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Demoware (also known as trialware) is commercial software released for free (shareware) in a version which is limited in one or more ways. Some of the most common limitations are:

  • Software remains functional only for a limited time, such as a set number of days after installation, days actually used, number of times the program is launched, or the length of each program session.
  • Adds identifying marks or signatures to output files. Common with image and video editing demoware.
  • Restricts or blocks access to an important function, such as saving the current document to a project file, or burning a CD.

In addition, the software usually hides a code somewhere on the computer system (in Microsoft Windows, often somewhere in the registry) that prevents removal and re-installation of the demo in an attempt to reset the trial period. Once the trial period is complete, the user must purchase a registration code to continue using the software.

Another use of the term "demoware" refers to software that has no real functionality, but instead only functions for demos, usually run by an employee of the company selling it following a "demo script" rather than by an end user. The intent is to give the person viewing the demo a sense of how the program will look, on the theory that this makes the software seem more real than a mere spec sheet. The functionality, planned to be implemented in the future at some point before delivery, has been faked for the demo (for example, for a Web application, the "product" may only be a series of static HTML pages). The customer may or may not be made explicitly aware of this, though it is usually obvious if one is paying attention. This kind of demoware is often used by software startups to show off concepts to sales prospects, to trade show audiences, and to potential investors. It is especially common in the enterprise market.

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