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A Historical Look At The Beginnings of Shareware

Aug 17, 2007
When Shareware was an idea that appeared, it was gimmicky. The basic thought was that you give people software and let them decide whether they want to send you money for it. It wasn't so unlike the bootleg software that was everywhere, except that it would be legal. Few people really thought the idea would go anywhere, but it did.

Shareware first appeared in different places at the same time, 1982. In this case, two people, Andrew Fluegelman in Tiburon, California and Jim Knopf in Bellevue, Washington, came up with similar ideas.

Their concepts were similar to let people try software before buying it - a sort of "play then pay" marketing concept. It was an exciting development in computers. To comprehend the climate fully, you must understand that bigger software companies had programs that were very expensive, even compared with today's prices, and of limited use. (They weren't the huge, multidimensional programs that we have today.) A lot of the programs were plain junk, and there was little -in the way of customer support. It was a huge gamble to spend a hundred or two for a program that might have little use. This new concept was embraced with zeal.

Andrew Fluegelman's strategy was to give out copies of his PC-TALK software freely. If people liked it, they'd pay for it. If not, no skin off his nose. Andrew claimed to coin the name freeware, and for a short time that looked like it was going to stick. But then he went a step further and claimed to have a copyright on the name (which he didn't) and said he'd sue anyone who used it. Everyone immediately began to look for a new moniker.

But in all the confusion, it's unknown who really coined the term shareware. There are many stories and many claims. The word crept into common usage almost overnight. However, credit should be given to journalist Jay Lucas. His article in InfoWorld, a computer newspaper, contained a description of software that was available for free or for a small copying charge, which he dubbed shareware. This reference seems to predate all others.

Jim Knopf had written a label program called PC-File. He too was giving away his software. He called it shareware. After all, the name fit, because the intent was to use the software, make copies, and pass it around freely-to share it. If the software was useful to users and they liked it, then the request was to make a $10 donation. This donation would also include users in his mailing list for future updates and other programs.

One of Jim's first customers telephoned him to ask whether he knew that there was someone else with a very similar idea. Jim and Andrew contacted each other and decided to reference each other jointly on their distribution disks. (Which was when Buttonware renamed its Easy File program to a name that was closer to Fluegelman's PC-Talk.) It also revised its price to $25, which was the cost of PC-Talk.

Jim Knopf didn't have high hopes of becoming wealthy from this scheme. He kept his day job at IBM and considered Buttonware a hobby. After all, although personal computers were selling fairly well, they weren't commonplace things vet. They were still in the hobby category. A cute diversion was the general consensus. The hobbyist angle was furthered with the proliferation of user groups and computer clubs. These were literally clubs that met weekly or monthly to promote and encourage home computing (as it was called back then) and to help new computer owners navigate the strange and mysterious world of bits and bytes. The clubs were huge promoters of shareware and freeware. Still, not everyone belonged to computer clubs. Computer magazines had an avid following.

The turning point for shareware was when a computer writer, Doug Clapp, wrote a review of PC-File in PC World magazine. Jim was vacationing in Hawaii and unaware of the article. Jim returned to find that his poor neighbor (who'd agreed to watch the house while they were away) had to haul the mail into the house in grocery bags. The avalanche was overwhelming. By the summer of 1984, he was making 10 times as much from his hobby as he was from his job.

In 1983, another shareware pioneer, Bob Wallace, entered the market. His program was called PC-Write and he added a new twist to shareware history. If you share your program with someone else, you could earn a commission. Wallace's idea was very popular.

The traditional software companies were outraged. They declared that it was an idea that would die out. However, as history has shown, they were wrong.
About the Author
Angela Abbette is a computer enthusiast for http://www.hitkingdom.com and is an avid user of the article information found at http://www.upublish.info
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