BitDepth 463 - March 08

Why the try-before-you-buy business model has become such a popular and sensible way to distribute computer software.
Hey, try some of this is an excellent source of shareware and freeware. It's a hard habit to kick, though.

You're a good person at heart. You don't want to steal the hard work of others or risk the wrath of your IT department or irritate the roving teams of copyright enforcing policemen who will break down your door and scan your hard drive for illegal software.
The Catch-22 in all this is that you also don't want to spend thousands of dollars on software to find out if it's something you want to work with.
Nobody's really running around scared about the software police, and most computer users seem to think that software on a computer is an entitlement, not an option. At the other extreme, you should be able to choose the software that feels right for your work without having to buy it first.

If you really want to try software before buying it, the software industry has learned a lot from the authors of shareware, the tiny code warriors who operate on its fringes of the software industry and supply their work on a "try before you buy" basis.
Not long ago, the only way to use big ticket software like Photoshop was to buy it or steal it, but things have changed a lot and many expensive software packages are now available in trialware and special "student" editions.
It's possible to visit Adobe's website, for instance, and download a copy of Photoshop or Photoshop Elements, the new consumer version of its flagship product that will run on your computer for up to 30 days. If I'd had an option like that before I bought MYOB, small business software I invested in back in 1996, it would have been clear to me that it was pitched to a user with financial capabilities well beyond my own.

The concept of shareware can be credited with some of this change. Software authors selling their product directly into the marketplace couldn't afford advertising and promotional material to explain how it worked, so they did the next best thing; they offered their software on the Internet for free.
By coding it so that its use was limited by time or by features, they attached a string to it so that they could pull customers in if they tried the products and liked them.
The first commercial class software to succeed using the shareware model was the original first-person shooter, Wolfenstein 3D, which racked up enough sales to fund the future development work of ID software. To this day, ID still releases demos of its games, including the monolithic Doom 3, released late last year.

An emphasis on making software available on trial reflects a reversal of fortune for the bits of the computer business, an industry that spent most of the last five years luring consumers with hardware and throwing in software to sweeten the deal.
The inevitable slowing of hardware sales after years of urging consumers on with the latest and greatest tech carrots and the general commoditization of computers, it seems that the industry has begun entertaining the notion that people might actually want to do something with all those boxes they bought.
Way back when, in the misty dawn of the computer era, software was the point and hardware was the vehicle. Magazines were sold that featured page after page of raw code that the earliest geeks would dutifully type in to get their computers to do something useful.
For those folks computers were a means to an end, with a renewed focus on software, maybe that time's coming round again.

Where do I find it?
One of the best places to find interesting new software is, which compiles valuable commentary on current releases of shareware as well as updates to commercial software. was once a benchmark site for software, but a busy interface and the tunnelling you have to do to find what you're looking makes finding software more like work.
Many magazines now offer editions with bundled CDs. If downloading big files off the Internet is daunting for you, these CDs will often include valuable software updates as well as new software you might find useful.

Whether you search on the Internet or through CD compilations, you'll find software that's described as different kind of "wares". Trialware or demoware is full commercial software that will only function for a limited time. Some demoware can be turned into the commercial edition once you pay for it but most commercial products will come on a CD and some may require you to remove the demo version before you install the full version.

Shareware is distributed freely and paid for rarely. Much of it is designed to do one thing exceedingly well and if you need that thing done, the price will usually be right, since most shareware sells for between US$5 and $25. Some variations on shareware invite you to donate to charity in the author's name or hoist a pint at the local bar.
Freeware is exactly what it sounds like. Free stuff, often distributed with the software's source code. Most authors hold on to their rights even when they allow everyone to use their work for free.
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