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Busman's Holiday
Trends in Shareware
by Steve Wood
June 14, 1999



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In January I read with interest Kagi (Shareware) founder Kee Nethery's comments that shareware is declining at the expense of trialware commercial software. The "try before you buy" concept was once a main strength of shareware, although a few commercial operations with 20-20 foresight have long used the concept as well. I remember repeatedly installing Conflict Catcher's 3-day preview before I finally coughed up the bucks for the full version.

While the wholehearted adoption of trialware (demos) and public betas by commercial software concerns may have hurt the shareware community by invading the heart of shareware, it is, of course, a plus for users. The major software companies have rolled out demos of most of their top software. For example, Adobe offers trial versions of many of its major applications, including Photoshop, Illustrator, and GoLive. Not to be outdone, Macromedia offers trial versions of Director, Dreamweaver, FreeHand 8, and others.

Some companies have taken trialware a step further by giving away older or partial versions to introduce their software to new users. I was first introduced to MicroFrontier's Color It!™ by a freeware version included with the book MacWorld Mac Secrets. I've since paid my way through two upgrades. STRATA released full working versions of VideoShop 3.0 and Vision3d 4.0 on the MacADDICT November, 1998 CD (back issues still available). Aladdin's StuffIt Expander has long been the best advertising that could be done for their excellent StuffIt Deluxe compression utility. Unfortunately, the initial StuffIt Deluxe 5.0 release was more beta quality than final version, relying on "free updates" to bring it to barely acceptable levels of performance.

The Mac OS has a habit of gobbling up system enhancing sharewares. Navigation Services in System 8.5 adds parts of the functionality of several program switching and dialog modification sharewares. System 7.5 seemed to be the granddaddy of gobbling up shareware features. Menu Choice (91K) became Apple Menu Options (which previously competed as a shareware with BeHierarchic), Extensions Manager (40K), and WindowShade (39K) were all directly brought into the Mac OS. It also added the functionality of AppDisk (10K) (RAM disk in memory control panel), EasyPrint (30K) (Desktop Printers), PasteIt Notes (482K) (Stickies), SuperClock! (19K) (the clock on your menu bar), and Find Pro III.

More and more of the shareware applications, control panels, etc. that we use daily are brought to us by small software companies producing shareware. Companies such as this blur the lines between shareware and commercial trialware and raise the question, "When does software stop being shareware and become commercial software?" Peter Sichel, author of OT Advanced Tuner and other programs, has some interesting views on trialware and shareware. Again, for the end user, this blurring of the line doesn't mean that much in the short term as long as necessary upgrades are produced.

Ambrosia Software, Inc. has long been in the business of producing excellent Macintosh sharewares such as the screenshot utility, Snapz Pro, and many games, such as Harry, The Handsome Executive. Power On Software, makers of the excellent dialog modifier Action Files, have grown by buying out several applications. They purchased Now Utilities in 1998 and released Action WYSIWYG and Action Menus. This year they purchased GoMac from Proteron and Disk Lock from Symantec. Casady & Greene, of course, have long offered their flagship product, Conflict Catcher, as a fully functioning three day trial version.

With so many "sharewares" now being offered by major and minor commercial concerns, those of us who seek programs need to look various places. A quick check of Info-Mac used to pretty much tell what was out there. Now, many programs appear directly on company's web sites, without being posted to the shareware archive. Shareware sites such as Version Tracker, SoftWatcher, and MacUpdate help by listing both shareware and commercial software, but their postings often only go back a few months.

Another trend that initially left me cold is shareware authors asking for an additional upgrade fee from registered users. The shareware companies tend to be much more aggressive in charging for upgrades than individual shareware authors. This was pointedly brought to my attention by paid upgrades to PageSpinner, Action GoMac, and SnapzPro. Optima System's PageSpinner has received many rave reviews over the years, including some very positive comments of my own. I think their implementation of the Apple Guide for creating a new web page is one of the best I've seen. Their 2.1 version upgrade (PPC 68K) is a solid improvement in the web page editor, but also asks previous registrants for a healthy additional registration fee to use the new version.

After Power On Software purchased GoMac, they issued a 2.0 version with a few new features, but required a hefty $15-$25 upgrade fee for previous users for what was basically a compatibility and bug-fix update. They also bumped the initial purchase price to $40. Interestingly, when GoMac 2.0.1 suddenly quit functioning on May 30, 1999, Power On chose not to immediately inform registered users via email or at their web site, with posts on MacFixIt and the Macintosh News Network being the only clue to the source of the problem. Emails to customers were finally sent out on the afternoon of June 1.

It may be that I'm just being cranky, since I was working late the evening of the 29th-30th and tore my system apart trying to find the conflict that canned Go Mac. When I finally saw the web posts, I'd already completed several conflict tests and even a clean install. I suspect other users were similarly frustrated.

In contrast to Optima, Power On, and Ambrosia's significant upgrade fees, some shareware authors continue to provide timely updates without charge. GraphicConverter continues to move through many updates which add significant features without further charge to registered users. Other sharewares, such as BeHierarchic, Disk Charmer, Dialog View, and Startup Doubler have done the same. The difference seems to be that individual shareware authors more commonly offer what appear to be unlimited free updates/upgrades than the "shareware companies." I found that when I recently decided to speed my Mac's startup routine, I chose Marc Moini's Startup Doubler over Casady & Greene's Speed Startup. Both perform well, but my heart is with the individual shareware author. My wallet also is with authors such as Moini who issue free upgrades to previous paid registered users. With Casady & Greene products, significant upgrade fees are the norm.

I'm still trying to figure out why I feel slighted by shareware authors asking for an upgrade fee. I regularly pay upgrade fees for commercial software upgrades. I really can't pick on shareware authors for raising prices, adding upgrade fees, or even for selling out to larger entities. I think I'm just spoiled by the quality and value of the many sharewares whose authors chose to charge only once.

Update (6-20-02)

My thanks to Dwight Early for tracking down and providing updated URLs for all the System 7.5 sharewares.

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All links checked and updated 6/24/2000
©1999-2000 Steven L. Wood