From the July 1999 issue of Entrepreneur

Big brands dominate today's software market, making it terribly difficult for newcomers to gain a foothold. But a new breed of coder is winning users over by simply giving programs away--and that's where you stand to benefit. Freewareis neither crazy business thinking nor inadequate software that couldn't find buyers. Some freeware is excellent--and it will get the job done without costing you a penny.

Surf over to FerretSoft (http://www.ferretsoft.com), and take your pick from eight gems that make hunting for information on the Internet faster and more efficient. Top titles include EmailFerretPRO, which prowls various e-mail databases for addresses you want; PhoneFerretPRO, which does the same for phone numbers; InfoFerretPRO, which allows you to search for news from CNN, Time and more with just one click; and WebFerretPRO, which hunts in multiple search engines simultaneously for the information you want.

Or you can head to Conducent (http://www.conducent.com), for such goodies as Reuter Personal Stock Monitor for tracking ticker movements; Vulcan FinanceCalc97, which allows you to use 14 high-powered financial calculators; and Debt Relief, which helps you create a debt-elimination plan.

And don't miss Alexa (http://www.alexa.com), a plug-in that works with both Netscape Navigator and Microsoft Internet Explorer. It allows users to navigate the Web a bit faster, but more important, it offers "Site Stats," one-click information on how much traffic a site gets and how fast its servers are. Download it, then check out your competitor's sites--and your own. It even lets Alexa users vote on a site's value; those numbers will be yours to see with the download.


To contact Robert McGarvey, e-mail him at rjm@mcgarvey.net.

Second Coming

Welcome to the new CompuServe??? from AOL.

Once the leading online service, CompuServe hit a wall a few years ago--it just couldn't keep pace with the energy and creativity of AOL. In fact, CompuServe nearly plunged into extinction until AOL bought what remained of the service in 1997. And now AOL has debuted CompuServe 2000, a far more user-friendly edition that combines the business-oriented content of the old CompuServe with an interface and tools that can only be described as AOL 4.0 in disguise. And that's to the good. CompuServe's interface used to be ugly and intimidating, but AOL 4.0 is about as slick as an online interface gets--so the service now has a first-rate look and high ease of use.

Should you give CompuServe 2000 a spin? Sure, if you're seeking business-oriented content that comes with hundreds of forums (message boards plus file libraries) designed to serve everybody from journalists to sales and marketing professionals. CompuServe 2000 also lets users set up five screen names on a single account and offers instant messaging. Another plus is that CompuServe 2000 runs on AOL's network of fast 56K modems and offers access numbers just about everywhere. At $9.95 for 20 hours monthly ($19.95 for unlimited use), CompuServe 2000 is worth investigating. Get the starter disk (including 100 free hours) at http://www.compuserve.com/trycsrv/cs2000/default.asp.

Bait and Switch

Sneaky Web tricks get the ax

An "anything goes" mentality characterized the Web during its initial growth spurt, but now that it's an established medium, judges are starting to lay down the law. An April ruling by the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals outlawed a kind of trademark infringement made possible by the Web's architecture. It worked like this: When creating a site, a company could put in the names of much bigger competitors but do so in meta-tags, code that is read by search engines but remains invisible to casual viewers. When surfers looked for a big company, search engines would pull up the little company's site, too.

But don't try this at home. The court's ruling bans the use of rivals' trademarks to lure traffic to a site because, according to the court, the practice breeds confusion among consumers. For now, the ruling is binding only in the court's turf--California and eight other western states--but judicial experts say they expect other appellate courts to adopt similar rulings soon.

The warning for Web designers is clear: Revise any meta-tags in use on your site to eliminate fraudulent, confusing misuse of competitors' trademarks.