The Shareware Scene

Filfre has been at it again.

Shareware. Just that word triggers many memories.

It also gives us a light on what computing meant way back in the days. Andrew Fluegelman, one of the pioneer of this business model:

“Like Brand and so many others of a similar bent, Fluegelman saw great potential in the personal computer as a force for social liberation.”

It’s hilarious to read in 2020, isn’t it? There was a sense that software and computers could be leveraged to help any individual. The IBM PC did just that to millions. My mom started her accounting business thanks to an accounting software and two big, beige boxes. A woman in a world of men. Social liberation.

Anyway shareware, aka free work with donations which is so widely used now, was not computing for kid-me: the idea felt right, but it ultimately didn’t seem to be working because being dependent on people’s good will seemed extremely unstable? I remember being excited by shareware yet, not getting how you could possibly run a business afloat with it. It was totally going against the obvious.

“My wife said I was “a foolish old man” if I thought even one person would voluntarily send me money for the program. I was more optimistic. I suspected that enough voluntary payments would come to help pay for expansions to my personal-computer hobby – perhaps several hundred dollars. Maybe even a thousand dollars (in my wildest dreams!).”

Jim Button, another shareware pioneer was getting $1000 worth of checks in the mail every day by 1984. His business peaked at $4.5M and 35 employees. Not too shabby for a donation-based business.

Those pioneers were pressured to release their work in big boxes sold for hundreds of dollars yet they didn’t cave. They were doing fine and simply didn’t see any benefit about making more money. I love to see this.

Of course, parasites appeared and destroyed many things about shareware including trust, which is so central to it. By the mid 90s, shareware was quite dangerous if you didn’t know what you were doing.

I’m going through those stories (part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5) and reflecting on them and the digital world we have today. It’s fascinating.

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