A common misconception is that freeware and shareware are types of
software. In fact, these terms describe the way the software is marketed.
The software itself is no different than the kind you buy in the stores. Sometimes
it's even better.
Freeware is what it sounds like. Users are free to use it and distribute
it to others. Often, it is used to entice users to check out other non-freeware
programs created by the same person or company. It can also be used to entice
users to pay for an upgraded version of the program.
Shareware, on the other hand, is available for a free trial period. After
that period, users are asked to register and pay a fee. Then they receive
a user's manual or upgrade information. Paying for shareware is an honors
system. Most people are happy to pay for software that they've tried and liked.
Any type of software can be distributed as freeware or shareware, from
games to business applications.
Thomas Warfield started writing shareware as a hobby in 1995. A few years
later, his hobby had become a full-time job. This is typical for freeware
and shareware writers. They hold on to their day jobs until their hobby starts
to bring in the dough. Then many of them make the jump.
"Originally, it was just for fun," Warfield says of his motivation for
writing shareware. Now he does it full time as president of his own software
company. He says it can be challenging for people in this field to earn a
"It is difficult," he says. "Very few shareware authors are able to make
a living at it. You have to be good at technical things [programming], marketing
things [to convince people to buy] and customer service skills. Very few people
can do all of these things well."
Tom Guthery started writing shareware as a part-time business to "earn
money to support my growing family." He says shareware can be a good source
of part-time income.
"If you have a good idea and are developing a product that is not in a
field that is already crowded, it is very possible to earn substantial income
writing software distributed through shareware channels," Guthery says.
"Full-time income is pretty difficult for most authors. Most authors use
shareware income as part of their total income stream."
"I would say most do it part time," agrees Edward Guy, a shareware writer.
"In a lot of cases, it's something they've written for their own use and someone
has said, 'Gee, you should market that,' which is essentially what got me
Terry Swiers is a shareware writer and president of the Association of
Shareware Professionals (ASP). "I'd say anywhere from 20 to 25 percent of
the shareware authors are attempting to do it as a full-time source of income,"
Swiers says. "I know for the majority of the shareware authors, that's the
Swiers says it's nearly impossible to say what shareware and freeware writers
earn on average. There's a huge range. Some create best-sellers, while others
do it as a hobby with no intention of making money.
"I know some are making well into the six digits," Swiers says, "while
some are doing $1,000 a year, and they're happy with it. If I had to make
a guess, I would say the average part-time shareware author is making between
$12,000 and $15,000 a year."
Guy agrees that there is a huge range. "There are some people who are certainly
making a half-million a year and up, but they're the minority," he says.
Writing shareware and freeware is something almost anyone can do. Most
writers are self-taught. Some are employed in programming or other technical
fields, so they have technology and computer science-related degrees. But
a formal education isn't necessary.
"It ranges," says Swiers. "I've seen some shareware authors who are very
young teenagers who haven't even graduated from high school yet. I know of
some people who don't have any formal education in computers."
Programming software can cost anywhere from $150 to several thousand dollars.
Then you just need a computer and Internet access. The only thing you risk
is time. And if you enjoy the process, like many do, then there is no risk.
Kathy Salisbury is someone who enjoyed the process. She began as a hobbyist
before starting her own games company.
"I started in shareware because it was an engrossing hobby," Salisbury
"As I got further into it, I realized that graphics and animation were
very enjoyable for me. Also, I like creating something entertaining that reaches
many people. Knowing that it is possible to make very good money doing something
I enjoy is also a great incentive!"
Salisbury says there are many qualities that successful software writers
have. At the top of the list is determination.
"I think it is pretty much like other businesses," she says. "You get out
of it what you put in, and it takes some time to get established. Your first
few efforts are likely to fail. But if you keep trying, probably for several
years, you have a good chance to make it and possibly even become very successful."
Writers also need the ability to work alone for long periods. They need
to enjoy technical work and be self-motivated. If they do it full time, they
need to handle the uncertainty of being self-employed.
As mentioned above, a formal education isn't necessary. But Salisbury says
that if you don't already have a stable job, go to college.
"Even though I am self-taught in programming, I'd strongly encourage you
to get a degree in computer science," Salisbury says.
"You might need to find part-time consulting or programming work to support
yourself and your family during the lean years. Many self-employed people
rely on multiple income streams. I had a background as a computer technician,
and I fell back on these skills to make extra money while starting out."
One main way shareware and freeware is marketed is by getting it onto the
search engines. Savvy use of keywords and willingness to pay for placement
can draw traffic to your site.
Also, word of mouth is a key factor. If users are happy, they tell lots
of people. Of course, word-of-mouth advertising cuts both ways. If your software
has too many bugs, your business will suffer.
"It's a combination of writing skillful software and marketing via the
search engines," says Mike Raustad. He has been self-employed as a shareware
writer for 12 years.
"Definitely, the income you make is dependent on the quality of the software
you have, so you'll find there is good quality in shareware."
Association of Shareware Professionals
Tons of resources, including a history of shareware, forums,
industry events and much more
Shareware Download Sites
A large list of sites that offer shareware