Trialware in the directory

In the guidelines thread, trialware was enquired about for inclusion in the plugin directory:

I pretty much agree with Beda, but think we should have wider feedback before making changes to the guidelines.

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Not sure I see the value of adding a trialware designation. These are essentially the same as premium plugins – you get some features for free and pay for the extras. Designating trialware just seems muddy.

Noting that there’s already been a ton of forum discussion on this; ie, designations of a plugin (or theme) and what is allowed and what they are called. I can’t find the right threads now, though.

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Maybe not as a separate designation, but referencing trialware.

As there has been some contention around it in the WP repo, it would probably be better to at least mention it so our stance is clear.


I agree. A simple mention under premium plugins section would suffice. Something like: Premium plugins, including trialware plugins, …

I will be honest, I am torn on Trialware. To me, it feels different than freemium or premium.

My feeling is with freemium, you get a basic plugin that works without having to upgrade.
Premium, you know you are paying for access.
But Trialware, if we stick to the official definition, then a plugin you download could have all functionality one day but the next stop working because you didn’t upgrade.


I agree with @wadestriebel. His description of trialware is what I think the term means, and I don’t think that we should be assisting in its promotion.

Offering a product or service as a free trial is a common and accepted practice. There are no ethical or legal issues about it. If plugins are open-source (no obfuscated or encrypted code) and they are clearly marked as trialware, I don’t see a reason why we should ban them. We can clearly label them in the directory.

An additional consideration are plugins that will only work with a third-party service which offers free trials. There are a lot of plugins that are integrations with SaaS apps. Without an account and a paid subscription plugins are useless. Many SaaS apps offer a free trial. So does that make their plugins trialware by extension? It certainly falls within that definition. All functionality will stop if user doesn’t upgrade or renew. Do we ban these important plugins that integrate third-party services?

Sorry, but there are plenty of both ethical and legal issues about it! The end of a trial has the potential to break someone’s site after all. Do we really want to be party to that? Oh, and just in case anyone comes up with the no-warranty disclaimer in the license, that’s a complete red herring here because any harm to a site caused by the end of the trial would mean the plugin behaving exactly as designed.

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Plenty of plugins get uploaded through WP repository with a bug that bricks websites. That seems to be ethically and legally accepted.

Not renewing a premium plugin can also break a website because it will not receive new updates and newer versions of CP/WP can introduce a breaking change, which happens often. That seems to be ethically and legally accepted, too.

So I fail to see how trialware plugins would be different.

We can simply require trialware plugins to:

  1. Show a non-dismissable alert with a trial countdown on the plugin settings page.
  2. When the trial is over and/or the subscription isn’t renewed, the plugin functionality would stop working in a non-breaking manner and no expiration messages can be shown in the frontend.

I doubt this will be a big problem because I can’t even think of one trialware plugin right now. If they are out there, it’s a small number.

Requiring that trialware plugins be open-sourced will probably deter most since trialware apps usually rely on obfuscated and/or encrypted code to prevent users from using it if they don’t pay.

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The fact that something happens fairly regularly does not mean that it is “ethically and legally” accepted. Murder happens regrettably often too; I’m sure you wouldn’t say that it is either ethical or legal.

But that’s not the same thing at all. Trialware breaks things by design. That’s precisely why it’s a problem.

Legally, when did a website owner sue a plugin developer when a plugin broke their website? Everything is GPL licensed for a reason. And if GPL’s “no warranty” clause can’t protect you, what is GPL good for then?

Since premium plugins must be GPL, what users pay for is updates and support. This is also the reason why some shady shops sell GPL plugins cheaply.

The whole marketing message for selling subscriptions for premium plugins is “You pay for updates so the plugin doesn’t stop working and break your website in the future.” That sounds to me like “design”. We know what happens when the user stops updating plugins, they become outdated and break websites. That’s how the system is designed, unfortunately.

What’s wrong with letting users decide if they want to use the trialware plugin or not? They will install it themselves if they want to. They still have that choice. I just don’t see a reason why clearly marked trialware plugins can’t be listed in the directory.

I said in my previous reply:

Requiring that trialware plugins be open-sourced will probably deter most since trialware apps usually rely on obfuscated and/or encrypted code to prevent users from using it if they don’t pay.

I want to add GPL license to that. So “trialware plugins be open-sourced and GPL licensed.”

In the end, it doesn’t matter to me if we allow trialware plugins or not. I simply fail to see a reason why we shouldn’t allow them.

But, going back to my previous statement about integration plugins. If we ban trialware plugins, do we ban integration plugins that don’t work without a paid subscription?

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Website owners have sued software developers, whose work broke their sites, many times. They typically settle out of court.

The “no warranty” clause is to protect the seller from breaking things unintentionally. It’s part of contract law. Breaking things intentionally is part of tort law (delicts). They are two different things in two different fields of law.

This is what we should be debating. But the point is that there is a debate to be had here. If the majority here think it’s no problem ethically, that’s one thing. Assuming or asserting that there is no ethical issue at stake is quite another.


Is there a WordPress or GPL-specific example that you know of?

“Breaking things intentionally” is what I don’t agree with. If you stop paying your electricity bill as a baking shop, by design, the electric company will suspend the service and you lose electricity. So you can’t bake, supplies go bad in a warm fridge, you probably close the business. This is all by design. Did the electric company “break things intentionally”? Of course not. They did what they were supposed to do contractually for non-payment.

I see no difference in trialware plugins. Trialware plugins are not developed with malicious intent to break websites left and right. They offer a paid service that is not designed to “break things intentionally”. The intent is to offer some sort of a service or features user needs. It is designed to stop working if there is no payment or client cancels. The client knows what is at stake. They took that risk when they signed up initially, they take that risk when they cancel or don’t renew.

“Delict” is defined as “a civil wrong consisting of an intentional or negligent breach of duty of care that inflicts loss or harm and which triggers legal liability for the wrongdoer.”

If we apply delict to trialware, we must apply it to every single business that stops service due to non-payment or cancellation. Let’s sue web hosts that delete websites for non-payment. Let’s sue domain registrars for letting domains expire and be purchased by someone else. Let’s sue utility providers for suspending service for non-payment. Let’s sue insurance companies for denying treatment or medication and letting their client die.

I’m debating this point because trialware has no malicious intent, yet they are painted as having one. It’s a business model with contractual obligations on both sides.

We can try and do a poll, see what everyone else thinks. Or directors can decide, to include trialware plugins in the directory or not. I think letting directors make a decision would be fine in this case.


@viktor - this is by definition impossible.
If a trial ware “stops” working it has to break its functionality, otherwise it can’t stop working, and you would just use the trial forever.

After reading what others wrote here I think to correct my own opinion and agree that trial ware shouldn’t be permitted, because the user will install and use it (to test it). Now if they do not or forget to pay, the site will break, at least in the aspects of that plugin. Yes, that is factually the users fault, but it is different than upsell, or premium, because those do proceed working no matter what. You could use Toolset paid once for years, because nothing would ever break by design. It perhaps could break due to new incompatible things, but not by design. Not by countdown.

We can just make it simple instead.
You plan to publish trial ware? Not accepted, please make it either a upsell or a premium product.

For the developer that is not only almost the same but even easier because de facto a trial ware encompasses a bunch of programming clauses where you need to countdown and then do quite some complex things to actually really make the plugin stop working (since a user could just reset a countdown if stored in the database, or even just comment the line that “reacts” when countdown is done.)

So de facto a plugin developer creating a real trial ware is wasting his time. They better create a real upsell version (which is a truly skinned down version of the real thing) or goes with “trial membership/money back guarantee”.

The money in software of this kind is anyway not in the code, it is in the updates and in the support given. Thus, trial ware is truly a waste of time in plugin world.
Also there is a problem with how to handle updates of trial ware. The plugin would have to communicate to a remote server to check its validity or trial status. That is what premium plugins do too, but there the user has to enter a subscription key, thus agreeing to it. Again, adding such agreement to a trail ware is possible, but a waste of time, because in the end, you could just create a upsell or premium version.

I think at this point, we should mention it but we should not allow it, instead, encourage those who do plan to add trial ware to actually create upsell or premium software.


To clarify my statement, “non-breaking” would be more like “non-bricking”. Yes, the functionality will stop working and if anything works in the frontend (like a slider) then it would disappear - as if plugin was deactivated and no message shown in its place. But website won’t completely break with WSOD.


Lets assume that trial ware is a plugin that lets you add custom user roles to a user.
Now it expires and isn’t usable anymore.

What now? The user role will be saved in the database and can’t be removed by the plugin anymore because expired and supposed to not work anymore.
Or, worse, the plugin removes that role magically on expiration, leaving the site eventually open due to a now removed user role the user checked upon somehow for access related things.

Or another example, the plugin stores things in custom database tables. Now on expiration, what should happen with it? Delete it automatically? Leave it but you can not remove it anymore unless you buy the plugin?

I think
A) The developer creating such plugin is literally wasting time. Of course, if they feel like it, their problem.
B) We should probably not support that. Mention that trial ware is factually paid software and thus has to be added as such. Suggest to go with money back guarantee instead of a trail ware.

As you said as well, I have actually never seen a trial ware plugin, thus probably we are wasting our time producing a layer for this kind of software when we can just add a mention of it, to make clear that it is not allowed as such, and the possible solutions.

I did not think this through the first time I commented on the other thread - now reading all the comments above I pretty much stand corrected that it is a bad idea allowing it, also because we might encourage developers who never would have thought about it, to do trial ware.

Hi guys. From the point of view of a non-developer, but avid open-source software user, allowing trialware in the plugins directory is a bad idea. Trialware is synonymous with proprietary software, and people who are used to downloading plugins from the WP repo are expecting free software that they can use as much as they want, even if some of them are freemium and limited in functionality. Bring in some trialware and people may be dismayed, or even confused. Some might even say, “But I thought this is free software!”


Interesting discussion.

First, I must say I have never even come across a “trialware” plugin. I have seen them a lot in various other softwares that I am able to download, and I don’t mind them because (a) it gives me a chance to check out a product I am considering buying to see if it will do the job and (b) it might let me do a one-time job that I can take care of without having to pay for long-term usage.

But for a plugin? To me the usual way to check out a product is to install the freemium version. If you want extra functionality, or more support, or just feel like supporting the developer then you pay for premium.

Maybe not much help for this discussion, but personally if you said “No trialware” I don’t think it would be a problem.


I’m pretty much with @viktor throughout here. He’s bang on the money. If you knowingly sign-up for a trial and then don’t go through with the upgrade to premium later and the plugin no longer works, then that’s part of your agreement with the trial.

It’s a trial. It’s how trials work. That’s why they’re called “trials”.

Of course, an expired trial shouldn’t brick a site. That’s ridiculous. And if it’s ever discovered, then that plugin can be expunged from the directory. It also isn’t in anyone’s interest to brick a site. What a strange discussion.

How trialware can be unethical in-principle boggles my mind. Breaking a site because you didn’t upgrade is of course completely separate and one might argue unethical. But one does not infer the other.

Anyway, I don’t think I’ve ever seen the term “trialware” before this discussion. All it really is, is a premium plugin with a free trial period.

If the directory supports premium products, then it supports so-called “trialware”, by definition.


Since this is specifically allowed by the GPL, it’s inappropriate to use the term “shady” here… unethical, perhaps, but, they’re not doing anything outside the bounds of the license.