Shareware is a marketing method for software, whereby a trial version is distributed without payment ahead of time as is common for proprietary software. Typically shareware software is obtained free of charge by downloading, thus allowing one to try out the program ahead of time. Shareware is also known as try before you buy, demoware, trialware and many other names. A shareware program is accompanied by a request for payment, and often payment is required per the terms of the license past a set period of time. 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 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." Between 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.


Open source software and shareware are similar in that they can be obtained and used without monetary cost. Usually shareware differs from 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 freeware authors ask for voluntary "donations," although there is no requirement to do so.

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—in which case the software is vernacularly called crippleware.

The original shareware programs were applications running under DOS, but are now more commonly utilities running on Microsoft Windows, although gaming, editing and other examples also exist. Shareware is rarely found on non-Macintosh Unix-like operating systems, which may be due to the corporate use of Unix until the advent of Linux, which championed free software as opposed to shareware. But it is more likely due to the fact that the Unix/Linux market is still small compared to MS Windows thus drastically reducing the "shareware licensing fee" potential.


In using a shareware approach to distributing a program, 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 relatively low end-user cost compared to the retail channel. Users of shareware are encouraged to copy & distribute unregistered versions of the software to friends, co-workers and other acquaintances. The hope is that users will find the program useful or entertaining and will register it (by paying a fee) to unlock a full suite of features.

Nowadays, shareware is rarely found with large complex programs requiring many programmers because of the large costs associated with same. A shareware's program source, maintenance and extensibililty can sometimes be negotiated for a licensing fee with the author(s) similar to standard proprietary software.

Criticism of shareware concept

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 labelling non-functional or limited demo versions (known as crippleware) as "shareware". As a result, the term shareware has shown reduced usage in recent years. However, it must be stressed that the shareware software is not always so limited in function, as demonstrated with programs such as GetRight, WinZip, and WinRAR, as well as the game examples mentioned below.


Some big names that started as shareware are: Apogee Software (now 3D Realms) and id Software. They both offered games in the early 1990s via the shareware model. The first part of a trilogy was released as shareware and the other two parts as commercial games (delivered to the user when the shareware version was "registered" by paying for it). These games were cutting-edge software: Wolfenstein 3D is considered by many to be the first great first person shooter, to be later redefined by Doom (also shareware) and Quake (commercial game).

See also

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