The term shareware (also known as trialware or demoware) is a proprietary software that is provided to users without payment on a trial basis and is often limited by any combination of functionality, availability[further explanation needed], or convenience[further explanation needed]. Shareware is often offered as a download from an Internet website or as a compact disc included with a periodical such as a newspaper or magazine. The rationale behind shareware is to give buyers the opportunity to use the program and judge its usefulness before purchasing a license for the full version of the software. Firms with superior software thus have an incentive to offer samples, except if their product is already well known, or if they do not want to be listed in direct competition with other products on shareware repositories.[1]

Shareware is usually offered either with certain features only available after the license is purchased, or as a full version but for a limited trial period of time. Once the trial period has passed, the program may stop running until a license is purchased. Shareware is often offered without supports or updates which only become available with the purchase of a license. The words "free trial" or "trial version" are indicative of shareware.

The term shareware is used in contrast to retail software, which refers to commercial software available only with the purchase of a license which may not be copied for others, public domain software, which refers to software not copyright protected, open source software, in which the source code is available for anyone to inspect and alter, and freeware, which refers to copyrighted software for which the author solicits no payment (though he or she may request donations).



In 1982, Andrew Fluegelman created a program for the IBM PC called PC-Talk, a telecommunications program, he used the term freeware. About the same time, Jim "Button" Knopf released PC-File, a database program, calling it user-supported software.[2] 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".[3]

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,[citation needed] so its use became established over freeware and user-supported software.[4]

Fluegelman, Knopf, and Wallace clearly established shareware as a viable software marketing method. Via the shareware model, Button, Fluegelman and Wallace became millionaires.[5][6]

During the late 1980s and early 1990s, shareware software was widely distributed over bulletin board systems globally and on diskettes (and, subsequently, CD-ROMs) by commercial shareware distributors who produced catalogs describing thousands of public domain and shareware programs. One such distributor, Public Software Library (PSL), began an order-taking service for programmers who otherwise had no means of accepting credit card orders.

As Internet usage grew, users turned to downloading shareware programs from FTP or web sites without paying long-distance charges or disk fees. 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 of mirror sites like Info-Mac, containing large shareware libraries were developed, accessible via the web or ftp. Later, the authors of programs developed 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.

The Internet also made it easier to locate niche software, as well as the best and most popular general software. During the early 2000s, and with the increasing popularity of Web 2.0, new ways 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 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 Association of Shareware Professionals 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 or trialware. Some titles display a dialog box with payment information and a message that paying will remove the notice, which is usually designed to be annoying to encourage the user to pay; this is termed nagware. 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, Linux, and Unix. Titles cover a very wide range of categories including: business, software development, education, home, multimedia, design, drivers, games, and utilities. The shareware model is often the only one practical for distributing non-free software for abandoned or orphaned platforms such as the Atari ST and Amiga due to its low overhead and low cost.


With shareware, a developer bypasses the retail distribution channel eliminating middleman markups and directly markets to the end user. The result is a reduced end-user price and direct contact with the author of the software. 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.

In the early to mid-1990s, large online distribution channels such as, Tucows, Yahoo! Games and RealArcade emerged. These portals acted as media of distribution for the shareware developers, providing a much larger audience than before.

Many shareware developers are individual computer programmers who develop their own product. Online shareware author communities, like the newsgroup alt.comp.shareware.authors, are often used by 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 3D Realms), Epic Megagames (now Epic Games), 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 "registering" (or buying) the 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 episode(s) would be stand-alone games.

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.[citation needed]

In the mid-1990s, the shareware market declined and within a few years had virtually disappeared as a means for distributing computer games.[citation needed] The reasons for this are various, but could be closely linked with the decline of garage coders.[citation needed] Shareware was often a great means for games that were unable to get traditional marketing and retail exposure to get noticed. However, as technology improved, independent games were less able to be competitive in a commercial market, and larger developers found it unnecessary to release extensive shareware episodes, instead offering more limited demos in their stead.

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 usually had many hours of play with a beginning, middle, and end. Shareware episodes most commonly offered 1/3 or 1/2 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 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.

Some shareware groups[who?] have liberal standards, allowing 'nag screens' that remind the user to buy the software, demonstration or "demo" versions and trialware. Some have refused to accept any software with limited functionality, including demos, trial use, or crippled software.[7] 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 shareware projects that are either unsuccessful or just abandoned. Sites like Tucows,, and Handango list hundreds of thousands of shareware programs, many of which are no longer being developed, although the authors may still be accepting payments for them.[clarification needed] 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,[8] and as many as half of the users may be using pirated versions of the software.[9]


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. List of digital distribution platforms for mobile devices. Here both a free, advert banner supported application can be obtained, and 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.
  • 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.[10]
  • 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 unsigned software.

See also


External links

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Shareware — [ˈʃeə(ɹ)ˌweə(ɹ)] (vom englischen share für „teilen“ und ware für „Ware“ oder „Produkt“) ist eine Vertriebsform von Software, bei der die jeweilige Software vor dem Kauf getestet werden kann. Erfunden wurde der Begriff von Bob Wallace, einem der… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • shareware — share‧ware [ˈʆeəweə ǁ ˈʆerwer] noun [uncountable] COMPUTING computer software that is given away free, or given away free for a particular period of time. After that time, people have to pay for it compare freeware * * * shareware UK US… …   Financial and business terms

  • shareware — n. Software that a user may acquire and try free of charge, usually distributed with a request for voluntary payment. See also open source The Essential Law Dictionary. Sphinx Publishing, An imprint of Sourcebooks, Inc. Amy Hackney Blackwell.… …   Law dictionary

  • Shareware — es una clase de software o programas para poder evaluar de forma gratuita pero por un tiempo, uso o características limitadas. Para adquirir el software de manera completa necesita de un pago económico (muchas veces modesto). No confundir con un… …   Enciclopedia Universal

  • shareware — (n.) by 1982, from SHARE (Cf. share) (v.) + WARE (Cf. ware) …   Etymology dictionary

  • shareware — |chèruére| s. m. [Informática] Programa informático disponibilizado gratuitamente aos usuários para avaliação durante um limite de tempo. • Plural: sharewares.   ‣ Etimologia: palavra inglesa, de share, parte, porção + ware, mercadoria …   Dicionário da Língua Portuguesa

  • shareware — /ˈʃɛrwer, ingl. ˈʃɛəˌwɛə/ [vc. ingl. propr. «(soft)ware a porzione», dal verbo to share «partecipare, condividere»] s. m. inv. (elab.) CFR. freeware …   Sinonimi e Contrari. Terza edizione

  • shareware — (izg. šȇrvēr) m DEFINICIJA inform. program u slobodnoj distribuciji koji se može isprobati prije kupovanja ETIMOLOGIJA engl …   Hrvatski jezični portal

  • shareware — [sher′wer΄] n. copyrighted computer software that typically is available free of charge for trial use but that must be paid for by anyone who uses it regularly …   English World dictionary

  • Shareware — Se denomina shareware a una modalidad de distribución de software, en la que el usuario puede evaluar de forma gratuita el producto, pero con limitaciones en el tiempo de uso o en algunas de las formas de uso o con restricciones en las… …   Wikipedia Español

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