What is Shareware? 4 Examples You Need to Know

By Tibor Moes / Updated: July 2023

What is Shareware? 4 Examples You Need to Know

What is Shareware?

Shareware software is pretty interesting. On the surface, it looks like free software that you can download without paying a penny. And that’s exactly what it is. Shareware allows software developers to give you a taste of what you’d get if you access the full product.

But that full product isn’t free. And that’s where a lot of confusion comes in.

Shareware offers limited free use of a piece of software but it is a very different thing from freeware. In this article, we explain what shareware is, whether it’s okay to download shareware, and some of the best shareware examples in modern computing.


  • Shareware, a type of software marketing, allows users to try before purchasing, with features typically unlocked post-purchase, promoting trust and familiarity.

  • Notable examples include WinZip for file compression, WinRAR for data archiving, Adobe’s Photoshop CS2, and AVG Antivirus – widely used for protection against cyber threats.

  • It remains an effective strategy, blending user experience, trial periods, and flexible pricing, however, awareness about shareware’s paid nature after the trial ends is crucial to avoid confusion or misuse.

Don’t become a victim of cybercrime. Protect your devices with the best antivirus software and your privacy with the best VPN service.

What is Shareware? – In-depth

Shareware allows you to access software for free, often giving you partial access or the full benefits of the application in the process. In cases where you receive the full benefits, you are usually subjected to a trial period. After this, the software becomes an unlicensed copy unless you pay for the full version. With partial benefits, you’ll be given access to some of the software’s features but will be limited in what you can do until you buy the full version.

Developers often use shareware as a form of software distribution that allows them to directly demonstrate the benefits of their product. Think of shareware programs as demonstrations of what a piece of software can do.

Unfortunately, malicious parties can use the lure of shareware programs to infect people’s devices with viruses and malware. In these cases, the shareware is often part of a bundled software package. The main software offers something that customers are interested in. But the shareware aspect of it is used to infect the user’s device with malicious files and executables.

The Main Types of Shareware

We can split shareware into five key types, each of which takes a different approach to the concept.

Type No. 1 – Demoware

Often used for video games, demoware provides you with partial access to a piece of software. In a videogame, this may mean that you can play a handful of early levels before having to pay to access the rest of the game. For other types of software, you’ll get access to limited features until you purchase the full commercial software. In both cases, the demoware is distributed free and allows developers to tempt you into a purchase.

Type No. 2 – Adware

Also known as advertising-supported software, adware is a shareware model that provides the full version of the application with ads. This allows the developer to generate revenue via ads, meaning they don’t have to charge for access. Many get irritated by the presence of these unwanted advertisements, which creates an incentive for buying the software.

Type No. 3 – Nagware

Nagware uses disruptive alert messages to push people into paying for the full software. Though you’ll often have full access to the application while it nags you, the constant stream of messages could encourage you to buy a license just to get rid of them. Many users see this as an obnoxious, though somewhat necessary, way of accessing free software.

Type No. 4 – Donationware

With donationware, developers offer a fully operational version of their application. However, that software comes with occasional prompts to make a donation to the development team. Alternatively, you may be asked to donate before you download. It’s up to users whether they donate, though it isn’t required to maintain the use of the software.

Type No. 5 – Freemium Software

One of the most common forms of shareware in the modern world, freemium software offers limited functionality using an application’s basic feature set. Users are then given the option to purchase additional features to unlock more of what the software has to offer. Despite limiting functionality, freemium software offers a complete experience. Users simply pay money to enhance or upgrade that core experience.

Security Concerns With Shareware

Though shareware is extremely useful for developers and consumers, it comes with security vulnerabilities. These issues must be considered before you rush into downloading freeware because you’re tempted by accessing software at little or no cost.

Lack of Updates

Because shareware isn’t fully licensed, many developers don’t do any work on the free product once it’s released. That means no patches or security updates as new cybersecurity threats emerge. Due to the lack of up-to-date security, the software may develop vulnerabilities that can lead to a data breach.

Malware Distribution

Cybercriminals and hackers have latched onto the popularity of shareware and often use it to attack people’s devices. This is often accomplished using false adverts, which trick users into believing they’re downloading legitimate shareware. The links may even provide the shareware promised. However, they’ll also include malicious software that executes alongside the shareware, giving the cybercriminal access to the user’s device.

Sponsored Software Problems

Many shareware applications come with prompts to download secondary programs via the application you’ve downloaded. In many cases, the option to download the secondary program is ticked by default, leading to unwary users ending up with software that they don’t want or need.

That is a minor inconvenience. What’s more worrying is that cybercriminals often take advantage of users efforts to access their shareware quickly by attaching secondary software that the user doesn’t notice they’re downloading until it’s too late.

Protecting Yourself When Using Shareware

Given the security concerns noted above, users should take steps to protect themselves when downloading and using shareware. These quick tips help you to stay safe:

  • Be wary of bundled software packages. Read every prompt the software gives you while installing to ensure you don’t accidentally download software that might be malicious.

  • Always check that you’re downloading shareware from the distributor’s official website. Bear in mind that the first result of a Google search isn’t always the authentic application provider.

  • Don’t click on any ads in a shareware program. Even legitimate shareware can accidentally serve ads that take you to malicious websites.

  • Delete any shareware that no longer receives active updates from its developers.

Important Shareware Examples

Now that you understand shareware, how it works, and the security risks involved, downloading it may seem like a no-brainer. And that’s often the case as many shareware developers use the software by making it available in the public domain for users to access easily. Here are some of the best examples of how shareware is successful in encouraging users to purchase commercial software.

Example No. 1 – Doom

Though there are countless examples of video game creators using the demoware type of shareware to get the word out, few are more successful than Doom. One of the most important first-person shooting games of all time, Doom revolutionized its genre and set the template that other developers followed for years to come.

It also used a shareware model to gain popularity.

The game’s creators, id Software, released Doom as shareware that gave access to the first nine of the game’s 36 levels. This extended demonstration of the game worked on two levels. First, it gave players a taste of what they could expect while allowing them to confirm that their computers could run Doom. Second, it offered enough of the game to fully engage the player, thus making it more likely they’d pay for the full product.

Using shareware worked in this example, with Doom going on to sell over 1 million copies.

Example No. 2 – Adobe Photoshop

Though there are dozens of photo and image editing applications available, Adobe is considered by many to be the industry standard. The term photoshop is linked so tightly to photo editing that any picture that’s had some work done is casually referred to as being photoshopped.

Part of Adobe’s success with photoshop comes down to the shareware model it runs. Users have the chance to download the full version of the software on a seven-day time limit. This isn’t a limited version of Photoshop. Instead, the user gets to play around with the application’s full feature suite until the trial ends.

After seven days expire, paying customers purchase Photoshop so they can continue using it. Those who don’t pay lose access to every aspect of Photoshop, from its advanced features to its most basic functionality, until they purchase the software.

Example No. 3 – WinRAR

If you’re looking for an example of nagware, look no further than WinRAR. This useful file compression software is available for free download on the web. It also functions fully for as long as you have it installed on your computer, regardless of whether you pay for it or not.

WinRAR tells you that it offers a 40-day trial period before you have to purchase a license to use it. But the end of that period doesn’t take away your ability to use the software. Most users can still access every aspect of the application they may need long after the trial ends.

But WinRAR will nag you.


Every time you open it, the software tells you that you need to purchase a license. You close the notification and go about your business. But it will nag you again the next time you use it.

This seems like an odd use of the shareware model until you realize that WinRAR has advanced features that many companies rely on. The average user will never need anything the application offers beyond its basic features after the end of their trial. But those who use its special features will usually pay after enough nagging.

It seems like a weird business model. But WinRAR has operated successfully since 1995 so it must be doing something right.

Example No. 4 – Skype

When you hear the term “adware”, you probably instantly think of malicious software that infects your computer with ads you don’t care about. While that may be the case, not all adware is malicious.

Skype is the perfect example.

Microsoft offers Skype for free to all users. They can do this because they support the application with targeted ads that display when you’re using Skype. Unlike more malicious forms of adware, this application of ads is subtle enough to not affect the user experience. As such, free users can enjoy most of what Skype has to offer without paying a cent for it.

Skype allows people to remove these ads with a subscription or via the purchase of Skype Credit.

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.

Is Shareware safe?

As long as your shareware comes from a legitimate source, it should be safe. However, be wary of any ads served and delete shareware that is no longer being updated by the developers.

Is Shareware free forever?

This depends on the type of shareware you’re using. Most will either limit features or prevent you from using the application after a trial period. But some types of shareware are free to use forever assuming you’re okay with seeing ads or constant nagging alerts telling you to purchase a full license.

Is Shareware the same as freeware?

No, though they operate similarly. Shareware gives you free access to software, however, that access comes with limitations. Freeware is completely free to use and has no payment or revenue-generating component.
Author: Tibor Moes

Author: Tibor Moes

Founder & Chief Editor at SoftwareLab

Tibor has tested 39 antivirus programs and 30 VPN services, and holds a Cybersecurity Graduate Certificate from Stanford University.

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

You can find him on LinkedIn or contact him here.