Share and Share Alike
by Susan Ives, Alamo PC

Many of the utility programs reviewed in this issue are shareware. Shareware is not a particular kind of program but rather a way of marketing software. You obtain a program for free, or for the cost of a disk. You try it to make sure you like it. If you decide to keep using it, you are morally obligated to register it by sending the author money.

 The most common way to obtain shareware is to download it from the Internet or a bulletin board. You can also buy shareware on disks for a modest price at shows such as Dog-n-Pony or ComputerBlast, or buy CD-ROM discs containing dozens or even hundreds of shareware programs from computer stores. You can share it with friends - get it?

 Shareware has a language of its own:

     
  • Freeware: Freeware is free, and does not require payment for registration. Oftentimes, freeware is an advertisement to introduce you to a shareware author's more robust products, or it might be offered out of the goodness of the author's heart. Most Internet plugins - such as the Adobe Acrobat Reader, ShockWave and RealAudio - are freeware. The companies make their money selling their developer programs to the content providers.

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  • Postcardware: Some software authors just get a kick out of knowing who is using their program, so they ask you to send them a postcard letting them know you're using it. No registration is required.

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  • Limited Edition (LE) Software: Often this comes bundled with your computer or another piece of hardware, such as a scanner. This is usually a scaled-down version of a much more powerful program. Some LE software can also be downloaded from the Internet. For example, Eudora Light is an LE version of Eudora Pro. 
  • Nag screen: Most shareware contains a "nag screen" or a reminder to register your program. Once the program is registered, the nag screen disappears.

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  • Evaluation copy: Most shareware is offered for a specified evaluation period. You can use the program for a certain number of days (15, 30 and 45 are common) after which you are supposed to register the program. Sometimes the program will stop working after the specified time period. In some cases it will continue to operate indefinitely, but you will be bombarded by nag screens. Other programs are only good for a specific number of uses - you can use the program 10,20 even 50 times, after which it will cease working until you register it.

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  • Registration key: After you send the author payment to register your shareware you may receive disks and a manual in the mail. More often, you will receive a registration key. This is either a password or a mini-program that you enter into your computer that tells the program that it is now registered. You will be provided with instructions on how to install the key to make the program fully operational. If you register your program over the Internet, the key will probably be e-mailed to you. If you register it by mail, the key will be mailed to you.

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  • Demo Copy: Demo copy is fairly synonymous with evaluation copy. Often, it is a limited time trial. Some shareware games will only give you a sample of the many scenarios that are available in the full version. Some demo copies are trial versions of software that you buy in a regular computer store rather than downloaded programs that you activate with a registration key.

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  • Crippleware: Some shareware is "crippled" to encourage you to register it. This means that an important part of the program won't be fully operational. One program I used with Windows 3.1, for example - FontSpecPro - would only allow me to catalogue ten fonts. This was enough to determine whether I liked the program - I registered it, and obtained disks in the mail that could handle an unlimited number of fonts. Some other forms of crippling shareware are disabling its ability to print or save, or printing one of the letters backwards.
Software developers use shareware because it is an effective, low cost way of marketing their products. By eliminating most of the middlemen and avoiding the high cost of packaging and advertising their programs, they can offer you a quality program much more cheaply than they could with more traditional store or dealer-based marketing methods. Shareware is also a way for new software authors to break into a tight market. Some shareware evolves into full-blown packaged products.

 If you can use shareware for free, why should you register it? First, it's the honorable thing to do. Second, you get some added benefits. You might get technical support, a manual, added features or discounted upgrades. Finally, this is a system that benefits all of us. When we pay shareware authors, they have the capital and inspiration to improve and develop programs. We get excellent products at low cost, plus the opportunity to test-drive before we pay for them. It's a win-win system, but only if we do our part by registering our shareware.

 You can download shareware from the Alamo PC BBS or the Internet. Some of the more popular are www.shareware.com and www.downloads.com (both hosted by C|net); www.jumbo.com; the Yahoo/ZDNet software library at headlines.yahoo.com/zddownload/software/; and PC World's Shareware Library at www.pcworld.com/software_lib/

For Internet-specific shareware, the best sites are Tucows (www.tucows.com) and Stroud's Consummate Winsock Applications List (cws.internet.com/).

 Much downloadable shareware is compressed, or zipped. To use it, you will need an unzipping program, such as WinZip, which can be downloaded from www.winzip.com. If you are new to shareware, this is the first program you should download.

 Once you get hip to shareware, there's no turning back. You can fish in the huge shareware pool, register the keepers and throw back the programs that don't meet your needs or expectations. And be sure to register your shareware - it's the right thing to do.

Susan Ives, Alamo PC president, webmaster and a noted cheapskate, uses only shareware to design and maintain the Alamo PC webpage.