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Demo software is a trial version of a software program which allows people to use it for free while they decide whether or not to buy it. Not all companies offer software demos, but those introducing new or competing software products almost always do. As a general rule, this type of software can be downloaded directly from the manufacturer's website, or through a central downloading site which offers a range of products for download.
A number of formats can be used for demo software. One of the most common ways is to allow customers to download a complete version which will expire in a set period of time, such as two weeks. If the customer decides to purchase the software, he or she can purchase an activation code which will prevent the software from expiring. Most companies offer customers a number of payment options, including registering the software over the phone, on the company website, or through the demo software itself.
Trial software may also take the form of a full version with reduced functionality, allowing people to play with the software, but not to utilize it fully. For example, a program may not allow people to save files, meaning that people can use the program to see how it feels, but they cannot save the work they produce. In other cases, demo software may have functions in the menus grayed out, showing customers what they could potentially do with the software if they purchase the full version. If customers decide they want to software, they can buy an unlock code from the company which will make the program fully functional.
Some companies release demo software independently of a full version, to prevent hacking. In this instance, the demo is usually a pared down version of the real product, and clients who buy the software uninstall the demo version and install the full version. For expensive software, this method is often preferred, since hackers have a vested interest in cracking the activation codes for pricey demo software so that they can avoid paying for it.
The term is also used for demonstration copies given out to people in the computer industry for free. Many software companies offer evaluation copies of new releases to critics and other influential members of the industry before the product hits the market. The demonstration copies allow people to use the software freely, so that they can write honest, thoughtful, and useful critiques of the software which may increase consumer demand for the product.
I think you should always try the demo software for games before you purchase the full version. Often gamers just like to pick up the newest titles, but to avoid disappointment the free trials are a good way to go.
I have found that with some games, you get bored of them after a week. Most free trials of software last for around 2 weeks and up to 30 days. This is plenty of time to see whether or not the game is worth purchasing.
Also, most MMORPGs provide a free trial. This is excellent as the online community is always changing and you need to know if you'll like the crowd once you get in game.
Demo software is a great way to try something before you buy it. Be aware though, that with many products, like anti-virus software, that the free trial you download can be a pain to uninstall. Not only are you forced to endure pop-ups and advertising during the free period, but also when it comes time for it to expire you may have difficulty removing the program if you don't choose to pay.
While this isn't always dangerous, sometimes 'free' trials come with spyware. So you should check to make sure the company you are getting the free trial from is reputable.
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