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Shareware, trialware, trial, demo, lite, beta?

Shareware is a software distribution and marketing term. It was conceived in the early days of computing where individual developers would write useful programs and make it available easily via the internet, circumventing the need for users to go to a retail store and buying software untried. It held major advantages, for the developer it was easy to market with low overhead, for there was no need to have hard copies, packaging and distribution. For the user it was a great idea, to be able to download from the internet and try the software before purchasing. If a user found it to be useful, the developer asked a small fee for continuing use or otherwise uninstall it. The idea was to distribute the software or “share” the program on to other potential users by a sort of “word of mouth” method. If you like a program, you might copy it on a floppy disk and give it to your friend to try. Limitations were built in to the shareware programs and for a fee the developer would provide the full version, usually by a unlocking or key code method.

However many developers now think that the term shareware is confusing and not applicable. The “share” part makes the developers nervous. Some people might think it means they can buy it and share it with their friends. These days where almost everyone with a computer is connected to the internet, there is no need to copy a shareware program on a disk to pass it along. People can just send them an email with a web address to download a program themselves.

Many developers now days prefer terms like trial ware or just trial, which are really more to the point. Trialware is software that gives the user an opportunity to try it out, to see if a program works as advertised or even runs on their computer. It has some form of limitations whether time of use, functionality or partial image blocking (nag box), a combination of the above or all.

A beta is a free, pre-commercial release version of a program. They are released by developers to test the market, compatibility issues, get feedback and to see if there are any bugs they missed. Testing for bugs is one of the most arduous tasks for developers due to the enormous variance of people's computers and by releasing beta versions, their programs can potentially be tested under scenarios they haven't thought of. In another words, beta is a trial version for the developers instead of for the user. For these reasons, it is not a good idea to use beta versions unless one is good at troubleshooting computers.

A demo or lite software are usually free shortened versions to give the users a feel of a program. In many cases all of these terms, shareware, trial, demo, lite can be interchanged, there seems to be no real standard developers use to define the type (license) of a software other than free or freeware. Free means just that with no limitations and all others are meant to give the user a taste and an incentive to purchase the full software.



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