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Disasterware
Freeware And Shareware

Bill Klutz does consulting work, primarily in the areas of Management and Computer Applications/Hardware/Software. 


If you use a program, you probably love it. Freeware (software you download and keep for free) and Shareware (software you try for free and keep for a fee) programs make PCs considerably more useful. They also make for some happy users. Without them, PCs would be more expensive to operate. And most of these programs are every bit as solid and reliable as their store-bought, shrink-wrapped counterparts.

But, some free or low-cost software available online, and elsewhere, suffers from design deficiencies that make it difficult to install or uninstall. The software may also cause problems with operating systems. Other free or low-cost software downloads may come packed with adware that bombards you with marketing pitches. For some users, this bargain stuff carries too high a price and often is simply called Disasterware.

Perhaps because of the recent economic downturn, freeware and shareware appear to be growing in popularity. Web Sense, an Internet management software service, reports that the number of shareware download sites rose an astounding 525+ percent (from about 780 to 4900 sites) from February 2001 to February 2002. Also, a recent informal survey of site visitors at a major computer magazine’s Web site revealed that of the more than 1400 respondents, over one-third had tried out 5 to 10 downloads in the previous 12 months. Another third had tried more than 15. The most popular category of downloads was System Utilities, as cited by nearly 60 percent of those surveyed.

Half of all respondents said that at least some downloads had caused system crashes, driver overwrites, and other significant PC problems. Half of all respondents also cited problems with uninstalls.

Despite such headaches, a majority of respondents said that when they factored in cost, ease of use, and quality, freeware and shareware still turned out to be either "about as good" as or "a better deal" than software available from major manufacturers, especially for users on a budget. One respondent put it this way when discussing the attractions of freeware: "Free is free; if it works, it works." 

Worse yet, if your work PC is on a corporate (or home) computer network, your system's Freeware or Shareware software problem can quickly escalate to epic proportions. This could block all user software downloads or even use of the system.

Adware, delivered by Radiate's GoZilla download manager and, at one time, dozens of other shareware applications has been known to cause severe crashes with several versions of Internet Explorer. A subset of adware, often termed spyware, transmits system and Web browsing data to advertisers via the PC's Internet connection, sometimes without knowledge to the person using the PC. These programs not only sometimes cause crashes, but also tie up network bandwidth, and can compromise system security.

One example of software doing the unexpected: several companies have recently acknowledged that their software, when activated, enables their company to use customers' PCs in a distributed computing network. Most have not asked permission first, but have owned up to the truth when caught. Most simply included it in a revised version of the terms of service agreement, which indicates that the user of the software authorize the company to use your PC in this way for free. Even if its activities are mentioned in the license agreement, spyware can take users by surprise when it sends, or tries to send, information back to the software's vendor.

Finding exactly the right piece of software online, that does just what you need it to do either for free or at a price you can easily afford, can be exciting and exemplifies the best of the Internet. But stumbling on a program that causes system problems or that shares your personal information with somebody else can make you think you have obtained “Disasterware.” It can make wish you'd never heard the words “Freeware” or ‘Shareware.”


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