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History of shareware

How did shareware become so popular?
What started in the early 80's as an initiative to share free software amongst users of the newly launched IBM PCs, turned into a billion dollar industry.

The beginning of shareware

Jim Button, the creator of PC-File - a database program, and Andrew Fluegleman, the author of PC-Talk - a communication program, are considered to be the "fathers" of the shareware concept. Though they didn't know each other, when they found out that they used the same method of software distribution, they decided to promote each other's software.

Their intention was at first to share free software with other users. In time, they realized that they couldn't afford to develop the software and to inform users on new features. So they continued to allow users to copy their software, but they introduced a line in the program requesting 20 dollars for financing the development of the programs.

Although Andrew Fluegleman trademarked the term freeware hoping to make money out of it, the new way of software distribution grew into something different. Since the term freeware couldn't be widely used, and "user supported software" was too bulky, a computer magazine organized a contest to find a more appropriate name. They ended up with shareware. They found out that another programmer, Bob Wallace, was already using this term to promote his word processing program PC-Write. And since the expression wasn't trademarked, soon it became extremely popular.

These three major applications - PC-File, PC-Talk and PC-Write - were highly regarded, and increased the credibility of shareware as a source of high quality, well supported software.

While Jim Button's and Bob Wallace's programs developed into highly successful businesses, Andrew Fluegleman made a major mistake. He decided to distribute the source code for his program and lost control over it completely, when other users distributed "improved" versions.

But these programs were big hits in the rise period of shareware. Nowadays, the new leaders in the shareware industry are authors of games and utilities.

Major reasons why shareware became a success:

  • In the 80's, computer clubs were developing very fast. Librarians needed programs to offer their members, so shareware became a "hit".
  • Computer magazines wrote good reviews about this new way of software distribution. Free publicity helped good programs spread fast among users.
  • Other programs used copy protection schemes, while shareware authors encouraged users to copy and distribute the program.
  • Users didn't have to buy shareware from stores, without knowing if the program was what they needed.
  • Regular software programs had high prices, while shareware came at a very low cost.
  • Users were attracted by the fact that they could first try the software and if they liked it they could pay a small fee and receive improvements.
  • It was easier and more efficient for authors to offer their programs as shareware, instead of investing time and money in selling it through specialized stores.

The history of shareware distribution

In the early phase of software distribution, users, as well as authors, took advantage of a pirate distribution network. It was customary for user to copy software from computer libraries, and then exchange it with other users. This was in the pioneer stage, when authors started to request, without being sure that they would receive small amounts of money for improving their software.

The software industry developed, and shareware vendors made their appearance on the market. Along with specialized computer magazines, who continued to promote shareware applications, they started to distribute shareware on an extensive scale, first on disks, and afterwards on CD-ROMs.

But the big hit in software distribution came along with the development of the Internet and the progress of the credit card system. Nowadays shareware authors submit their applications on download sites and directories, so users can buy software applications directly form the internet. The use of PAD (Portable Application Description) files simplified the entire process of submitting software. This is considered to be the latest technology to standardize and pass information regarding shareware applications. See also our article about the importance of shareware submission to download sites.

Shareware as a marketing method developed extensively. Applications were first offered on disks, then on CD-ROMs, and now can be downloaded directly from software sites and specialized directories. Because shareware is still an emerging industry, professionals invest in creating new and improved software applications.

See also some guidelines you should keep in mind when using shareware to promote software.

About the Author: Copyright 2006, all rights reserved.
This article was written by a Web Marketing Specialist at Avangate B.V. Avangate is an eCommerce platform for electronic software distribution incorporating an easy to use and secure online payment system plus additional marketing and sales tools.

Read more software marketing articles and learn how to sell software online.

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