Shareware is a type of proprietary software which is initially provided free of charge to users, who are allowed and encouraged to make and share copies of the program. Shareware is often offered as a download from an Internet website or as a compact disc included with a magazine.
There are many types of shareware, and while they may not require an initial up-front payment, all are intended to generate revenue in one way or another. Some limit use to personal non-commercial purposes only, with purchase of a license required for use in a business enterprise. The software itself may be limited in functionality or be time-limited, or it may remind the user that payment would be appreciated.
Shareware is available on all major personal computer platforms. Titles cover a wide range of categories including business, software development, education, home, multimedia, design, drivers, games, and utilities. Because of its minimal overhead and low cost, the shareware model is often the only practical model for distributing non-free software for abandoned or orphaned platforms such as the Atari ST and Amiga.
The term shareware is used in contrast to open-source software, in which the source code is available for anyone to inspect and alter, and freeware, which is software distributed at no cost to the user but without source code being made available. Two types of shareware, donationware and freemiums, are also types of freeware.
Types of shareware
Adware, short for "advertising-supported software", is any software package which automatically renders advertisements in order to generate revenue for its author. The advertisements may be in the user interface of the software or on a screen presented to the user during the installation process. The functions may be designed to analyze which Internet sites the user visits and to present advertising pertinent to the types of goods or services featured there. The term is sometimes used to refer to software that displays unwanted advertisements.
On Microsoft Windows, shareware is often packaged with adware. During the install of the intended software, the user is presented with a requirement to agree to the terms of click through licensing or similar licensing which governs the installation of the software.
Demoware is a demonstration version of software. There are generally two types demoware: that which is crippled, and that which has a trial period.
In software, crippleware means that vital features of the program such as printing or the ability to save files are disabled until the user buys the software. This allows users to take a close look at the features of a program without being able to use it to generate output. The distinction between freemium and crippleware is that an unlicensed freemium program has useful functionality, while crippleware demonstrates its potential but is not in itself useful.
Trialware is software with a built-in time limit. The user can try out the fully featured program until the trial period is up, and then most trialware reverts to a reduced-functionality (freemium, nagware, or crippleware) or non-functional mode, unless the user pays the license fee and receives a registration code to unlock the program. Trialware has become the norm for online Software as a Service (SaaS).
The rationale behind trialware is to give potential users the opportunity to try out the program to judge its usefulness before purchasing a license. According to industry research firm Softletter, 66% of online companies surveyed had free-trial-to-paying-customer conversion rates of 25% or less. SaaS providers employ a wide range of strategies to nurture leads, and convert them into paid customers.
Donationware is a licensing model that supplies fully operational unrestricted software to the user and requests an optional donation be paid to the programmer or a third-party beneficiary (usually a non-profit). The amount of the donation may also be stipulated by the author, or it may be left to the discretion of the user, based on individual perceptions of the software's value. Since donationware comes fully operational (i.e. not crippleware) with payment optional, it is a type of freeware.
Nagware is a type of shareware that persistently reminds the user to purchase a licence. It usually does this by popping up a message when the user starts the program, or intermittently while the user is using the application. These messages can appear as windows obscuring part of the screen, or as message boxes that can quickly be closed. Some nagware keeps the message up for a certain time period, forcing the user to wait to continue to use the program. Unlicensed programs that support printing may superimpose a watermark on the printed output, typically stating that the output was produced by an unlicensed copy.
Some titles display a dialog box with payment information and a message that paying will remove the notice, which is usually displayed either upon startup or after an interval while the application is running. These notices are designed to annoy the user into paying.
Freemium works by offering a product or service free of charge (typically digital offerings such as software, content, games, web services or other) while charging a premium for advanced features, functionality, or related products and services. For example, a fully functional feature-limited version may be given away for free, with advanced features disabled until a license fee is paid. The word "freemium" is a portmanteau combining the two aspects of the business model: "free" and "premium". It has become a popular model.
In 1982, Andrew Fluegelman created a program for the IBM PC called PC-Talk, a telecommunications program, and used the term freeware; he described it "as an experiment in economics more than altruism". About the same time, Jim "Button" Knopf released PC-File, a database program, calling it user-supported software. Not much later, Bob Wallace produced PC-Write, a word processor, and called it shareware. Appearing in an episode of Horizon titled Psychedelic Science originally broadcast 5 April 1998, Bob Wallace said the idea for shareware came to him "to some extent as a result of my psychedelic experience".
In 1983 Jerry Pournelle wrote of "an increasingly popular variant" of free software "that has no name, but works thus: "If you like this, send me (the author) some money. I prefer cash." In 1984, Softalk-PC magazine had a column, The Public Library, about such software. Public domain is a misnomer for shareware, and Freeware was trademarked by Fluegelman and could not be used legally by others, and User-Supported Software was too cumbersome. So columnist Nelson Ford had a contest to come up with a better name.
The most popular name submitted was Shareware, which was being used by Wallace. However, Wallace acknowledged that he got the term from an InfoWorld magazine column by that name in the 1970s, and that he considered the name to be generic, so its use became established over freeware and user-supported software.
Prior to the popularity of the World Wide Web and widespread Internet access, Shareware was often the only economical way for independent software authors to get their product onto users' desktops. Those with Internet or BBS access could download software and distribute it amongst their friends or user groups, who would then be encouraged to send the registration fee to the author, usually via postal mail. During the late 1980s and early 1990s, shareware software was widely distributed over online services, bulletin board systems and on diskettes. Contrary to commercial developers who spent millions of dollars urging users "Don't Copy that Floppy", shareware developers encouraged users to upload the software and share it on disks.
Commercial shareware distributors such as Educorp and Public Domain Inc printed catalogs describing thousands of public domain and shareware programs that were available for a small charge on floppy disk. These companies later made their entire catalog available on CD-ROM. One such distributor, Public Software Library (PSL), began an order-taking service for programmers who otherwise had no means of accepting credit card orders. Later, services like Kagi started offering applications that authors could distribute along with their products that would present the user with an onscreen form to fill out, print, and mail along with their payment. Once telecommunications became more widespread, this service also expanded online. Toward the beginning of the Internet era, books compiling reviews of available shareware were published, sometimes targeting specific niches such as small business. These books would typically come with one or more floppy disks or CD-ROMs containing software from the book.
As Internet use grew, users turned to downloading shareware programs from FTP or web sites. This spelled the end of bulletin board systems and shareware disk distributors. At first, disk space on a server was hard to come by, so networks like Info-Mac were developed, consisting of non-profit mirror sites hosting large shareware libraries accessible via the web or ftp. With the advent of the commercial web hosting industry, the authors of shareware programs started their own sites where the public could learn about their programs and download the latest versions, and even pay for the software online. This erased one of the chief distinctions of shareware, as it was now most often downloaded from a central "official" location instead of being shared samizdat-style by its users. To ensure users would get the latest bug-fixes as well as an install untainted by viruses or other malware, some authors discouraged users from giving the software to their friends, encouraging them to send a link instead.
Major download sites such as VersionTracker and CNet's Download.com began to rank titles based on quality, feedback, and downloads. Popular software was sorted to the top of the list, along with products whose authors paid for preferred placement. Blogs and online forums further enabled individuals to spread news about titles they like. The popularity of app stores expanded the audience for shareware, as well as providing features for authors to accept payments and provide updates. App stores will typically enforce content guidelines for applications listed on their store.
Paying will provide the user with a licence key or pass code they can enter into the software to disable the notices and enable full functionality.
Some pirate web sites publish license codes for popular shareware, leading to a kind of arms race between the developer and the pirates where the developer disables pirated codes and the pirates attempt to find or generate new ones. Some software publishers have started accepting known pirated codes, using the opportunity to educate users on the economics of the shareware model.
Some shareware relies entirely on the user's honesty and requires no password - simply checking an "I have paid" checkbox in the application is all that is required to disable the registration notices.
Sometimes a more elaborate action is required, such as clicking an obscure area of a window while holding down a modifier key. These tricks were more easily kept secret before the popularity of the Internet. This category of shareware presupposes an educated, involved userbase that is aware of the software development process, and interested in supporting it. A mass audience is more likely to ask the question "Why should I pay for something I already have?" and disable the shareware notice without paying. Some shareware items require no payment; just an email address, so that the supplier can use this address for their own purposes.
In the early 1990s, shareware distribution was a popular method of publishing games for smaller developers, including then-fledgling companies Apogee Software (also known as 3D Realms), Epic Megagames (now Epic Games), Ambrosia Software and id Software. It gave consumers the chance to play the game before investing money in it, and gave them exposure that some products would be unable to get in the retail space.
With the Kroz series, Apogee introduced the "episodic" shareware model that became the most popular incentive for buying a game. While the shareware game would be a truly complete game, there would be additional "episodes" of the game that were not shareware, and could only be legally obtained by paying for the shareware episode. In some cases these episodes were neatly integrated and would feel like a longer version of the game, and in other cases the later episodes would be stand-alone games. Sometimes the additional content was completely integrated with the unregistered game, such as in Ambrosia's Escape Velocity series, in which a character representing the developer's pet parrot, equipped with an undefeatable ship, would periodically harass and destroy the player after they reached a certain level representing the end of the trial period.
Racks of games on single 5 1/4 inch and later 3.5 inch floppy disks were common in retail stores. However, computer shows and bulletin board systems (BBS) such as Software Creations BBS were the primary distributors of 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.
The important distinguishing feature between a shareware game and a game demo is that the shareware game is, at least in theory, a complete game. Where modern demos are often a single level or less, shareware games were usually complete games. Shareware episodes most commonly offered a significant fraction of the entire registered version, and many even offered the entire product as shareware with no additional content for registered users.
In the 1980s and early-to-mid 1990s, shareware was a means of distribution enabling small developers to have their product widely disseminated among computer users, some of whom would purchase the product. After the internet became popular, 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 (termed crippleware) as shareware. As a result, in the early 21st century, the term shareware was being used less, replaced by either demo or trial software.
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. Examples include:
- Postcardware, which requires the user to send a postcard to someone
- Careware, which requires the user to donate to a charity
Another type of shareware software distribution very popular in the mobile domain are app store markets. There, users can often obtain applications that are free and advert banner supported, and often a paid version with no ads and maybe more features.
Industry standards and technologies
There are several widely accepted standards and technologies that are used in the development and promotion of shareware.
- FILE_ID.DIZ is a descriptive text file often included in downloadable shareware distribution packages.
- Portable Application Description (PAD) 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 developers to digitally sign their products. Versions of Microsoft Windows since Windows XP Service Pack 2 show a warning when the user installs unsigned software. This is typically offered as a security measure to prevent untrusted software from potentially infecting the machine with malware. However, critics see this technology as part of a tactic to delegitimize independent software development by requiring hefty upfront fees and a review process before software can be distributed.
- "SHAREWARE - (as described by Jef Minter)".
There are no constraints on creativity. No-one says 'we cannot publish this because it ain't mainstream'. Programmers do whatever they like and the users vote with their Shareware fees.
- "2013 Softletter SaaS Report". Softletter. Retrieved 29 May 2015.
- Milian, Mark (2011-06-13). "Reading apps sell subscriptions to fuzzy feelings". CNN. Retrieved 2014-05-22.
- Magid, Lawrence J. (August 1982). "PC-Talk". PC Magazine. p. 143. Retrieved 21 October 2013.
- Callahan, Michael E. "The History of Shareware". Paul's Picks. Archived from the original on 2008-02-02. Retrieved 2008-05-13.
- Horizon: Psychedelic science by Bill Eagles, (about 41 mins into programme)]
- Pournelle, Jerry (1983-07). "Interstellar Drives, Osborne Accessories, DEDICATE/32, and Death Valley". BYTE. p. 323. Retrieved 28 August 2016. Check date values in:
- "History of Shareware", Association of Shareware Professionals
- "Bob Wallace Timeline". Erowid. Jan 12, 2004 (mod March 8, 2008). Retrieved March 7, 2013. Check date values in:
- Article about Jim "Button" Knopf, from Dr. Dobbs Journal
- "PC Mag Nov 24, 1992".
- "App Store Distribution".
- "Software That is both Shareware and Guiltyware".
- "Anarchie v1.1.3 © 1993-94 Peter N Lewis.".
If you purchase a site license, contact me for information on how to make Anarchie automatically set the ÒI PaidÓ flag in the Preferences dialog (for those who are interested, I leave the ÒI PaidÓ checkbox off on my machine to ensure that the About box is not too annoying and it doesnÕt trouble me, so live with it :-)
- "BCS Level 2".
- PAD specification at the Wayback Machine (archived June 12, 2007)
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