History of Shareware
Michael E. Callahan
aka Dr. File Finder (tm)
The Very Beginning
To help to clear up some inconsistencies of the past, I'd
like you to look at the beginnings of
"Shareware" from two perspectives. First, you
will look at how Shareware was first used as a marketing
concept regardless of what it was called. Once that is
established, you'll see how the use of the actual term
Shareware came into use and how this chronology varies
slightly from the first. For two programmers, Andrew
Fluegelman and Jim Button, the idea of letting people try
their software before they paid for it, came at almost
the exact same point in time. Let's begin in California
with Andrew Fluegelman.
The Shareware Concept Coming Together
Andrew Fluegelman created a communications program called
PC-TALK. Mr. Fluegelman started out by marketing his
program in an unusual way. He would give people the
program and then simply request that if they liked it and
used it, that they pay for it. For the time, late 1981,
this was certainly a different way of doing business. Mr.
Fluegelman, however, was not alone in this unique idea.
Around the same time that Andrew Fluegelman was producing
PC-TALK, Jim Button, another programmer in Washington
State, was doing something similar. Jim had written what
was initially a mailing label program that he called
EASY-FILE. It later evolved into a full database system.
Like Andrew Fluegelman, Jim Button gave his software
away, but included a request that users share the program
with others. He also requested a "donation" if
they liked the program. It can be argued and debated as
to which of these men actually came up with the idea
first, but does it really matter? What does matter is
that these two men both came up with the idea of letting
people try their software before they paid for it.
Another factor, and possibly the most important, is that
Fluegelman and Button got together and decided to
compliment the efforts of the other.
How did they come to meet? Ironically, a person who was
evaluating Jim Button's EASY-FILE also had a copy of
Andrew Fluegelman's PC-TALK. This user noted that both
programs had a similar request for a "donation"
and for sharing the program with others. When he
mentioned this coincidence to Jim Button, Jim got
Jim contacted Andrew Fluegelman and the two talked at
length about their method of marketing software. In an
effort to help each other out, three things were agreed
1. Each would
reference the program of the other in their
2. Button changed his programs name to PC-FILE, to
better fit in with PC-TALK and
3. Both men set a voluntary donation price of $25.00
One difference was
that Andrew Fluegelman marketed his software under the
term "Freeware" while Jim Button used the term
"user supported software." These events
occurred in late 1982.
A Variation On A Theme
In early 1983, Bob Wallace, who had just left Microsoft,
started his own company called QuickSoft. Bob had written
a basic word processing program called PC-WRITE. Using a
distribution method similar to that of Fluegelman and
Button, Bob started referring to his product as
"Shareware." At the time it was almost unheard
of to start a commercial company and then market a
product via the "Shareware" concept. In
addition to what Andrew Fluegelman and Jim Button were
doing, Bob Wallace added an interesting new twist.
Bob Wallace also requested a donation for PC-WRITE, but
offered an added incentive for doing so. As with PC-TALK
and PC-FILE, users of PC-WRITE were encouraged to share
the program with others. What was the incentive to
"register" PC-WRITE? Getting a commission!
Let's say that you paid for the program. When you did,
you got a serial number which you could put on the
opening screen. Now, for example, let's say that you gave
copies of PC-WRITE, complete with your serial number, to
five friends. If one of them decided to pay for the
program, they would be asked for the serial number that
appeared on the opening screen. In this case, since it
would be your serial number, you would get paid a
commission. Does the commission idea work? Based on my
own personal experience, I'd say yes. I paid $75.00 for
my first copy of PC-WRITE. Since that time I have
received around $500.00 in commissions. An interesting
twist that worked out well for Bob Wallace, QuickSoft,
and registered users of PC-WRITE.
A Good Idea, But What Do We Call It?
Thus, by late 1983, Andrew Fluegelman, Jim Button, and
Bob Wallace were all distributing software under a
similar concept. The premise was the same. A person could
try out the software and if they liked it they were asked
to pay for it. Users were also encouraged to pass the
program around to friends, family, and associates. You'll
note, however, that each one was calling it something
different. For Fluegelman it was "Freeware."
Jim Button called it "user supported software"
and Bob Wallace was calling it "Shareware."
There are reasons why Button and Wallace did not go with
Fluegelman's term, but that will be discussed when I talk
about each of these "Founding Fathers" as
individuals. For now, suffice it to say that Andrew
Fluegelman had trademarked the term "Freeware"
and thus, no one else could use it. Users of the early
PC's were looking for a standardized term to refer to
this new form of marketing. It took some doing, but
eventually, they got it.
Arriving At A Standard
Once again, around the same time frame, another man
stepped into the picture. His name is Nelson Ford. Nelson
Ford is a programmer himself and a highly respected
member of the "PC Community." Mr. Ford is also
the founder of the Public Software Library (PSL). The PSL
is an excellent source for obtaining Shareware programs
on disk. In 1983, Nelson was doing a small publication on
software. Well aware of the problem with using the
trademarked term "Freeware", Nelson decided to
run a contest and let users suggest a word that could be
used in it's place. And the winner was? Shareware! This
caused some concern for Nelson, who knew that
"Shareware" was already being used by Bob
Wallace. Nelson decided to talk with Bob about it. I
spoke with Bob Wallace and he recalled the incident for
"Yes, I remember that I had started using the term
Shareware before Nelson ran his contest. After the
contest Nelson and I talked about it. He (Nelson) said he
knew that I had been using the term
"Shareware", but would I mind if he used it
too. I hadn't tried to trademark it so I told Nelson to
go ahead. At the time it just seemed like a good idea to
have some continuity... a term that people could relate
Other program authors now had a 'standardized' term that
they could use to market their software under. Thus, the
use of the word "Shareware" is credited to Bob
Wallace. Since that time, many other program authors have
marketed their software under the Shareware concept. Of
the original "Founding Fathers", Jim Button
became the next one to begin using the term
"Shareware" with his programs. To be
historically correct, Jim's PC-FILE was released after
Andrew Fluegelman's PC-TALK, but before Bob Wallace's
PC-WRITE. At the same time, Bob Wallace was the first to
use the term "Shareware" with his product. Jim
Button, on the other hand, was releasing his program
under the term "User Supported Software" and
adopted "Shareware" later.
You should now have a better understanding of how the
marketing concept that we call "Shareware"
today got started and how the actual term came into use.
To give you more insight, the next few sections will give
you brief biographies of the three "Founding
Fathers" and fill you in on their backgrounds. Some
of the information will repeat what has already been
mentioned, but this has been done to give you a fuller
perspective of the events and circumstances that molded
the beginning of what we now call "Shareware."
Andrew Fluegelman was a successful attorney and also the
editor of PC World Magazine. Back in 1982, Andrew
Fluegelman wrote a telecommunications program called
PC-TALK. He copyrighted PC-TALK and then released it to
the public. The program became very popular because it
offered many features that other programs did not. Mr.
Fluegelman decided to market his own software with a new
twist. If people liked it and used it then he was asking
them to pay for it. (Sound familiar?) He decided that he
should have some kind of catchy name for this marketing
idea. The name that Andrew Fluegelman came up with was
"Freeware." Today, the term FreeWare means
something totally different, but there's a reason why it
does. Because of the popularity of PC-TALK, Mr.
Fluegelman decided to trademark the term
"Freeware." Around the same period of time
there were a few other programmers who were considering
using the same marketing technique as Andrew Fluegelman.
Because the term "Freeware" was trademarked,
however, they could not use it for selling their
programs. At the time, this caused a minor stir among
programmers. Obviously, they had to come up with a
different term to use. Because of this fact, the term
"Freeware" has come to take on a new meaning.
In today's market, a "Freeware" program is one
where no contribution is requested or expected by the
Mr. Fluegelman met up with another programmer by the name
of Jim Button. Strictly by chance, Jim Button had had a
similar idea and had been marketing his new database
under the term "user supported software."
Andrew Fluegelman got together with Jim Button and
established a means of each helping to promote the other.
PC-TALK gained tremendous popularity and for a time it
was the communications program to use.
As the editor of PC World Magazine, Andrew Fluegelman did
a rave review of Jim Button's PC-FILE in May, 1983. This
gave PC-FILE the extra attention that it so richly
deserved. Mr. Fluegelman was a driving force in this new
area of software distribution and marketing for several
years. His program, PC-TALK continued to prosper and is
still in use by some people today. Mr. Fluegelman died in
As one of the founders of the Shareware concept, Bob
Wallace has played an important role in the development
of Shareware software. To give you a better picture of
Bob Wallace as a person, I talked with Bob. Bob willingly
shared information about his background and his
philosophy about Shareware. In several instances, I've
quoted him. Born in 1949 in Washington, DC, Bob Wallace
first became interested in computing at the age of 12. He
decided then and there to become a programmer. "I
still find personal computing wonderfully exciting,"
Bob says. He emphasizes the personal in personal
computing. "It's great having that much power at
your fingertips. But if it's somebody else's computer,
you have to do what they tell you to do." His
interest led him to Brown University in 1967, where he
worked with Professors Andries van Dam and Ted Nelson on
the first hypertext editing systems, FRESS. In 1974, he
received a BS in Computer Studies at the University of
Washington. He founded the Northwest Computer Society in
1976, worked at the first Seattle computer store from
1976 to 1978, and ran the first Seattle Personal Computer
Fair in 1977. In 1978, he became the ninth employee at
Microsoft, where he principally worked as architect of
the MS-Pascal compiler. Perhaps it was inevitable that
someone allergic to "doing what they tell you to
do" would form his own company. Bob left Microsoft
in 1983. With $15,000 he had saved, he started QuickSoft,
to develop a word processing package for the IBM PC
called PC-Write. Bob decided to use a new approach to
marketing software, for which he coined the term
"shareware." People are encouraged to copy and
share the software for evaluation, then users of the
software are encouraged to pay for it. He explains his
reasoning for using shareware:
"Not knowing much about marketing, I knew I could do
something people would like, but I wasn't sure I could
explain why they would like it. Shareware lets the
software explain itself." And
"word-of-disk" promotion takes a much smaller
bite out of a startup budget than advertising. "I
also chose shareware because I wanted to reach a lot of
people," he says. "You can look at that in two
ways. One, I wanted a high market share for PC-Write.
Market share was one key to Microsoft's success. But I
also wanted to serve a lot of people. My philosophy is
that I want to make a living, not a killing." The
first version of PC-Write was released in August 1983.
Bob designed the program, like the marketing, to support
end users. "A word processor should help people
express their ideas," he says. "It shouldn't
get in the way -- that's one reason speed is very
important. Plus, creating a document is a very individual
process, so being able to customize your word processor
is important." QuickSoft's mission is to help people
create documents. "Helping people write furthers the
creation of new ideas. This has two important results.
First, it helps people express themselves; it empowers
the individual. Second, written expression advances
civilization; writing is the tool that permits the
evolution of science, medicine, and culture. So, by
publishing PC-Write, we're empowering people and
advancing society." "And on a further
level," Bob says, "helping the creative process
is very important to me. In addition to publishing
PC-Write, we are trying to build a company and a culture
where individual expression can be integrated in working
toward a common goal."
Fine artist Megan Dana-Wallace, QuickSoft's first
employee and now Vice President, uses her expressive
talents in drawing QuickSoft's famous cats. (Megan and
Bob were married July 4, 1986.) Bob is also active in
helping other software entrepreneurs. From 1983 through
1988, Bob ran a monthly software marketing group. In
1985, he became active on the board of the Washington
Software Association, a trade association of Washington
State software companies. He was WSA's chairman for the
1986-1987 term. At its peak, QuickSoft employed over 30
people and did over $2 million a year in business, with
over 45,000 registered users. Today, Bob Wallace has
retired from the shareware business, but PC-Write
continues to be sold by another company.
Jim Button first got interested in computers as a hobby
in the 1970's. His first personal computer was one that
he and his son, John, built in the basement of their
home. This machine was so simple, compared to the
machines of today, that they only way that Mr. Button
could program anything was to use machine language. The
first program that Button wrote was one that kept a list
for making mailing labels. It didn't stop there.
When the first Apple computer was released Jim Button got
one and immediately reprogrammed his mailing label
program using the new Applesoft BASIC. It was around this
same period of time that Button started to expand the
functionality of the program -- turning it into a full
database program. While he was working on his program,
Easy-File, at night and on weekends, Jim Button was an
employee of IBM during the day. When the first IBM PC was
released in 1981, Button once again was ready to make a
change for the sake of his hobby. Having bought the new
IBM, it took him only a few days to convert his program
over to IBM BASIC. From that point on, Button continued
to enhance his program and gave it away to friends and
co-workers. Gradually, the program gained some
popularity, at least in the area around Seattle, WA.
Little did he know, at the time, that the program he
wrote in his basement would someday be in spread all over
the country and the world.
Not Just A Hobby
In 1982, Jim Button met Andrew Fluegelman. As part of
that meeting, Button ended up changing the name of his
program from Easy-File to PC-FILE. The review of PC-FILE
that Fluegelman published in the May, 1983 edition of PC
World Magazine helped to open up the way for Jim Button
and PC-FILE. The review helped to make more and more
people aware of the existence of PC-FILE. Swamped with
orders, working full-time for IBM, and trying to keep
improving the program became a bit much. He had founded
ButtonWare, Inc. in September of 1982. In 1984, Button
finally quit his job at IBM and went into the software
business full time.
At it's peak, ButtonWare, Inc. had annual sales exceeding
$2 million and 700,000 users Today, Jim Button (not his
real name) is also retired from the shareware business
and is pursuing other interests.
I sincerely hope that this history of the shareware
concept, along with background on the three
"founding fathers" gives you a clearer
understanding of how "Shareware" started.
Today, it's estimated that the shareware industry does an
annual business of $300 million and it's growing. More
and more shareware products have entered into the retail
channel. Shareware, once scorned as inferior, is now
being praised in large computer magazines, newspapers,
and on radio and television.