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Can I make money writing shareware?

There is an interesting article over at O'Reilly on software strategy.

Is writing shareware for a living a viable option?  Should I make use of open-source in my products?

There are more and more free tools out there, biting into the commercial market, can shareware authors survive without the resources that commercial software vendors have?

Sunday, January 26, 2003

Not unless you have specialized knowledge.  The market is flooded with shareware or freeware in all of the 'popular' categories (mp3 players, ftp clients, ...).  Your only hope is that you have some sort of specialized knowledge (hyrdrodynamics, tax regulations, ...).  But in that case, you should think about a full fledged commercial product instead of shareware.

not my regular made up name
Sunday, January 26, 2003

Yes.  I agree with you.

The article highlights how the rise of open source can be a good thing for your commercial business.  Think Apple OS X!  It also raises the question of whether you should or should not open source your code.  Look at

Most commercial offerings have more polish than their OSS counterparts (Photoshop vs Gimp), but for smaller utils, which has for a long time been the domain of shareware authors, it's quite easy for people to take OSS code and polish it up.  I'm thinking of things like you mentioned, FTP tools, text editors, mp3 tag editors, etc.  Is there still a market for this kind of software when so much of it is available for free?

Is the platform important too?  Mac and Windows platforms have a lot of shareware - but for Linux, well, there is virtually no shareware in existence.

Joel, do you think Fog Creek could have worked as shareware?  Could it have worked based off an OSS core?  Will there come a point, when competition is fierce, when you decide to open source parts of your code?

Sunday, January 26, 2003

I tried the shareware thing once  I didn't try to do it for a living, just for fun and the see what it was like.  What I found was I'm a programmer and to be succesful you need to spend more than 1/2 your time doing non-programmer stuff.  Writing docs, making a webpage, putting up a support forum, answering users questions, getting your software on the sites, trying to get it noticed, advertising, etc.

Some small things you probably don't know wants $3K a month to push your title to the top of the search results list. will not list your product if it's not already successful requires you to have a webpage with customers service and a support forum to list your product.

My point is, I think most programmers first getting into shareware thing they'll just write the software and it will be done and the cash will roll in.  That's not usually the case.  Unless you have the total unfulfilled niche product your software has to be as good as commerical software including all the support, docs, site, customer service, etc.  That effort basically requires an effort similar to running a real software company.

If you are willing to do that you chances of success are probably about the same as starting your own company.

Gregg Tavares
Sunday, January 26, 2003

That "hand" on your web page is real freaky! :)

Sunday, January 26, 2003

Freaky doesn't begin to describe it.


X. J. Scott
Monday, January 27, 2003

Like a lot of businesses there are a few people at the top making lots of money and lots of people at the bottom hardly making any.

The earlier post about marketing was correct, to be succesful the majority of your time will be spent promoting your product.

Tony E
Monday, January 27, 2003

You can write shareware games and make money (assuming they are unique) altho it takes dedication and 2 to 5 years. Good discussion of shareware/game business development:

Monday, January 27, 2003

People are way too hung up on the word shareware.

The actual question should have been "can I make money selling commercial software even if I provide a free demo (where that demo may have restrictions, when compared to the purchased version) ?"

The answer to this question is obviously "yes".

(An unstated but often assumed addition is that shareware is only sold over the internet or through customers posting cash to an address given in a readme file, rather than in retail shops. It is possible to make money doing this, but you need a solid business and marketing plan, as well as a webserver.)

Additionally, a small company without significant brand recognition needs a way to convince people to hand over their money, and a free demo is a fairly simple way to get people to actually try your product, so they have an opportunity to decide that it's worth buying.

Without a demo, you're asking people to hand over money to an unknown company for a product they've never used - people will do it, but it's easier to sell things to people who already trust you.

That makes 'shareware', 'demoware' or simply 'software with a demo' a perfectly valid marketing tool.

Whether you choose to use the word "shareware" when marketing your software is up to you. Of course, the fact that the word has obviously collected bad connotations suggests you may want to use the technique, and skip the word itself. (I suspect this is largely due to the abundance of low quality small utilities marketed as shareware - now the word is associated with poor quality.)

andrew m
Monday, January 27, 2003


Why is shareware any worse than other commercial software?  As you say, it's just a way of distributing software.

I agree though - perhaps in the minds of many, price still discriminates.  So if you sell the same tool for $10 or $100, people will think the $100 version is "better".

Monday, January 27, 2003

"Why is shareware any worse than other commercial software?"

It's not.  That was my point.  (Or at least the point I intended to make.)

However, if you use the word "shareware", many people automatically get a negative impression that has everything to do with other software that was sold as shareware, and nothing to do with yours.

That means a program (whether it's $10 or $100) marketed as "shareware" will be considered worse than the same program marketed as "commercial".

Btw, people who've never heard about shareware shouldn't need to read a long explanation of the word before they understand that there's a demo, and they pay if they want the full version. Avoiding the word, while taking advantage of extensive resources created by people who've been successful selling shareware seems to be the sensible option.

andrew m
Monday, January 27, 2003

To followup on what andrew said, shareware is not a type of software - it's a type of marketing.

Microsoft has 'shareware' - you can download a version of SQL Server from them. It runs for 120 (IIRC) days and then stops until you buy a license. That's shareware - they just don't call it that.

Heck, CityDesk is even more like traditional shareware - there's a version that you can download and use for free. It's only if you want/need more features that you have to actually buy the product.

As andrew pointed out, the term 'shareware' has developed unforunate baggage as 100's of people turned out crappy programs with a 'Send me $10 if you like it' message and called it shareware. It's a valid marketing tool, but watch how you actually use it.

Tuesday, January 28, 2003

I thought that Shareware was now obsolete because of the internet.  The whole idea of Shareware was as a means of distribution - the license meant that 3rd party libraries could carry your software, or enthusiasts could pass a copy on to a friend.

Now it is quite simple to set up a web site with downloads and credit card payments.

So now you have restricted licenses, like Citydesk has, rather than shareware.  The try before you buy idea remains, but the sharing part has gone.

Ged Byrne
Wednesday, January 29, 2003

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