What is shareware?

You know I was milling around the dotcoms the other day on my iPhone (my, my iPhone) and came across some shareware app or other. For whatever reason, y’know like sometimes when you see a word you’ve always seen but now it looks wierd? Like doing? Sometimes I see it and I think, what the hell is that? “Doyng”? Anyway, this time around, I started wondering, what is shareware? I checked out what Wikipedia had to say on the subject.

Shareware software is software that can be obtained by a user, often by downloading from the Internet or on magazine cover-disks free of charge to try out a program before you buy the full version of that program. If the “tryout” program is already the full version, it is available for a short amount of time, or it does not have updates, help, and other extras that buying the added programs has. Shareware has also been known as “try before you buy”.

So, shareware is just software with a free or limited trial? Payment is mandatory, so it isn’t free with a suggested donation, so not free as in beer. Nor, obviously, free as in free speech. It is simply, commercial software with a free trial.

Historically, I suppose it made sense. Back in the day when you had to buy your software on a disk from the store. They weren’t giving that stuff away for free, so then you traded around your shareware and mailed in some payment to the author. I remember when it wasn’t a hobbled copy either – payment was non-optional but unenforceable, you really should stop using it if you ended up not liking it.

Now, though? What software doesn’t qualify as shareware? I checked and saw that Microsoft Office has a free trial download. Doesn’t that either mean that Office is shareware or that shareware as a category of software is kind of over? Doesn’t it just mean commercial software now?

I admit, though, that I am not nor have I ever been a big shareware guy. Sure I played my fair share of Maelstrom but that was exception, not rule. Thus I may be missing a nuance that distinguishes shareware from commercial software, but it seems that networking and viral distribution have become so commonplace that shareware is no longer any significant distinction. Am I missing the point?

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