Shareware FAQ

Q: What is shareware?

A: Shareware is a marketing method, not a type of software. Unlike software marketed through normal retail channels, where you are forced to pay for the product before you've even seen it, the shareware marketing method lets you try program for a period of time before you buy it. Since you've tried a shareware program, you know whether it will meet your needs before you pay for it. Shareware programs are just like programs you find in major stores, catalogs, and other places where people purchase software -- except you get to use them, on your own computer, before paying for them.

Q: What happens if I like a shareware program?

A: You pay for it at the end of a trial period (typically 30 days) by sending the author a fee he or she has established for the program.

Q: Why should I pay for and register a shareware program?

A: The same reason you should pay for any program: because it is the honest thing to do. Shareware is commercial software, fully protected by copyright laws. Like other business owners, shareware authors expect to earn money for making their programs available. Paying for and registering a program also entitles you to support from the author and other benefits, as specified by the author. Moreover, the more consumers who pay an author to use a program, the more likely the author will continue to improve it and to offer new programs.

Q: How do shareware programs compare with other kinds of software?

A: Consumers who purchase shareware programs receive a level of product support that exceeds what traditional software manufacturers deliver. Shareware users who need support often speak directly to the actual developer of the program, who is intimately familiar with how it operates and therefore can provide excellent technical support. Shareware authors often fix bugs in programs and add features quickly, based on feedback from users.

There is a wide price range for shareware, as there is with software distributed through other channels. In general, many shareware programs cost less than other kinds of software, while some programs cost about the same as retail counterparts.

Q: What do I receive when I pay for a shareware program, besides the use of the program?

A: Typically, the same things you receive when you pay for other software: support by telephone, fax, computer bulletin board, and/or through online services such as America Online, CompuServe, and Microsoft Network. Many authors also send manuals, reference cards, and other printed materials, and may offer free upgrades. Every shareware program is different, so the version you purchase comes with different materials. Documentation files included with the program describe the benefits you receive by paying for and registering a particular shareware program.

Q: What happens if I don't like a shareware program?

A: You simply stop using the program, and remove it from your system. Since you have had the opportunity to try the program first before paying for it, you lose only the tiny amount of money you spent to download the program or to acquire it from a vendor or other source.

Q: I ordered a shareware program from a catalog and paid for the disk. Why should I pay more now?

A: Shareware vendors distribute shareware versions of programs, charging a small fee for the costs of disk duplication and advertising, plus a small profit. Most shareware authors allow this type of distribution so you'll have a chance to try their programs. However, none of the money paid to a shareware vendor goes to the author. If you try a shareware program, then continue to use it after the trial period, you must pay for and register the program. The same principal applies if you buy a shareware disk at a computer show or find a shareware program on a CD-ROM disc or at a store.

Q: What types of shareware are available?

A: All types, including games, word processing, real estate, personal finance, graphics, education, utilities, and host of others. Chances are that if you're looking for a program to perform a certain task, it's available as shareware. The lower costs of creating and distributing shareware programs allows developers to take risks in creating a wider variety of products than is available through traditional software marketing channels.

In general, shareware authors offer four types of programs: those whose capabilities parallel software available in retail stores, but which are considerably less expensive; those which enhance or extend capabilities incorporated in popular software programs; those that perform functions that cannot be found in software sold in retail stores; and those that offer a radical new approach to performing a task.

Q: How can I learn more about specific shareware programs?

A: Try different programs! The beauty of shareware is that you can actually test a program's features before paying for it.

Other than trying shareware programs, word of mouth is an excellent source of information. As part of their software copyright, shareware authors encourage users to give copies of their programs to others to evaluate. Friends and colleagues help advertise a particular program when they pass it along to you. Your local computer user's group is also a rich source of information about shareware programs.

Many computer magazines also review shareware programs. Many of these programs have been picked as the best in their class against software available at retail stores.

Q: Does using shareware increase the chances of introducing a virus into my computer?

A: The shareware industry has an excellent track record in providing products that have been checked thoroughly for viruses. Shareware authors, bulletin board and online service operators, as well as disk vendors, carefully scan programs for viruses before offering them to consumers.

In fact, there have been many cases of viruses spread through shrink-wrapped software purchased in stores. So downloading a shareware program from a BBS (bulletin board system) or online service is probably safer than buying a disk in a store.

Q: Where can I find shareware?

A: Shareware can be found on BBSes, online services such as America Online, CompuServe, Microsoft Network, the Internet, as well as in catalogs published by shareware vendors.

Programs can be downloaded directly from different areas on these online services, which include special sections and searching tools to help consumers locate specific shareware programs. For example, CompuServe users can GO PCFF (for PC shareware) or GO MACFF (for Macintosh shareware) to search for programs by keyword. America Online users can use the keyword QUICKFIND to search for programs. Every online service and BBS offers similar tools to help you find the shareware programs you need.

On the Internet, World Wide Web sites such as the JCS Marketing and C|Net offer excellent tools for locating and downloading shareware programs.

In addition to making their programs available on BBSes and online services, shareware vendors and professional organizations like the Association of Shareware Professionals (ASP) put together CD-ROMs containing hundreds or even thousands of shareware programs. Computer user groups throughout the U.S. also offer libraries of shareware titles to members. You can even find shareware programs for sale in local computer stores, department stores, discount outlets, and even in supermarkets.

Q: Why do software developers choose to market their programs through the shareware channel?

A: Shareware is an efficient way to run a software business. Authors do not spend nearly as much money marketing, packaging, and advertising their products as do developers of software sold through traditional channels. Lower costs means shareware authors can concentrate on writing great programs, while often charging users less.

Shareware authors also retain complete control over their programs -- a powerful incentive to programmers who have developed products from the beginning, and would rather see their fate determined by technical, rather than marketing, considerations. Shareware authors recognize that their programs have to be good. If they're not, consumers simply won't buy them.

IBM and Microsoft are just two of the software companies that have recognized these benefits of the shareware channel, as both have distributed "try before you buy" versions of products within the last year.

Q: What is the Association of Shareware Professionals, and how does it benefit me as a consumer?

A: The Association of Shareware Professionals (ASP) is an international trade organization comprised of over 1500 shareware authors, vendors and online providers. Its members agree to uphold high standards of professionalism and to always deal fairly and courteously with their customers. The ASP logo on a shareware product means that product has been produced by an ASP member. In addition, the ASP maintains an Ombudsman service, which can help customers resolve any problems with ASP members.

Copyright (c) 1995-1996 by the Association of Shareware Profesionals All Rights Reserved.
The above material may be reproduced freely so long as it is unmodified, and the original source is acknowledged.

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