What is Shareware? A Beginner’s Guide

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Harsha Kiran
Written by
Harsha Kiran

Updated · Nov 17, 2023

Harsha Kiran
Founder | Joined March 2023 | LinkedIn
Harsha Kiran

Harsha Kiran is the founder and innovator of Techjury.net. He started it as a personal passion proje... | See full bio

Lorie Tonogbanua
Edited by
Lorie Tonogbanua


Lorie Tonogbanua
Joined June 2023 | LinkedIn
Lorie Tonogbanua

Lorie is an English Language and Literature graduate passionate about writing, research, and learnin... | See full bio

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Software is deeply ingrained into every person’s daily life. You may not use a computer regularly, but your phone has a lot of software. 

Recent mobile statistics show that the average American spends five and a half hours of their day glued to their phones, using apps and operating software.

Shareware is one of the most prevalently used software worldwide. Many applications on the Internet are distributed using the shareware template. 

If you know Adobe Photoshop, Adblock, and Skype, you’ve been using shareware all this time.

However, whether you’re a budding developer or an average phone user, learning about shareware increases your chances of only selecting safe and relatable apps or software. 

In this article, you’ll discover what is shareware and its pros and cons. 

What You Need to Know about Shareware

Shareware is not truly free. It’s only free, depending on the developer’s trial plan.

Below are misconceptions about shareware and freeware, the several types of shareware, and their advantages and disadvantages. 

This article will also tackle the major risks of downloading these free-for-a-time applications and how to mitigate them.

What is Shareware?

In 2020, 218 billion phone apps were downloaded. Many of them were shareware.

Shareware is proprietary software that’s free on a trial basis. It’s openly offered to anyone willing to download it.

Shareware aims to spread its name, enlarge its user base and convert people into customers in the future. 

After the trial period, it ceases its regular functions and stops allowing modifications. You can’t make copies and reinstall it, either. As a result, users must pay for a license, updates, and technical support to continue.

Shareware varies depending on its makers. Some offer a full range of features and functionality during the trial period, while others withhold most of them until they’re unlocked through fees. 

Shareware vs. Freeware

The other term used in place of shareware is Freeware. Though they have their similarities, freeware can’t be interchanged with shareware. The main difference lies in how they’re used.

Shareware and freeware have many differences

Shareware and freeware have the same marketing strategy of widening their influence through open downloads and free use. 

However, freeware is like a giveaway, free forever with all its features intact. In contrast, you’re limited to what a shareware’s free trial version can give you.

Moreover, both software are copyrighted by the law, but freeware’s EULA may allow users to copy and distribute the program without paying royalties.

5 Types Of Shareware

Many kinds of shareware are available on the Internet. Some are honest with good intentions, while others employ malicious means to source money from unsuspecting users.


Advertising-Supported Software or Adware is any program with built-in advertisements for revenue. It flashes ads when you run the software, even doing it during the installation process. 

Adware can be shareware or freeware, depending on how its developers market it. Some are useful and legitimate. They ask for user consent to show their ads, arguing that it's one of the main ways they can keep the software free.  

However, other adware is harmful. That’s because they can discreetly collect your private data and share them. The data can then be used to tailor their ads to suit you. 

Adware can also redirect your browser, hijack it, and even be Trojan horses themselves–– part of the 300,000 thousand malicious programs created daily.

Some of the most known adware are Gator, Fireball, Ask Toolbar, and, ironically, AdBlock Plus.

💡 Did You Know?

You can download Adware without even knowing it! 

Some shareware terms and conditions include agreeing to install adware with your desired software. When downloading anything online, always read the fine print, and stick to programs from reputable websites.


Shareware, as mentioned, provides either a full or limited package to demonstrate its capabilities. This is called Demonstration Software or Demoware, and it’s divided into two subsets:

  • Crippleware - This only allows a particular number of features and functionality for a predefined time frame. It has locked features, huge watermarks, an intentionally small library of templates, or capped saving and printing capabilities. When the trial period ends, the user must unlock the software by purchasing a subscription or license. 
  • Trialware - Trialware is downloaded with everything the program offers— a complete set of features and perks to maximize usage. As a result, the user can emulate the experience of utilizing the paid version during the trial period.


A Donationware is a fully operational shareware that requests its users to contribute a certain amount to support the developers, a charity, or a non-profit organization. Contributions may be required or voluntary, but they’re always asked after installing the program.

Freemium Software

Freemium Software offers both free and premium features

This shareware is a cross between crippleware and trialware. It’s installed as a fully operational program. However, certain features are grouped into Free or Premium, which can only be accessed after a license or subscription has been purchased.

Freemium software gives users the illusion of “upgrading” into a more advanced version of itself. Power users have to pay for improvements and perks to boost their experience. Developers drive this home further by releasing purposely limited programs labeled “lite,” like Spotify lite.

Freemium software is particularly prevalent in smartphone app development since in-app purchases dominate its revenue. In the first quarter of 2021 alone, developers generated $22.2 billion from in-app purchases.

Nagware or Begware

True to its name, a nagware or begware frequently reminds its users to pay for a license. The goal is to alert you with recurring pop-up messages and annoy you enough to do something about them. Consequently, you’ll be obliged to pay for the program and eliminate those bothersome messages.

Shareware Pros and Cons

Learning the benefits and drawbacks of using shareware helps select the best one. So before you download it, here’s a list of pros and cons that you should know.

Pros of Shareware

Shareware has unique qualities geared toward a user’s experience. Specifically, it can offer these benefits:

  • Free usage for a time. The software is free to download and install. The trial period can span 7 to 30 days of complimentary use.
  • Easy to acquire. Shareware is easy to locate and download. Sometimes, they even come pre-installed on a device like what you see on smartphones.
  • Allows anyone to experience the program first. Users are encouraged to “have a feel” for the shareware first. They’re given a chance to understand its features and capabilities before purchasing. 
  • It may offer full utility. Exceptional shareware like Photoshop includes all the features and updates on their trial versions.
  • Obligation-free. Users who don’t like a program can conveniently uninstall it with no monetary consequence (except if the shareware contains malware).

🎉 Fun Fact:

Shareware also has a ‘heroic’ legacy in the gaming industry as it taught developers to skip expensive marketing for performance and quality. In the 1990s, shareware games were popularized by developers like Apogee Software or 3D Realms, and Epic Games.

The cult classic, Doom, was released as shareware. Doom’s influence can be seen in many other games today.

Cons of Shareware

As with all things, shareware also has serious drawbacks that users should be aware of. These drawbacks include:

  • Not completely free. At the end of the day, shareware is not freeware. You’d have to buy the software when the trial period runs out.
  • Usage restrictions. Trialware and freemium software only offer limited features and functionality. 
  • No distribution. Shareware is duly licensed and copyrighted. It also has a strict user policy that prevents it from being sold or distributed.
  • Has annoying alerts. It doesn’t even have to be Nagware. All shareware payment alerts can get bothersome at some point. 
  • Involves risks. Shareware’s biggest drawback is its risky nature. Adware and other shareware might contain harmful secret attachments that can steal data or damage your computer.

Risks of Using Shareware 

Shareware isn’t risk-free. Popular ones like Adobe Acrobat, Photoshop, and Skype have maintained their user base for decades because they offer plenty of benefits without the hassles.

However, this isn’t always the case. Many shareware comes with glaring risks that can damage your system or steal Personal Identifiable Information (PII).

If you intend to scour the internet for shareware, below are a few cybersecurity risks you should consider.


Malicious software or Malware is an umbrella term that describes a harmful program or code. There are different kinds of malware, and they’re all intrusive and hostile. They exist only to invade and damage computers.

Malware affects a significant number of users. A whopping 560,000 new malware are discovered daily, adding to over 1 billion online circulating. 

Cyber attackers or black hat hackers can inject malware into your system using two ways. First, they can disguise these malicious programs as adware and distribute them. 

The other method is when they build legitimate adware but have that program lead their users to dubious URLs, where they’re tricked into downloading the malware.

Enterprise Data Leaks

Shareware can cause data breaches. These leaks happen when spyware is intentionally hidden inside a program.

Poorly developed shareware with vulnerable security can also be a risk for spyware. 

Spyware collects passwords, browsing history, email addresses, personal identification numbers, banking records, or credit card numbers. Using shareware in businesses and government agencies is especially risky because of all the sensitive data they store.

💡 Did You Know?

Capital One Bank experienced one of the biggest data breaches in 2022. In January of that year, a former Amazon engineer stole information from over 100 million Capital One Bank clients. These included social security numbers, credit card data, account numbers, addresses, and phone numbers.

Security Issues

Shareware, like all software, is a continuously developing tool. One of the most critical reasons behind the free-trial marketing strategy is to get genuine feedback from its users. 

Part of this feedback tackles the shareware’s current security level and the drawbacks developers must overcome through patching. 

Simply put, developers may release shareware with plenty of security holes that threat actors can exploit.

Users may also encounter Affiliated or Sponsored Software. These are secondary programs linked to the shareware you’re downloading. 

Developers earn part of their revenue by including these sponsors. Although many sponsored software are legitimate and harmless, they can also be avenues for cybercriminals to install malicious applications. 

How to Use Shareware Safely

Shareware remains popular to this day. It’s still an excellent way to test a software’s capabilities before a user can invest in it financially.

Knowing all the risks involved, you must know how to keep yourself safe from malicious programs lurking in some shareware downloads. In 2023, 7 out of 10 users had taken the necessary steps to secure themselves online. You should too.

Following these tips will drastically lower your chances of getting attacked online:

  • Only download from official websites or app stores.
  • Research and read about the software you’re attempting to download.
  • Look out for bundled software. They may be hiding malicious applications.
  • Avoid clicking ads because they might lead you to dangerous domains.
  • Use a comprehensive antivirus. 
  • For businesses, invest in cybersecurity solutions that involve EDRs (Endpoint Detection and Response).

A robust security system will protect you from impending attacks. And when an infection does happen, it can offer virus or malware removal.

🔒 Security Note: 

Invest in strong Virtual Private Networks (VPN). Effective VPNs like Nord VPN and Express VPN block ports. This makes it difficult for malware to transfer data or receive commands from its source. These VPNs also come with ad-blocking features that boost your computer’s security. 

The Bottom Line

Over the years, plenty of shareware has made names for themselves, like Adobe Photoshop and Skype. Shareware’s success in cementing itself in the software and even gaming market has led to many developers adopting the idea to their creations. 

By itself, shareware is not malicious. It’s generally harmless and can even improve your computing experience. However, that doesn’t mean you should relax and neglect your security. As always, exercise caution when dealing with anything “free” online.


What is the difference between software and shareware?

Software is a data set, instructions, or programs that perform tasks and operate computers. Meanwhile, shareware is just a kind of software offered to users on a trial basis. It’s free to download, but you must pay once the trial period ends.

What is the purpose of shareware and freeware?

Developers turn their software into freeware or shareware as a marketing strategy to let users experience their programs first-hand and for free. This generates buzz and expands their user base, raking loyal customers to buy their products.

What is an example of freeware?

Freeware is software that doesn’t require payment when used and distributed. Popular freeware examples are Fortect, WinZip, Speccy, and Bitdefender, the Free Edition.


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