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Jonathan Erickson

Dr. Dobb's Bloggers

Shareware: Thanks for the Memories

June 16, 2010

Shareware. Now there's a word you don't hear much these days. In a nutshell, shareware is proprietary software provided to users without payment, usually on a trial basis. By "trial basis" I mean that either the software is crippled by missing functionality or by a limited number of uses or by a set period of time. By whatever mechanism, shareware is built on the try-before-you-buy model.

Shareware became wildly popular in the late 1970s and on into the early '90s, spurred along by the ledgendary (at least in the world of shareware) Bob Wallace with his PC-Write wordprocessor, Jim Button with his PC-File database, and Andrew Fluegelman with his PC-Talk communication program.

But then the Internet and Web came along, challenging a lot of things -- including the shareware model -- in the process. Still, shareware hung in there, thanks in partto the Association of Shareware Professionals, an organization found in 1987 provide independent software developers support and guidance in marketing their software.

"Back then, the Association of Shareware Professionals was a small band of independent underdogs who defied the traditional software distribution channel, and created the try-before-you-buy model," says Mike Dulin, the organization's current president. Amazingly shareware developers persisted, enabling the origanization to evolve into an international group of 1,000 software developers who are pioneering cloud computing, software as a service (SaaS), smartphone development, and desktop/laptop development on all popular computing platforms.

As time passed, however, even the die-hards acknowledged that the "shareware" moniker was becoming a bit of an albatross, so the organization began adopting the short version of "Association of Shareware Professionals" -- "ASP" in other words.

But "shareware" has proven hard to shake, so the organization has stopped kidding around and officially changed its name to the Association of Software Professionals.

"With fewer and fewer developers calling their applications 'shareware', software buyers have become confused about the meaning of the term," explains Rich Holler, ASP's Exeuctive Director. "And since nearly all software developers today, from the smallest micro independent software vendor (mISV) to the largest software publisher, offer trial versions of their programs, the term 'shareware' has become less useful."

This makes sense to me. Shareware is a marketing method. ASP's members develop and market software. And the ASP will be called the Association of Software Professionals as it moves into the future.

Nevertheless, it is the passing of another era, which always gives pause. Now remind me: Is there shareware for the iPad?

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