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Why are Demos and Free Trials Still So Popular?

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During the two decades where the internet has been mainstream, almost all facets of the digital landscape have changed, yet there are some elements that stay remarkably constant. Software demos and free trials are a perfect example of this, as a way of delivering programs that have never been replaced. So why are these options so heavily relied on by software developers, and which examples best illustrate their strengths?

Try Before you Buy

The most basic answer as to why trials and demos are so popular ties into how software companies choose to advertise their product. While the age of the internet has made advertising cheaper than ever before through digital avenues, many businesses cannot compare with the crushing power of the world’s largest organizations. Rather than spend the time and money renting space to simply state what software can do against such competitors, trials circumvent the issue by letting users experience systems freely for themselves.

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The other component of this idea ties into how wildly disparate different software can be. Even when managing ostensibly identical tasks, differences in user-interface and other components can give one system an undeniable edge over another. Again, it’s one thing to simply claim your software has the edge, but being able to demonstrate this edge directly to users is another entirely.

Zipeg recognizes national characters in” (CC BY 2.0) by Zipeg

Popular Examples

When looking at illustrations of free trial software, one of the most instantly recognizable is WinRAR by RARLAB. As a compression tool, WinRAR operates to lower the sizes of files, while also allowing the collection of many different files into one single zip. Uncommon for most trials, WinRAR effectively allowed personal users unlimited access to their software, managing to subsist entirely on business registrations and payments.

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For a more specialized example, consider the more recent development of the Database Performance Monitor from SolarWinds. Concerned with profiling database code to determine performance metrics and potential areas of concern, this system undergoes constant updates and improvements. Working a different route than WinRAR, the SolarWinds performance monitor comes with a timed trial with full features unlocked. This way, potential users can examine the full breadth of both the features and advantages on offer before they need to consider a purchase.

For a different tack on how trials operate, we have the HitFilm Pro video editor by FXHome. As a system built around video editing, most of how HitFilm’s program works in trial form is identical to how the full unlocked version works. The one exception is that, unless you purchase the full version, you cannot export a completed video. In essence, this allows users a full look at program potential, allowing them to purchase based on their satisfaction with a single final output.

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Shotcut Video Editor” (CC BY 2.0) by xmodulo

The Balancing Act

Not all trials are built the same, and determining which trial is right for each system depends entirely on the developer and their place in the industry. In some cases, like WinRAR, open access for many users is a viable path. Others like the SolarWinds service go a different direction, while still offering a taste of feature-completion. Finally, the HitFilm demo model takes an equally illustrative route of the program’s potential, allowing users to observe a completed product before thinking of a purchase.

In other words, different products and services require different approaches. While these all illustrate successful implementations of trial systems, there are many businesses whose methods aren’t so well considered. Ultimately, for a business to show off its product or service effectively, customization and an introspective approach are key.

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Milcah Lukhanyu
Milcah Lukhanyu
I cover tech news across Africa. Drop me an email at [email protected]

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