What Is Shareware?

Shareware is limited software you're encouraged to share

Shareware is software that’s available at no cost and is meant to be shared with others to promote the program, but unlike freeware, is limited in one way or another.

Shareware vs. Freeware

At odds with freeware, which is intended to be free forever and is often permitted to be used in many different scenarios without a fee, shareware is cost-free but often severely limited in one or more ways. It's fully functional only with the use of a paid shareware license.

While shareware can be downloaded at no cost and is often how companies provide a free, limited version of their application to users, the program might nag the user to buy the full edition or prevent all functionality after a certain period of time.

Illustration of a clock about to reach midnight

Why Use Shareware?

Lots of companies offer their paid-for programs for free with limitations. This type of software distribution is great for anyone wanting to try a program before committing to purchasing it.

Some developers allow their shareware to be upgraded to a paid edition in-place with the use of a license, like a product key or license file. Others might utilize a login screen within the program that's used to access a user account that contains the valid registration information.

The use of a key generator (keygen program) is neither a safe nor legal method for registering a program. It’s always best to purchase the full software from the developer or a valid distributor.

Types of Shareware

There are several types of shareware, and a program might be considered more than one depending on how it works.

Freemium or Liteware

Freemium, sometimes called liteware, is a broad term that can apply to lots of different programs.

Freemium most often refers to shareware that’s free but only for the non-premium features. If you want the professional, more extensive, premium features offered at a cost, you can pay to include them in your version of the program.

This is also the name given to any program that limits use time or imposes a restriction on who can use the software, like student, personal, or businesses-only products.

CCleaner is one example of a freemium program since it’s 100 percent free for the standard features, but you must pay for premium support, scheduled cleaning, automatic updates, etc.

CCleaner Pro features pop-up screen in the free version

Adware and Malware

Adware is “advertising-supported software,” and refers to any program that includes advertisements in order to generate revenue for the developer.

A program can be considered adware if there are ads inside the installer file before the program is even installed, as well as any application that includes in-program ads or pop-up ads that run during, before, or after the program runs.

Since some adware installers include the option to install other, often unrelated programs during setup, they are frequently carriers of bloatware (programs that were installed often by accident and that the user never utilizes).

Adware is often considered by some malware cleaners to be a potentially unwanted program (PuP) that the user should remove, but that’s often only a suggestion and doesn’t necessarily mean that the software includes something malicious.

Screenshot of BitComet adware

Nagware or Begware

Some shareware is nagware, since the term is defined by software that tries to annoy you into paying for something, whether it be new features or simply to remove the payment dialog box.

A program that’s considered nagware might occasionally remind you that they want you to pay to use it even though all the features are free, or they might intrusively suggest upgrading to a paid edition to unlock new features or some other limitation.

The nagware screen might come in the form of a pop-up when you open or close the program, or some sort of always-on advertisement even while you’re using the software.

Nagware is also called begware, annoyware, and nagscreen.

Some examples of nagware include WinZip, AVG, WinRAR, Spotify, Avira Free Edition, and mIRC.

Screenshot of the WinZip nagscreen program

Demoware or Trialware

Demoware stands for “demonstration software,” and refers to any shareware that allows you to use the software for free but with a major limitation. There are two types…

Trialware is demoware that's provided for free only during a certain time frame. The program might be fully functional or limited in some ways, but the trialware always expires after a predefined amount of time, after which a purchase is necessary.

This means that the program stops working after the set time, which is usually one week or one month after installation, some providing more or less time to use the program for free.

Trialware is also referred to as free trial software, free to try, and free before you buy.

Crippleware is the other type, and refers to any program that's free to use but restricts so many of the primary functions that the software is considered crippled until you pay for it. Some restrict printing, saving, or actually doing anything but scanning. Others will post a watermark on the result, like is the case with some file converters.

Both demo programs are useful for the same reason: to test out the program before considering a purchase. Adobe and Microsoft are two big names in software that offer demoware, as do many online backup services.

Screenshot of the PDFelement demoware

Donationware With and Without Restrictions

It’s tough to describe shareware as donationware for reasons described below, but the two are the same in one important way: a donation is required or optional in order for the program to be fully functional.

For example, the program might constantly nag the user to donate to unlock all the features. Or maybe the program is already fully usable, but the program will constantly present the user with opportunities to donate to get rid of the donation screen and to support the project.

Some donationware isn’t nagware and will simply let you donate any amount of money to unlock some premium-only features.

Other donationware can be considered freeware since it’s 100 percent free to use but might be restricted in only a small way, or might not be restricted at all but there’s still the suggestion to donate.

Screenshot of MyKeyFinder donationware

Should You Download Shareware?

Lots of companies utilize one or more of the shareware types described above. But in and of itself, shareware is neither malicious nor safe because some implementations of it are safe and others are not.

We recommend dealing with reputable businesses to avoid accidentally getting something malicious. When that's not possible, be thoughtful about where you get your software, make sure your device can handle a threat if necessary (i.e., antivirus software is installed), and be aware of the pop-ups so you can take appropriate action (like not donating if you don't want to).

  • Can I make copies of shareware?

    Yes. The purpose of shareware is to be shared. Shareware is still protected by copyright laws, so you can't alter or sell it, and individual licenses are tied to one user.

  • What is abandonware?

    Abandonware is a program that is no longer updated or maintained, yet it may still be usable and available for download. If you can't access premium features, the shareware program you are using might be abandonware.

  • Is shareware safe?

    Like all software, shareware is susceptible to viruses and other types of malware. Only download shareware from reputable websites, and use antivirus software to protect your computer.

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