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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?

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This story appears in the July 2000 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

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.

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