Shareware is Good

by Jolo, last updated Apr 8, 2013

What is “shareware”? Compared to the typical commercial software system, shareware is an alternative way of distributing software which can benefit both the author of the software and the consumer (that’s you!).

These days, small applications or “apps” are becoming very popular, especially on smaller devices running iOS or Android. Apps are very similar to shareware, except the cost is even lower.

What’s wrong with commercial software?

Most of us depend on commercial software like MS Office every day, but that system has lots of problems. You pay a hefty price up front, usually without ever having seen the product in action, plus a lot of the money goes toward defraying the company’s advertising or other overhead costs. You’re stuck with the expensive product, even if the software turns out to be completely inappropriate for your needs or if you just plain hate it. You supposedly get professional customer support, but good luck with that.

What is shareware?

Shareware is completely free to download online. You get to try it out for free for a trial period such as 30 days, then if you still like it and want to continue using it, you are bound by an honor system to “register” the product. This means paying a modest shareware fee, typically less than US$20 and certainly cheaper than any software in a store. The fee goes to the author, a normal individual just like you and me who happens to write shareware to help support his living, not some mega-corporation.

Very rarely can a shareware author make much money, because not only is the fee very low, but also many people choose to not pay. So typically shareware is limited to simple little programs like games, utilities, etc. There are exceptions, though. For example, some of the best and most complicated Internet Relay Chat (IRC) client programs such as mIRC for Windows are all shareware.

So why pay the shareware fee?

First and foremost, you should pay in order to “do the right thing.” In the long term, you encourage the author to keep producing low-cost, high-quality software. In the short term, you encourage the author to continue to support that program you are using: to fix bugs, add new features, write help files, and answer email questions. You may think, “He won’t notice if one starving student like me doesn’t pay.” Well, unfortunately that’s how a lot of people think, and the next thing you know, the author doesn’t get paid enough and abandons the project. Just remember: If shareware or app stores die off, we’d all be stuck with Microsoft and its “innovations” - is that what you really want?

Some software authors try to nudge you to do the right thing. For example, until you do pay, you get periodic reminders (“nagware”), some features are disabled (“crippleware”), the program quits after a while each time you use it (“quitware”), or maybe it just stops working after 30 days (“bombware”). Of course we all dislike these tactics, but studies prove that they are effective in encouraging more people to pay. Oh well, pay on time and you won’t have to worry about it. There are also some variations on nagging such as “careware” which requests that you send money to a charity, “postcardware” where they want a postcard from where you live, or “beerware”… well you can figure that one out.

Some shareware download sites.

These are just some of the many sites where you can find a wide range of freeware or shareware. Be very careful about downloading blindly from other sites, because what may look like shareware could instead be a Trojan horse attack which could seriously compromise your security.