shareware are similar in that they can be obtained and used without monetary cost. Usually shareware differs from free/open source software in that requests of voluntary shareware fees are made, often within the program itself, and in that source code for shareware programs is generally not available in a form that would allow others to extend the program. Notwithstanding that tradition, some free/open source software authors ask for voluntary donations, although there is no requirement to do so. Free/open source software is usually compatible with the strict ASP shareware guidelines.

Sometimes, paying the fee and obtaining a password results in access to expanded features, documentation, or support. In some cases, unpaid use of the software is limited in time or in features — in which case the software is vernacularly called crippleware. Some shareware items require no payment; just an email address, so that the supplier can use this address for their own purposes.

Shareware is available on all major computer platforms including Microsoft Windows, Macintosh, and Linux. Titles cover a very wide range of categories including: business, software development, education, home, multimedia, design, drivers, games, and utilities.

There is a technical difference between shareware and demos. Up to the early 1990s, shareware could easily be upgraded to the full version by adding the other episodes or full portion of the game; this would leave the existing shareware files intact. Demos are different in that they are self-contained programs which are not upgradable to the full version. A good example is the Descent shareware versus the Descent II demo; players were able to retain their saved games on the former but not the latter.



With shareware, a developer bypasses the normal distribution channel eliminating the normal retail middleman markups and directly markets to the end user. The end result is a reduced end-user price compared to the retail channel. Users of shareware are encouraged to copy and distribute unregistered versions of the software to friends, coworkers and other acquaintances. The hope is that users will find the program useful or entertaining and will pay to register to be able to access all the features.

Pertaining more towards shareware games, large online distribution channels known as "portals", such as Yahoo! Games and RealArcade, have emerged in recent years. These portals act as media of distribution for the shareware developers, providing an audience base for a percentage of the software's sale.

Shareware developers are usually individual computer programmers[dubious ] brave enough to take initiative and take risk — entrepreneurs. Therefore, online shareware author communities, like the newsgroup alt.comp.shareware.authors, are places for software seekers to post their novel software ideas for potential implementation.



In the early 1990s, shareware distribution was a popular method of publishing games for smaller developers, including then-fledgling companies such as Apogee Software (now also operating under the brand 3D Realms), Epic Megagames (now Epic Games), and id Software. It gave consumers the chance to try a portion of the game, usually restricted to the game's complete first section or episode, before purchasing the rest of the adventure. Racks of games on single 5 1/4 inch and later 3.5 inch floppy disks were common in retail stores. However, bulletin board systems (BBS) and computer expositions such as Software Creations BBS were the primary distributors of all early low-cost software. Free software from a BBS was the motive force for consumers to purchase a computer equipped with a modem, so as to acquire software at no cost. At PC expositions, extant today, shareware was essentially free; the cost only covered the disk and minimal packaging.

As the increasing size of games in the mid-1990s made them impractical to fit on floppies, and retail publishers and developers began to earnestly mimic the practice, shareware games were replaced by shorter demos that were either distributed free on CDs with gaming magazines or as free downloads over the Internet, in some cases becoming exclusive content for specific websites.



In the 1980s and early-to-mid 1990s shareware was considered to be a concept for independent software writers to receive a degree of remuneration for their labor. However, after that the shareware model began to degrade as the term was used by commercial startups offering (sometimes substandard) commercial software and labeling non-functional or limited demo versions (known as crippleware) as shareware. As a result, the term shareware has shown reduced usage in recent years, replaced by either demo for trial software or freeware for full editions. However, it must be stressed that the shareware software is not always so limited in function, as demonstrated with programs such as The Bat!, GetRight, WinZip, and WinRAR, as well as the game examples mentioned below.

One problem is the lack of a solid definition. Some shareware groups have limited definitions, allowing 'nag screens' that remind the user to buy the software and refuse to accept any software with limited functionality, such as demos, trial use, or crippled software [1]. Most groups, such as the Association of Shareware Professionals, the Software Industry Professionals group and PC Shareware clearly state their position that any software marketed as 'try before you buy' is shareware.

Another issue is the high percentage of commercial failures. A very large percentage of shareware projects are commercial failures. Sites like Tucows,, and Handango list hundreds of thousands of shareware projects, many of which are abandoned. One sampling found 76% of listed projects were abandoned or no longer being updated. Active projects commonly see less than 0.5% of downloaders convert to paying customers [2], and projects may be victims of software piracy, dropping sales by half again [3]. It is argued that many projects could become successful by following some simple business practices.



Other types of software distribution, taking the suffix "-ware" have followed shareware's lead. They usually do not require the user to make a specific payment to the author. Rather, they sometimes require the user to send the author a postcard (postcardware) or donate to a specific charity (careware); for more examples see otherware.


Industry standards and technologies

There are several widely accepted standards and technologies that are used in the development and promotion of shareware.

  • PAD (Portable Application Description) is used to standardize shareware application descriptions. PAD file is an XML document that describes a shareware or freeware product according to the PAD specification.
  • DynamicPAD extends the Portable Application Description (PAD) standard by allowing shareware vendors to provide customized PAD XML files to each download site or any other PAD-enabled resource. DynamicPAD is a set of server-side PHP scripts distributed under a GPL license and a freeware DynamicPAD builder for 32-bit Windows.
  • Code signing is a technology that is used by Shareware developers to digitally sign their products. The recent versions of Microsoft Operating Systems, namely Windows XP Service Pack 2 and Windows Vista, show a warning when the user installs a unsigned software.


Developer organizations

  • ASP Association of Shareware Professionals. Since 1987, the ASP has been dedicated to the advancement of shareware, also known as "try before you buy" software, as an alternative to conventional retail software. Today the ASP is a vibrant organization with hundreds of members around the world working together to improve their businesses and making it easier for computer users to find quality software at reasonable prices.
  • Software Industry Professionals Provides information and support to members of the software industry and helps people learn to use software. Members include independent software vendors, academics, and commercial software publishers.
  • ISDEF Independent Software Developers Forum
  • ESC Educational Software Cooperative. A non-profit corporation bringing together developers, publishers, distributors and users of educational software.
  • SWRUS an informal Russian shareware developers community
  • AISIP Association of Independent Software Industry Professionals
  • OISV Organization of Independent Software Vendors


See also

  • Glossary of legal terms in technology



  • "Exposing the Myth of "Shareware""
  • Slashdot: "Do You Pay for Your Shareware?"


External links

  • Shareware at the Open Directory Project
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