Consider This . . .
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)
"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
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 www.xtremeblue.com/Daycare.htm.
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 www.redhat.com/apps/download
and customize the software as thousands have done for several
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
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 www.sba.gov/starting/indexshareware.html.
There are hundreds of MAC and Windows business applications for
starting, financing, managing, marketing and running your business.
The CNET site at www.download.com,
Ziff Davis Publishing at www.zdnet.
com/swlib, Tucows at www.tucows.com
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
Jimmy R. Hammond, CPA, is a resident of Annapolis and a consultant to businesses in Annapolis, Baltimore and Washington D.C.