Shareware Examples: The 3 Free-to-Try Software to Know

By Tibor Moes / Updated: June 2023

Shareware Examples: The 3 Free-to-Try Software to Know<br />

Shareware Examples

Imagine you’ve just walked into a book store, but instead of purchasing a book outright, you’re offered the first few chapters for free. If you like the book, you can buy the rest later. This isn’t a new idea in the literary world, but in the world of software? Welcome to the realm of shareware!


Shareware is a distribution model for software where users can try the product before purchasing. Often, a limited version of the software is provided for free, and users can unlock full features by paying.

Example 1: PKZIP (1989). In the early days of the internet, compressing and decompressing files was a necessity. PKWARE’s PKZIP became an example of successful shareware. The software was distributed freely, but if users found it useful, they were encouraged to pay for it. This honesty-based business model helped PKZIP become one of the most popular compression tools of the time.

Example 2: WinZip (1991). Following in PKZIP’s footsteps, WinZip took file compression to Windows users. Initially distributed as shareware, WinZip let users try before they buy, offering a free evaluation version that encouraged payment for continued use and additional features. WinZip remains a household name in file compression tools today.

Example 3: WinRAR (1995). WinRAR became another popular file compression tool distributed as shareware. It provided users with a “trial” version that conveniently never expired but prompted users to purchase for a “lifetime” license. This tactic made WinRAR widely adopted and popular, despite other free alternatives.

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Shareware Examples In-Depth

PKZIP (1989)

As we venture into the history of shareware, let’s take a pit stop in the late 80s. The internet was still a fledgling, crawling slowly on dial-up connections. File sizes were a big deal, and the digital world needed a Superman to squeeze files into smaller sizes, making them easy to send across this nascent network. Enter PKZIP.

The brainchild of Phil Katz, PKZIP burst onto the scene in 1989. Picture this: the software was to files what a suitcase is to clothes. If you’ve ever tried packing for a long trip in a small suitcase, you know the drill. You’ll push, squeeze, and fold to fit everything in. PKZIP did something similar, but for digital files. It compressed them, making them significantly smaller, and when needed, it could also bring them back to their original size, a process called decompression. Quite the magician, wouldn’t you say?

But here’s where things get interesting. Phil Katz, the software’s creator, decided to distribute PKZIP under a novel business model known as shareware. The concept was deceptively simple: allow users to try the software before they buy it.

Imagine walking into a store and being able to take a gadget home, try it out for a while, and then decide if you’d like to keep it and pay for it. It’s a customer-friendly approach, and it was a breath of fresh air in the software market. Users could download PKZIP, use it, and if they found it useful (which, given the dial-up internet speeds at the time, they often did), they could then pay for it.

The strategy was largely based on trust and user honesty. There were no enforcement mechanisms, no timed trials, no locked features. If you liked and used the software, you were encouraged to pay for it. It’s like being served coffee in a café, with the payment based on an honor system. Drink the coffee first, and if you like it, you can drop a coin in the jar. It’s trust in its purest form, and it worked wonderfully for PKZIP.

PKZIP quickly grew in popularity, thanks to its useful functionality and the friendly shareware model. It emerged as one of the most used file compression tools of its time, showing the world that shareware wasn’t just a novelty, but a viable business model. The story of PKZIP is a testament to the power of trust, utility, and user-friendly approaches in the world of software.

So, the next time you zip a file, spare a thought for PKZIP. It not only made file compression popular, but also put the shareware model on the map, paving the way for countless other software that would follow this path in the coming decades.

WinZip (1991)

Picture yourself back in 1991. The internet was a fledgling and file compression was gaining popularity, primarily due to the innovative shareware model introduced by PKZIP. Amidst this backdrop, WinZip emerged, bridging the gap between file compression and the ever-growing population of Windows users.

WinZip was like a Swiss Army knife in the digital world. Need to compress files? WinZip was there. Need to decompress them? WinZip had you covered. Just like a Swiss Army knife is a handy tool to have in your pocket, WinZip quickly became an essential tool for Windows users worldwide.

But the charm of WinZip didn’t lie solely in its utility. Its real ace was the way it was distributed. Continuing the tradition set by PKZIP, WinZip employed a shareware model. The notion was akin to going to an amusement park where you’re allowed to take all the rides and then decide which ones you want to pay for. Sounds fair, doesn’t it?

When you downloaded WinZip, you weren’t immediately required to pay. Instead, you were given a trial run. You could use all its features, assess its performance, and then decide if it was worth your money. This “try before you buy” approach was both user-friendly and clever. It gave users a taste of the software, building trust and demonstrating value.

This philosophy, coupled with the essential function of file compression, made WinZip widely popular. Even though there were other free file compression alternatives, many users chose to stick with WinZip and purchase the full version. The shareware model of WinZip effectively demonstrated that providing upfront value could lead to financial success.

The key takeaway from WinZip’s journey is the power of trust between users and developers. By offering the full capabilities of their software without immediate payment, WinZip created a bond with its users, showcasing its value before asking for anything in return. And this approach didn’t just work, it thrived, making WinZip one of the most recognizable names in file compression, even to this day.

So, the next time you compress a file, remember the role of WinZip. It wasn’t just a tool; it was a symbol of trust, transparency, and user empowerment, playing a pivotal role in shaping the software industry’s landscape.

WinRAR (1995)

Fast forward to the mid-90s. The world of software was abuzz with innovation, and the concept of shareware was gaining momentum. At this juncture, a new player joined the scene – WinRAR.

Imagine this: you’ve got a pile of files and folders that need to be archived and compressed into a neat little package. Here comes WinRAR, like a digital packing expert, taking your sprawling mess of files and folders and neatly bundling them into a single, compressed file. It’s like watching a professional organizer at work, taking a cluttered space and transforming it into an orderly, efficient, and compact version of its former self.

But WinRAR wasn’t just about packing up digital belongings. The real magic of WinRAR lay in its distribution method. Following the path blazed by PKZIP and WinZip, WinRAR too opted for the shareware model. This was akin to entering a pet shop where you’re allowed to bring a puppy home, let it become part of your life, and only then decide whether you want to make it a permanent member of your family.

When you downloaded WinRAR, you were offered a “trial” version, but here’s the interesting part: this trial didn’t have an expiry date. You could continue using WinRAR indefinitely. However, every time you used it, WinRAR gently reminded you that it wasn’t free software and prompted you to purchase a license. This soft nudge towards payment, paired with the software’s undeniable utility, led many users to eventually pay for a license.

Despite the presence of free alternatives, WinRAR’s model of ‘unlimited trial’ and its handy archiving features made it a widely popular choice among users. It presented an interesting twist on the shareware model, pushing the boundaries of “try before you buy” to “use as long as you like, but don’t forget to pay if you find it useful.”

WinRAR’s story illustrates the impact of innovation, not just in terms of product features, but also in business models. It demonstrated that there’s room for creative strategies in the software world and that a gentle reminder of value can be as effective as any hard sell.

So, when you next archive or compress a file, think of WinRAR. Its journey highlights the evolving world of shareware and how it helped shape the software landscape we know today.


From the tight compression of PKZIP to the user-friendly functionality of WinZip, and the innovative shareware model of WinRAR, we’ve traveled through the fascinating world of shareware. As we zip and unzip our digital files today, it’s clear that the spirit of these trailblazing programs lives on. The shareware model, built on trust and value, has not only paved the way for numerous software but also reshaped the relationship between developers and users. It’s a testament to the principle that when users are trusted and given the opportunity to see the value in a product, they are more than willing to pay for it. So, the next time you download a trial version of a software, remember the rich history of shareware and the pioneering programs that helped shape the digital world we know today.

How to stay safe online:

  • Practice Strong Password Hygiene: Use a unique and complex password for each account. A password manager can help generate and store them. In addition, enable two-factor authentication (2FA) whenever available.
  • Invest in Your Safety: Buying the best antivirus for Windows 11 is key for your online security. A high-quality antivirus like Norton, McAfee, or Bitdefender will safeguard your PC from various online threats, including malware, ransomware, and spyware.
  • Be Wary of Phishing Attempts: Be cautious when receiving suspicious communications that ask for personal information. Legitimate businesses will never ask for sensitive details via email or text. Before clicking on any links, ensure the sender's authenticity.
  • Stay Informed. We cover a wide range of cybersecurity topics on our blog. And there are several credible sources offering threat reports and recommendations, such as NIST, CISA, FBI, ENISA, Symantec, Verizon, Cisco, Crowdstrike, and many more.

Happy surfing!

Frequently Asked Questions

Below are the most frequently asked questions.

What is the difference between shareware and freeware?

Shareware is software that is free to try, and if users find it useful, they are encouraged to pay for full features or continued use. On the other hand, freeware is completely free software, with no expectation of payment for use or access to additional features.

Is shareware safe?

Shareware from reputable developers is generally safe to use. However, like with any software, it’s essential to download it from trusted sources, ensure that your antivirus software is up-to-date, and always keep your system patched with the latest updates.

Can shareware be used indefinitely?

This depends on the specific shareware program. Some shareware operates on a trial basis, where you can use the software for a limited time (like 30 days), while others, like WinRAR, offer indefinite use with occasional reminders to purchase the full version. Always refer to the terms of use of the specific software.

Author: Tibor Moes

Author: Tibor Moes

Founder & Chief Editor at SoftwareLab

Tibor is a Dutch engineer and entrepreneur. He has tested security software since 2014.

Over the years, he has tested most of the best antivirus software for Windows, Mac, Android, and iOS, as well as many VPN providers.

He uses Norton to protect his devices, CyberGhost for his privacy, and Dashlane for his passwords.

This website is hosted on a Digital Ocean server via Cloudways and is built with DIVI on WordPress.

You can find him on LinkedIn or contact him here.

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