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What is Shareware?

Instructor: Lonny Meinecke

Lonny is a PhD student, a part-time teaching assistant/Sennseis for positive psychology, and has a bachelor's degree in IT and a master's degree in psychology.

In this lesson, we will talk about shareware - what it is, where it came from, and why it is so popular. Then we will take a short quiz to see how much we've learned.

What is Shareware?

Shareware is a unique form of software distribution that allows potential buyers to try it free of charge before they purchase it. Typically, consumers download shareware directly by clicking on an advertising banner on the Internet. Shareware is not freeware (which carries no cost), and it is not public domain (which carries no copyright), nor is it open-source (which allows you to see and modify the underlying computer code).

Rather, shareware is a copyrighted product and has a very reasonable cost. Usually, all features are enabled, but sometimes purchase is required to access all of them. This can create an additional incentive. Shareware may be installed, used, and evaluated for a specified period (usually 30 days) without obligation. After the trial period, you must purchase it or discontinue use of the software product. Most often, the software comes with a built-in timer to remind the user of the upcoming deadline, and it eventually disables the product unless purchased.

Example shareware ad
Shareware Ad

What Are the Benefits of Shareware?

For consumers, the benefits are risk-free trial of software, low cost, and personalized support. For producers of software, the benefits are mostly about reduced overhead. But both win when it comes to cost savings.

First, risk-free trial software is a no-brainer to consumers. There is no reason not to try it out if it is in the least appealing. There's no waiting in line to return it. Usually, there's nothing to wait for in the mail and nothing to send back if you don't like it. Shareware offers instant gratification to both provider and consumer.

Second, shareware is cost-effective. Retail software can be very costly to produce, package, and distribute. Packaging, copying, and printing alone can add up to a huge investment up front. Promotional costs like advertising can be cost-prohibitive. Both producer and consumer save in the bargain.

Third, shareware is a more personal buying experience and can bring about consumer loyalty. The connection between provider and consumer is more direct, and many producers encourage suggestions for product enhancements. The end result is a sort of banding together of folks who share a common cause. In the past, shareware has been viewed as an honor system (donation-based), which raised a feeling of trust between people and a motivation to send in the donation/fee to help the cause.

How Did Shareware Get Started?

Shareware was the brain child of Jim Knopf. It began as a simple desire to share a self-written database program called PC-File in a sparse software market in the early days of personal computers (1982). The few programs available at the time were really expensive. Knopf shared his product for free.

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