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What's more popular: classifying software as "free to try" vs. "shareware"?

Over recent years, there has been extensive discussion about the most suitable name under which to classify evaluation software. Some software publishers and download site owners have opted to describe evaluation software as "shareware" while others have decided to describe their software as "free to try", "trial" or "trialware".

To find out what terms software publishers are using the most, in March 2007 we conducted a study involving a sample of 30,000 unique and up-to-date software submissions from the database of a large commercially-owned download site. The results are shown in the table below:

Classification Popularity
Shareware 62.6%
Freeware 25.2%
Demo 7.8%
Commercial 3.8%
Free to try/Trialware/Trial (and variations) 0.1% (0.119%)

We were surprised by the results, particularly given the significant variation between the "Shareware" and "Free to try" (and similar) classifications.

Validation and discussion

To verify the validity of the study, we decided to undertake a further investigation using the entire database of a medium-sized download site that contained 15,121 listings. All listings contained in the database were submitted directly by software publishers and no data was sourced from other download sites. The results were similar to the first study: 65.0% of listings used the classification "Shareware" while only 0.099% of listings used the classifications "Free to try", "Trialware" or "Trial".

We considered the possibility that the variation could be due to the study sourcing its data from software submissions to download sites and that a larger number of software publishers might actually be describing their software as "Free to try" on their website yet describe their software as "Shareware" in their software submissions.

However, a search on Google (conducted on 23 March 2007) for the term "Shareware" returned approximately 61,100,000 results compared to only 4,200,000 total results for the terms "free to try" and "trialware" (consisting of 1,160,000 results for the term "free to try" and 3,040,000 results for the term "trialware"; the term "trial" was omitted because it is a commonly used word and would therefore produce an invalid result). Based on percentage terms, the Google search results also show a significant difference between the two classifications, further validating the accuracy of the results.

Deciding on which classification to use

The term "Shareware" has been in use for a longer period of time than the classifications "Free to try", "Trialware" and "Trial", which is one reason why the classification "shareware" is more popular.

Each classification has benefits and disadvantages and ultimately the decision on which classification to use will lie with you. The most suitable term to use may also depend on the type of software you are selling.

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