In your last column you mentioned a kind of software that you could "try before you buy." Is it any good, and if so, where can I get it?

Shareware is a marketing approach for software written by talented authors and programmers who do not have the resources to promote their products with full-page ads in leading computer magazines or on TV. Instead, they distribute their programs for free through online services or the Internet, on a "try before you buy" basis.

This allows users to evaluate the program for their needs as thoroughly as they wish. Then, if they intend to keep using it, they are on their honor to send the author a "registration fee," or, in essence, to buy it. Paying the registration fee can then entitle you to such niceties as a professionally printed user manual, instead of your having to print out your own from a text file included with the program; or it could entitle you to the next major upgrade or overhaul of the program for free. But the main thing it should do is to ease your conscience by doing the right thing and supporting the efforts of the authors who have risked allowing you to try their products for free.

There are many worthwhile shareware programs, as expertly written as any commercially-available programs, and covering just about any category or niche you can name. I use quite a few myself that I would be lost without, from little clocks that provide alarms and reminders in the title bar of my Windows programs, to compression and decompression utilities, to calendar creation and time management programs, to imaginative games and puzzles, to additional typefaces to dress up my documents, and on and on.

Due probably to low percentages of people actually sending in the requested registration fees, some shareware authors are refraining from distributing full versions of their programs as they did in the past, and are choosing instead to distribute scaled-down "demonstration" versions. Sometimes these demo versions include only some of the features of the full versions; or they may do everything the full versions do except allow you to save or print your work. So technically demo versions of shareware still fulfill their authors’ aim of letting you evaluate the program for your needs before you decide to buy it or not.

The most common source of shareware is online, either through commercial services like America Online or CompuServe, or directly from the Internet, which has a number of shareware libraries and collections. In both cases, the programs are categorized in many ways for easier access, both by computer platform (Windows, DOS, or Mac) and by type (business, games, graphics, communications, utilities, etc.) Some of the Internet sites feature searching capabilities that let you enter key words to identify the kind of program you’re looking for.

Sometimes a member of a user group will collect shareware programs from various sources, copy it to disks, and make it available at meetings for members without access to online services to test drive. There are also commercial services who do the same thing and charge a nominal fee for shareware programs on disks. You can find ads from these companies in the back pages of most computer magazines.

Regardless of how you get it, I recommend checking out shareware. You can find some wonderful and unusual programs at real bargains.

Here are some good shareware sources:
bullet ZDNet downloads
bullet Jumbo
bullet (The Ultimate Collection Of Windows Software)

K.O.P.C.Online home > table of contents > shareware