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The main focus of this guide is on shareware and freeware, although adware, trialware, careware, donationware, and nagware are similar, and may be represented here, as well.

Despite assertions by some, these are not purely synonymous terms. Although the definitions are often blurred through misuse, and some of them have evolved over the years, there are distinctions between these terms.

Shareware refers to fully-functional software that is distributed without payment of a fee, with the expectation that those who find the application useful will pay for it. In reality, the expectation was probably that most of the people who used it would never pay for it, but there was a hope the application would find its way to enough honest users that the software author could earn a profit.

During the 1980s and early 1990s, when more people had access to a BBS than to the Internet, shareware was distributed from Computer Bulletin Board Systems, where it could be downloaded, and was also made available for free from computer stores and other retail outlets, who sometimes charged a low fee to cover the cost of the floppy disk. I ran a BBS, and I wrote software for EMT and paramedic tutorials that were distributed as shareware. There were quite a few honest people, and the site licenses were nice.

Other than an unobtrusive plea at the end of the program, giving the asking cost and an address where payment could be sent, software distributed as shareware represented the full program. It wasn't crippled in any way, and it wouldn't quit working if payment wasn't made in a certain amount of time.

Traditionally, when payment was received, the new buyer would be sent a registration number that would remove the nag at the end and show the program as having been purchased or registered.

Perhaps the Internet had something to do with it but people it seems that became less honest over the years. Some frustrated software authors began to be more aggressive with the nags that were placed in unregistered shareware, sometimes intruding on the use of the program. This became nagware.

When the Internet opened new advertising streams, other shareware authors sold advertising space on the shareware that they distributed, which could be removed on registration. This was known as adware.

Others crippled the program so that users couldn't get full use of it without registering the product. Examples of this include graphics programs that won't save files until the program was registered. This became known as crippleware.

When the technology allowed for it, many software developers began distributing programs for trial use. These would only be good for a set period of time unless paid for. Although trialware is a perfectly legitimate way of advertising a computer program, and one that is in wide use today, most people don't trialware to be shareware.

Perhaps in recognition that earning a little from the sale of a program is better than earning nothing, some shareware authors didn't set a price on registration, simply asking users to pay whatever they thought it was worth to them, or whatever they could afford. This business model was known as donationware, although it was most often simply referred to as shareware.

Particularly in the 1980s and 1990s, when people wrote software for the fun of writing it, a lot of software authors weren't interested in earning a profit from every program they wrote. Some of these distributed their software with a request that, in lieu of payment, a donation be made to a charity, sometimes specified by the author, but often left to the user's discretion. Most often known as shareware, the term for it was careware.

Freeware is software, often proprietary, that is distributed without request for payment from the user. It is not Free Software, nor is it Open Source, as these are terms that are applied to software that distributed with the source code. See the Free/Open Source category, for which a link is provided below.

Some software developers will release older versions of a program as freeware, perhaps to encourage the sale of a more recent version. In other cases, the freeware version might be a fully functional program, but with fewer features than an available premium version.

There is no consensus as to what defines freeware, so each publisher sets rules for the freeware it offers. Unlike Free Software, freeware authors usually restrict the rights of the user to copy, distribute, modify, reverse-engineer, or make derivative works from the software, and may include a license with additional restrictions on usage. For example, it may be free for non-commercial use only. Not all freeware distributors will use that term to describe the software. A common term, where a more fully-featured version is available, is Lite.

These and similar types of software are appropriate for this category.


@Free/Open Source



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