Reading Shareware Heroes

I was a heavy user of shareware software but my experience was like a story with missing clues and no ending. Reading Shareware Heroes: The renegades who redefined gaming at the dawn of the internet by Richard Moss filled the gaps, completed the story, and gave a sense of resolution.

Android tablet with the cover of the of the Shareware Heroes ebook open in a reading app.

I encountered shareware via the Amiga Fish disk collection, and later MS-DOS productivity software and utilities such as the PC-Write word processor and the CompuShow image viewer.

As an Italian student I loved the affordable programs and the wide selection of shareware, much wider than the fewer and expensive packages by traditional American software houses local retailers carried. I assumed everyone else loved shareware, so I always found puzzling this distribution model was little known even among computer geeks. Equally puzzling was why shareware seemed to have faded since the late 1990s.

Later I realized my narrow focus on productivity software and programming tools made me miss major events, hits, and market players of gaming shareware, which I never was into.

There were other things I didn't know or understand at the time, such as why some shareware never made it to Europe. And, not having owned a Mac until well into the Internet era, I wasn't aware of the role of Mac shareware. Finally, I always wondered about the business side of shareware.

Thanks to accurate and extensive research based on original sources and interviews, Shareware Heroes puts the pieces together and presents a complete, coherent history of shareware from the early days to the Internet era. It paints the big picture, discusses shareware in the context of the computer industry, traces the evolution of shareware business models, and ties the past with the present from early shareware titles to the contemporary indie scene.

Although I'm less focused on gaming, the book has a lot of material also on the application software and utilities at the roots of shareware. But I found the coverage of gaming equally interesting even if I'm a non gamer. For example, I realized the key role of Apogee and id in both the evolution of gaming and software business models.

Interestingly, Shareware Heroes indirectly provides some historical context on the dispute between Epic Games, Apple, and Google over app store fees. Founder Tim Sweeney has always been highly competitive since the early days of Epic Games, for example in his rivarly with Apogee and id.

Sweeney is a tough leader, Apple and Google should have seen it coming. Their executives may want to read Shareware Heroes.

#retrocomputing #books

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