Shareware is a type of software in which the software is available at a very low or no cost. Initially, the software lacks proper documentation or is available only for personal purposes and only those who can access the full features of the software who have purchased the full version.

It does sound insane: Give your product away for nothing and expectation that individuals like it enough to send you cash. That was the thought behind shareware, a famous business programming model during the 1980s and 1990s. This is what made it novel and fruitful at that point.

These kinds of software use other methods to generate revenue because it has to be done in one way or another. Some of these methods include;

  • Running advertisements on the user interface of the software
  • Disabling some vital features like saving, printing or removing the watermark until the user pays for the software
  • Giving full features to the user for a limited amount of time (trial period), and after it ends, the user has to pay to access the software
  • Giving full features of the software for an unlimited amount of time, but it also consists of an optional donation button for the user to support the software


In 1982, a program known as PC-Talk was created by Andrew Fluegelman on his IBM PC. Later he started sharing it with his friends for them to use. An idea struck his mind to add a $25 donation option in the program itself in return for future updates of the program. He called this concept “freeware” and trademarked the term. However, it was redefined in 1985 after his death.

Another programmer Jim Knopf created a database program known as Easy File in the same year Andrew created PC-Talk. But instead of a $25 donation, he only asked for $10. He called his concept “user-supported software“.

Soon after the launch of the Easy File, Andrew and Knopf corresponded with each other and agreed to set the donation of $25 for each software, and Easy file was renamed as PC-File.

By 1983, the concept of shareware has started to establish its roots in the IT industry.

In 1983, previous Microsoft member Bob Wallace changed that by making a word-processing application called PC-Write. He authored the expression “shareware” to portray the client upheld programming model spearheaded by Fluegelman and Knopf. With a strong, unreservedly accessible name set up, the shareware idea had no place to go except for up.

Shareware was a different yet revolutionary step in the ’80s and ’90s. At the time, software companies were charging enormous sums for packages. With the arrival of this concept, end-users had the option to try the software before purchasing to find out whether or not they need the software.

The concept removed the risk of pirating the software as it was already free, and sharing the software on user ground only increased the sale of the software.

Early Days of Shareware

In the initial days of PC-Talk, Andrew was distributing the software via floppy. Anyone who would mail the floppy to him will receive the software. But with the rising of modem-to-modem technologies, an alternate distribution channel was now available for this software. Shareware trading started on Bulletin Board Systems (BBSes) and online commercial services such as Genie and Compuserve.

It was cheap and fast compared to distributing it through floppy drives, and sending updates and receiving payments were now in one place.

Some of the famous shareware programs included;

  • PC-Talk 3: Most prevalent version of Andrew’s PC-Talk
  • PKZIP: A file compression tool for IBM PC-compatible machine
  • Kingdom of Kroz II: This was the first game under Scott Miller’s shareware model. It distributed the first level for free, and to unlock the following levels, there was a fee.

There were several others like WinZip, ZZT, Doom, WinRAR, WinAmp, etc.

Hundreds of programs have been developed under this concept in the last four decades.

With the rapid technological change in the last 20—30 years, the term “Shareware” slowly transitioned to trial or demo software. The rise of the internet and worldwide web-enabled software sharing is effortless and effective. Now users can directly go to the company’s website and purchase the software from there only.

Apart from this, much open-source software started arriving on the market in the mid-90, and now there is much open-source software available, which you can download and tweak at your convenience.

Platforms such as iOS made transferring its software illegal and impractical unless you jailbreak your device.

Nowadays, it is convenient for an independent app developer to place its software on an app market rather than depending on users to distribute it.

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