The Aardvark Speaks : essence, effervescence, obscurity. Established 2002. A weblog by Horst Prillinger. ISSN 1726-5320

May 25, 2005

What happened to shareware?

Recently, I mentioned a software product to compress video so that it fits on a single-layer DVD; the problem being that it costs more than a double-layer DVD drive. This software is marketed as "shareware", yet it comes as a crippled demo version that is seriously limited in functionality and will not allow you to fully test it before you buy a licence.

Referring to this as "shareware" is little other than a travesty. What happened to real shareware, like we knew it something like ten years ago?

Strictly speaking, shareware never had to do with the price or the vendor of the product; it was always a distribution model. You got a piece of software, you could try it out and hand it on, and if you used it, you were supposed to pay a (usually small) amount of money. In the early to mid-90s, you could get amazing software that way for as little as $10, or if they were really expensive, $20.

At some point, two things happened: because programmers felt that users didn't pay enough, they built reminder messages into their software. The other thing was that some programmers went professional and turned their products into commercial software.

Then the reminder messages turned into code that would disable the software after a trial period. And going commercial meant that prices rose to twice or three times as much as they had been previously.

All of this is okay, I suppose. Costs have risen, and people are entitled to get money for their efforts. However, what we are talking about here is no longer shareware. As soon as the product is marketed by a company and as soon as the product cripples itself after a trial period, we are talking about a commercial demo. This is especially true of the lastest trend in "shareware", which is to hand out crippled software to start with, requiring you to pay before you can actually test the full functionality.

As someone who has lived through what I'd like to call "the Golden Age of Shareware", I perceive this at best as an example of euphemistic newspeak, at worst a perversity. Okay, let them hand out crippled demos, let them charge enormous amounts of money for their products — after all, nobody is forcing anyone to buy the stuff if it can't be evaluated or if it's too expensive — but I feel sick when these people appropriate the term "shareware" for their business dealings, because it's disparaging the work of countless other programmers who set different priorities.

Posted by Horst on May 25, 2005 07:26 PM to the body electric | Tell-a-friend

whittler said on May 27, 2005 01:08 AM:

Someone recently referred to me this link It has donationware (open source), shareware and (i guess) commercial demos. Pretty good place to start when looking for an app.

dieter said on May 27, 2005 09:46 AM:

Horst, once you said that it is sort of an ethical question for Mac users to pay their shareware fee. In the PC world, that was never an issue. No one I know ever paid for PC software if he did not have to in order to get it running.

I guess that has to do with Microsoft marketing strategy of that time (I am talking about the early 90s here, just as you did). Maybe that lack of ethos contributed to the degradation of the shareware idea.

That is also why shareware that refuses to work after the end of a trial period is OK with me. Programmers want to be paid for their work, after all. Unlike you, I associate shareware more with the amount you have to pay. I download shareware from the internet and I am ready to accept some lack of comfort and stability in exchange for a low price. However, when the software costs a certain amount, I expect a CD, a useful manual and a support hotline.

Horst said on May 30, 2005 01:15 PM:

Shareware is a distribution model and has nothing to do with price, documentation or support. There are/have been plenty of shareware products that have excellent documentation and support.

I have no problems with commercial demos as long as they're called "commercial demos". If shareware is dead because people are refusing to pay for it, then so be it. Just don't call commercial demos "shareware".

dieter said on May 30, 2005 02:17 PM:

I was not going to dispute you on *that* point. I only tried to give my five cents on the whole matter.

Josh Cogliati said on May 30, 2005 04:46 PM:

I personally think that the internet combined with Free Software/Open Source Software is mostly to blame. The internet makes it easy to hard code in a termination date (since you just recompile with a date thirty days in the future every day and upload it to the website). With software distributed on cdrom or floppy disk this is not possible, so the only way to do that is to put the termination date in a configuration file, which just needs to be deleted to reset the expiration date. Reverse engineering a binary file to modify the expiration date is much more time consuming and a more specialized skill. This makes it much easier to make time limited demos than was possible before.

The second reason is that most of the authors that would have been creating shareware are now creating open source software instead and put up a donation jar (and probably get roughly the same amount of money).

So the people doing it for the money are more likely to produce commercial demos, and the people who are doing it for fun are more likely to produce open source software.

Probably the most effective way to fix the terminology problem is to complain to software directories that list commercial demos as shareware.

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