Consider This . . . Shareware

For the seasoned web-surfer and computer-show junkies, the term "shareware" has been part of their vocabulary since the first programs were written by entrepreneurs eager to be the next Microsoft.

According to the Association of Shareware Professionals (ASP) at, "Shareware is a method of software distribution and marketing and not a type of program. In fact, try-before-you-buy software has been discovered by traditional 'shelfware' companies, and now, nearly every large software company provides some type of free trial version of their software. Some of those trial versions are shareware and some aren't. Shareware, traditionally, is software that is published by authors who want you to help with their word-of-mouth advertising. It's more than a free trial; it's a free trial that you can share with your friends. When you find a product that does what you need, you'll buy the full version, usually directly from the author, and nearly always find that if you need product support, you'll get a fast answer from a programmer who worked on the product and not some help-desk worker reading from a pre-programmed script."

A web search using the word "shareware" or "freeware" on the internet, using Google, MSN or AOL, will return nearly as many sites as the word "sex." Don't panic. Many of the search responses are promoting single applications and reading is required. Some sites have great front pages and explain the application superbly, but others can be properly evaluated only after you download and use the application briefly.

Most programs will be fully functional, but some will be limited to how many times you can access the program or are limited to days of use before you have to register or buy the program. In some instances, I have downloaded programs and chosen the fully free option. The only program feature that would change in my case, if I paid a small fee, was that the advertising information at the foot of the page could be removed at my option and I would be on a mailing list for free upgrades in the future. Neither option appealed to me---free was a better choice.

A very recent success story occurred when my Kiwanis Club agreed to buy a new computer and related software for the child care facility at the Annapolis Salvation Army. After a couple of hours of searching, downloading and testing four different daycare programs, I finally found a program at Total price was $40. To gain a perspective, similar daycare programs can cost $500 or more. This illustrates the kind of savings and functionality of some shareware offerings. By all measures this was a great shareware find.

Another significant feature to consider when searching is "open-source." The open-source feature will allow you to alter, customize or improve the original program. Linux software, the highly touted alternative to the Windows operating system, is a classic in that regard. Although you can buy Linux at many retail outlets, it is possible to download a free copy at and customize the software as thousands have done for several years.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention two of the most successful shareware programs downloaded to date, in my opinion: Adobe Acrobat 5.1 and the Microsoft Internet Explorer. I would refer you back to an earlier article that spoke at length about Adobe Acrobat Portable Document File (PDF). Both programs have become Internet standards.

Wait! Before you assume I have given you the magic key to all free software and before you become overwhelmed by the time involved in a desperate search, let me give you a few more guidelines to ease you into the process and keep you calm.

First, make sure that you have an up-to-date version of a good virus protection program on your computer. The two notables are Norton (Symantec) & Mcafee (Network Associates) products.

Next, make a list of the type of programs that you might be interested in and then visit one or all of the following sites at least once to see the programs and program groupings.

Pay attention to the download counts and the demographics that often appear on the opening pages. It's like going into a conventional retail store for one thing and finding many other items on sale that you did not expect.

The following sites should be visited. Start with the Small Business Administration site at There are hundreds of MAC and Windows business applications for starting, financing, managing, marketing and running your business. The CNET site at, Ziff Davis Publishing at www.zdnet. com/swlib, Tucows at and are organized similarly, but each has a unique inventory of programs. Their listings include thousands of applications for business, Internet, PDAs, games, screen savers and a large selection for the Linux operating system. CNET and Ziff Davis Publishing sites are also great sources for reviews of programs, products and prices.

These sites are quite representative of the thousands that inhabit the Internet, but they represent a sampling of the best of what you'll find when searching for credible and virus-free shareware.

This is a great thing to do when you are house-bound with 24 inches of snow on the ground, or watching the America's cup or listening to a Maryland basketball game. Have fun and let me know about your great find.

If you have comments or suggestions, or have an idea for a future computer or business topic, e-mail me at or

Jimmy R. Hammond, CPA, is a resident of Annapolis and a consultant to businesses in Annapolis, Baltimore and Washington D.C.


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