Before the advent of today’s internet, users tended to scour websites for content to watch and learn about.

To do this, people relied on software they purchased or relied on software programs they downloaded. This was especially true when computers in the 1980s lacked the powerful processors and advanced storage requirements of today’s machines. People relied on a range of software stores that were public and legal, or illegitimate (read: bought or downloaded from a small-time hacker at home). Software shopping was often an act of desperation that involved feverish searches.

Not anymore.

What has changed is the move of users from free-wheeling piracy of software to paying for it. For the most part, this reflects an economic reality of the contemporary computer industry: cheap hardware has enabled software vendors to develop and distribute programs that are free for consumers to download. These applications live in a free-for-all ecosystem that increasingly favors consumers. Today, many “free” downloads offer extra features. The advantages to consumers often include customizations, frequent updates and sometimes a much longer lifespan than on a free download. But few consumers save enough to pay for them.

According to a survey conducted by Gartner, nearly 75 percent of content customers plan to pay for some form of software. About 4 percent plan to pay nothing for a downloaded application.

In other words, software shoppers are increasingly gravitating toward paid programs, a shift that has bigger implications for the future of these industries. Most major software companies are now focused on delivering software solutions on a subscription basis. Unlike free downloads, these offerings typically offer consumers excellent service and lasting value. Once software downloads free of charge from a provider, a consumer is unlikely to go elsewhere for future purchases.

To respond to the shift, software providers are erecting barriers to the downloading of free programs, either by offering free alternatives or offering services to free-to-use programs to encourage consumers to upgrade.

Microsoft, for example, is moving toward its own app store. In August 2018, the company announced that it would cease to offer free versions of software programs. This means that anyone can no longer acquire any of Microsoft’s apps (which can be downloaded directly from the company’s website). Other companies are following suit, or at least exploring alternatives to enabling users to install the free software that enables them to download other software from various companies.


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