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How to do shareware right

technofile  by al fasoldt

Columns and commentaries in a life-long dance with technology
 

Simple gray rule


How to do shareware right
 

Bit Player for June 29, 1997

By Al Fasoldt

Copyright © 1997, The Syracuse Newspapers

Shareware has been around longer than you might think.

Jim Knopf, who calls himself, with good authority, the "Father of Shareware," says the concept came to life around since 1982. The difference between now and then is spelled in one word: Internet. Where shareware was once known only to geeks, it's now a household name. Businesses even turn to shareware to save thousands of dollars a year.

Shareware is software you try before you buy. The idea is simple—you download something, install it, run it for a while, then decide whether you want to keep it. If you keep it, you pay for it. Otherwise, you send it to the trash.

But the execution is another story. Shareware seems to come in five main flavors:

  • Fully enabled shareware, for which the author asks politely for payment.

This is the please-think-about-buying-me flavor of shareware. Minor programs often fit into this category. (The authors probably don't expect many users to pay, anyway.)

  • Partially disabled shareware that works acceptably even without payment.

The features that are disabled are sometimes so trivial you wouldn't miss them or so specialized you wouldn't care. Once you send the money, you either receive a fully enabled version or you get a software "key" that unlocks the features of the version you already have.

  • Time-bombed software that has most or all its functions enabled.

The software stops working after a certain number of many days or a specified number of uses. Some time-bombed software just stops working without warning—Microsoft's own trialware is infamous for this—but most programs of this kind give you plenty of warning. You get the non-bombing version when you pay. (The prominent exceptions come from—who else?—Microsoft, which issued time-bombed software without releasing enabled versions after the bombs went off. Microsoft's installation programs even let you install software that was disabled; you discovered how much time you'd just wasted only after running the program for the first time and seeing a notice that it had already expired.)

  • Pure nagware.

This displays reminders to pay up so often that you are likely to delete the program just to get it out of your hair. Nag screens, which force you to click your way through reminders, are not uncommon among other types of shareware, but they are particularly nasty in nagware.

  • Crippleware.

Software of this kind has been so severely disabled that it cannot perform some of the basic functions required of most programs (such as saving files). Crippleware can also be nagware, of course.

Ideally, all shareware would fit into the first category. All shareware authors would trust all users, who would, in turn, be so honest that using a program more than three times would trigger an automatic check-writing impulse in the central nervous system. Shareware authors would make a lot of money, which would encourage more programmers to release their work as shareware, which would give all of us more choices when we're hunting for just the right program, and … blah, blah. (I've got a bridge to sell you, too.)

Since this approach won't work most of the time, we're stuck with trialware, nagware and time bombs in most of the shareware we download. I'm a strong believer in paying for shareware, but I also believe you should not have to put up with unnecessary annoyances.

A few weeks ago I mentioned RTV Reco, a Windows 95 utility program that clicks buttons in nagware windows for you. (Pick up RTV from http://www.clearlight.com/~rtvsoft/files.htm.)

I don't usually have any active nagware programs—I buy them or delete them—so the two main functions RTV serves on my system is to press a redial button and to click "OK" when I save a shortcut to my desktop in Internet Explorer. (The browser knows I wanted to save a shortcut, yet it insists on displaying a dialog box each time I do it. This is poor programming, to say the least.)

My other weapon in the fight against nagware is Nonags, a Web site that stores a large collection of non-nagging Windows software. Nonags has mirror sites in this country and abroad, and sometimes distant sites are easier to get to than close ones. But try the closest one first. It's just down the road from Syracuse, at http://www.skaneateles.com/nonags/main.html.


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