The metaphor implies that the creators showed little care for the quality of the original software, as if the new compilation or version had been created by indiscriminately adding titles "by the shovel" in the same way someone would shovel bulk material into a pile. The term "shovelware" is coined by semantic analogy to phrases like shareware and freeware, which describe methods of software distribution. It first appeared in the early 1990s when large amounts of public domain, open source and shareware demos and programs were copied onto CD-ROMs and advertised in magazines or sold at computer flea markets.
|“||Old and/or weak programs shoveled onto a CD to turn a quick buck.||”|
|— Computer Gaming World defines "shovelware", 1994|
Computer Gaming World wrote in 1990 that for "those who do not wish to wait for" software that used the new CD-ROM format, The Software Toolworks and Access Software planned to release "game packs of several classic titles". By 1993 the magazine referred to software repackaged on CD-ROM as "shovelware," describing one collection from Access as having a "rather dusty menu" and another from The Software Toolworks ("the reigning king of software repackaging efforts") as including games that were "mostly mediocre even in their prime"; the one exception, Chessmaster 2000, used "stunning CGA graphics". In 1994 the magazine described shovelware as “old and/or weak programs shoveled onto a CD to turn a quick buck”. 
Although poor-quality collections existed at least as far back as the BBS era, the term "shovelware" became commonly used in the early 1990s to describe CD-ROMs with collections of shareware or public domain software. The capacity of CD-ROM was 450–700 times that of the floppy disk, and 10-30 times larger than the hard disks commonly fitted to personal computers. This outsized capacity meant that very few users would install the disc's entire contents, encouraging producers to fill them by including as much existing content as possible, often without regard to the quality of the material. Advertising the number of titles on the disc often took precedence over the quality of the content. Software reviewers, displeased with huge collections of inconsistent quality, dubbed this practice "shovelware". Some CD-ROM computer games had moderately sized games that did not fill the disc, which enabled the manufacturer to bundle demo versions of their other products on the same disc.
The prevalence of shovelware has decreased due to the practice of downloading individual programs from a crowdsourced or curated app store becoming the predominant mode of software distribution. It continues in some cases with bundled or pre-installed software, where many extra programs of dubious quality and usefulness are included with a piece of hardware.
Shovelware video games
Low-budget, poor-quality games, released in the hopes of being purchased by unsuspecting customers, are often referred to as "shovelware". This can lead to discoverability issues when a platform has no quality control. Several well-known examples were released for the Wii, including ports of PlayStation 2 games which had previously only been released in Europe made by Data Design Interactive.
- "Definition of: Shovelware". PC Magazine Encyclopedia. PC Magazine. Retrieved 21 July 2014.
- "The Shiny New Face Of Shareware". Best of the Rest. Computer Gaming World. January 1994. pp. 128, 130.
- "The Maturation of Computer Entertainment: Warming The Global Village". Computer Gaming World. 1990-07-08. p. 11. Retrieved 16 November 2013.
- "Forging Ahead or Fit to be Smashed?". Computer Gaming World. No. 105. April 1993. p. 24. Retrieved 6 July 2014.
- Kohler, Chris (2008-03-05). "Opinion: Why Wii Shovelware Is a Good Thing". Wired. Retrieved 7 July 2014.