The History Of Shareware - Part 2

Last week I gave you the first part in this history of the shareware marketing concept. While a few people started the trend, thousand of others have followed in their footsteps. Many have tried and failed while others have tried and become hugely successful. The software developers of today owe all of these early pioneers a debt of thanks.
Published: Aug 4, 2005
Author: Michael E, Callahan

Comments PRN - Last week I gave you the first part in this history of the shareware marketing concept. While a few people started the trend, thousand of others have followed in their footsteps. Many have tried and failed while others have tried and become hugely successful. The software developers of today owe all of these early pioneers a debt of thanks. Shareware as it was in 1983 was often looked down upon as being inferior. It was accused of carrying viruses, which was not the case. Over time, the shareware method of marketing has gained in popularity. Today, whether or not a company uses the term "shareware" is irrelevant. The majority of software companies, including most of the largest ones, are using the "try before you buy" shareware marketing model. Today I conclude this history of shareware and, once again, it is provided in honor of those that created the concept - Andrew Fluegelman, Bob Wallace and Jim Button. - Doc

Andrew Fluegelman

Andrew Fluegelman was a successful attorney and the first 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 means something totally different, but there's a reason why it does.

Because of the popularity of PC-TALK, Mr. Fluegelman decided to copyright 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 copyrighted, 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 program's author.

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 was still in use by some into the 1990s. Mr. Fluegelman died in 1985.

Bob Wallace

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. 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. 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."

Bob was 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. Bob left the shareware business to pursue other interests. He died suddenly of pneumonia, in his sleep, in 2002.

Jim Button

Jim Button first got interested in computers as a hobby in the 1970s. 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 at 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 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 its 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. When this history was written in 1990, it was estimated that the shareware industry was doing an annual business of $300 million. Today, the revenues generated by companies using the shareware marketing concept are in the billions.

Comments PRN - As was mentioned, in the early days programs marketed using the shareware model were often scorned for being inferior to their commercial counterparts. Today, however, huge software companies like Microsoft, Symantec, Qualcomm, Corel and many others allow you to "try before you buy." And this year, for the first time ever, Shareware Industry Awards were won by Microsoft, Corel and Google. Times have changed. - Doc

About Michael E, Callahan

Michael E. Callahan, known around the world by the trademarked name Dr. File Finder, is regarded as the world's leading expert on shareware. Dr. File Finder works with software programs and developers full-time, and in the average year he evaluates 10,000 programs. Since 1982 he has evaluated over 250,000 software and hardware products. Mr. Callahan began evaluating software online in 1982 and no one has been at it longer. He currently works doing online PR and marketing for software companies, and is the Senior Content Producer for Butterscotch.Com.

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