Today is a day to celebrate thousands of computer programmers frantically coding away at their latest killer app, who end up essentially giving it away in the hope that someone will show enough appreciation to pay them for it – today, the second Saturday of December, is International Shareware Day.
Unlike open source software, ‘shareware’ is a proprietary software model – the author retains ownership of the programme and the code, and often scaled down versions of commercial software applications are released as shareware. While you can use the software without paying, the idea is that if you find it useful, you should pay, or upgrade to the full, non-free version of the software. Some shareware are also only made available for a limited trial period, after which users are expected to pay to continue using it.
Another concept closely related to shareware is ‘freeware’, where the software is made available for free without an expectation of payment, except perhaps for donations to the author.
The first piece of software called ‘freeware’ was PC-Talk, a telecommunications programme created by Andrew Fleugelman in 1982, while the term ‘shareware’ was first used with the programme PC-Write (a word processing tool), released by Bob Wallace in early 1983. So in a way this year effectively represents the 30th anniversary of freeware/shareware.
Very few shareware and freeware downloads are ever paid for, meaning that the chances of sustaining yourself on shareware income remains fairly slim. This is sad, because this mode of software production has resulted in some wonderful software tools being made available to users around the globe – virus protection software, all kinds of computer utilities, and much more. Lack of financial returns also means that many shareware and freeware projects are abandoned, not updated or not supported.
International Shareware Day was created to remind shareware users about the value they have gained through their use of these programmes. And to perhaps inspire them, in the spirit of the upcoming festive season, to send off a few payments to the authors of their favourite shareware apps.
It may not happen, but it’s worth a try…