Depending on how old you are, you might remember getting CDs in the mail with an offer of free software for a year. Some of those CDs would even encourage you to share with your friends. That’s shareware. It’s software that companies distribute to users for free—at least, it’s free for a limited time—in the hope that you’ll try it, love it, and buy it. Of course, these days, most laptops don’t even come with CD-ROM drives, so very few companies are wasting their hard-earned dollars sending out CDs. But shareware as a software download is alive and well, and there are plenty of websites that will give you free, if limited, trials of their software for a specified amount of time.
Shareware can be divided into numerous subcategories. For example, shareware can be advertising-supported software, or “adware”, which displays advertisements to generate revenue for the author or proprietor. It can be demoware, which means it’s just a demo version of the software. In some cases, it’s a trial version with a set span of days (“trialware”). In others, all the application’s functionality may be disabled so that you can look all you want, but have to pay to use it (“crippleware”). There’s also “freemium” shareware, in which some features are available in the free version of the software, but you have to pay to unlock full functionality or disable annoying ads.
While shareware is a great option for anyone who wants to sample software before committing to a purchase, you should exercise caution. Always be wary of anything claiming to be totally, 100% free. Cybercriminals are all too ready to exploit people’s eagerness to get something for nothing, and the promise of free software is a common social engineering tactic they use to trick internet users into downloading malicious software.