Free For All
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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Where To Get It
The best place to go for shareware is the mother of all sites: CNET's Shareware.com (www.shareware.com). Here, you can search a database of more than 250,000 shareware programs, organized by operating system. With a direct link to CNET's Download.com (www.download.com), 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! (www.jumbo.com), a site that's slightly more playful than Shareware.com 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 (www.zdnet.com/downloads/specials/free.html). 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.
- WinZip (www.winzip.com): There's a shareware program every computer user simply must have in his or her arsenal: WinZip. WinZip is available from any shareware site-not just the main Web site. WinZip is a file-compression tool used for zipping and unzipping files uploaded and downloaded to and from the Net. This utility decompresses virtually any zipped-up Internet file and makes it easy to organize your zipped files. This is typical shareware-it can be used free of charge for 21 days, after which you'll need to pay $29 (well worth it). Expect to spend four minutes downloading this effective little program.
- McAfee Clinic (www.mcafee.com): If you're planning to start downloading files and programs, it's definitely time for an antivirus program. McAfee is one of the leaders in fighting viruses. You can get a demo version of this powerful software for the small price of a lengthy download.
- RealPlayer (www.real.com): Real-Player has made a name for itself as the leading utility for playing Internet audio and video. RealPlayer 7 Basic is available for free, while RealPlayer 7 Plus will cost you $29.99 and promises to make your Web surfing come to life. Basic includes plenty of features to whet your appetite for multimedia, including access to Real.com's Take 5, a daily program guide to online entertainment, and links to more than 100 live radio shows.
- Adobe Acrobat Reader (www.adobe.com): We've all been to a Web site that requires this PDF file viewer. Adobe Acrobat lets users post large files to the Web to be downloaded and read by this fairly common program. The latest version of Acrobat Reader lets you view PDF files that contain Chinese, and other Asian font packs.
Some Cool Stuff
- X:drive Client (www.xdrive.com): This is a free program that works with X:drive, a free online storage service. With X:drive on your computer, you'll have complete and easy access to your online files as if they were sitting on your hard drive. That means wherever you are, you'll have access to your files-and, of course, you can also store large files that you don't want sitting on your hard drive. Using X:drive Client means you'll have to sign up for a free X:drive account to get your Internet hard drive (up to 100MB) up and running, but why wouldn't you? The download is short-only six minutes.
- CrushPop 2000 (http://megasolutions.hypermart.net/CRUSHPOP.HTM): This free program eliminates pop-up windows that can litter your desktop while on or off the Net. Parents and teachers will appreciate CrushPop's ability to control Internet browsing by blocking access to Web sites using keywords and URL addresses. Nothing is really free, however, and users will have to view the ads that pay for CrushPop's free distribution.
- Media123 (www.adams-blake.com): Adams Blake Publishing focuses on creating affordable, but effective, software programs for small businesses. Media123 is a 20,000-plus contact database of media professionals. Downloadable as a demo (good for 10 days), Media123 costs $129 and includes a media list for mailing your company's press releases.
- ICQ (www.icq.com): ICQ (I Seek You) is the ultimate instant-messenger: This program lets you communicate with friends and colleagues in real-time. This program (which has been purchased by AOL) is full of features, but the functionality remains the same: to chat and send instant messages, files and URLs. With ICQ, you can track other ICQ and AOL users. You can even take ICQ on the road with your Palm or Windows CE device.