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Free For All

The Internet has made shareware the computer enthusiast's hottest commodity. Don't you think it's time to cash in on these near-free utilities?
July 1, 2000

If you've ever wondered whether there was a software program out there to help you come to grips with a specific computer dilemma, chances are you need look no further than the Web. There you'll find countless shareware programs just waiting to be downloaded -all for free (or nearly free).

Downloadable software comes in two flavors: "shareware," which is sold on the honor system and requires you to send a check to the creator if you use it; and "freeware," which, as the name implies, provides a program that you can use without charge. There is a third type of downloadable software also available. Termed "demoware," these are downloadable demos of commercial software that you can use to "test" a program's basic functionality. Typically, these programs omit key features and disable after a time.
It's not recommended that you use shareware to outfit your entire computer-although it's likely you'll be able to find almost everything you need in shareware form. Shareware is often a great adjunct to the programs you use on a daily basis. Additionally, share-ware often gives your computer functionality you never knew it could have. Because a shareware application is typically developed by a dedicated software designer with a strong personal vision, you'll find utilities that supplement your current suite of programs in ways you've never imagined.

Cassandra Cavanah is a computer journalist with an entrepreneurial focus who's made a homebased career of writing and consulting on tech-related issues. She can be reached at

Where To Get It

The best place to go for shareware is the mother of all sites: CNET's ( Here, you can search a database of more than 250,000 shareware programs, organized by operating system. With a direct link to CNET's (, this site lets you view the most downloaded shareware programs and is well-organized, and includes numerous headings to let you home in on your interests, including "Business and Finance," "Desktop enhancements," "Games," "Internet," "Most Popular," "New Releases" and more. Another starting point on your shareware quest is Jumbo! (, a site that's slightly more playful than and has an emphasis on recreational downloads, including games, music files, screensavers and the like. You'll also want to check out ZDNet's shareware site ( This site makes it easy to locate some of the top freebies and includes reviews of category leaders.

Of course, downloading applications from the Net can be time-consuming, especially if you're doing it on a standard modem line. You'll want to make sure the time spent is worth it.

So what are some of the hottest downloads on the Web right now? Read on for where to find them, how much they'll cost and, most important, how they'll improve the way you compute. And remember: This is just a taste of what's out there. We highly recommend perusing the shareware sites to get a feel for all the useful applications available.


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