Classic Computer Magazine Archive COMPUTE! ISSUE 112 / SEPTEMBER 1989 / PAGE 36



David Stanton

Most of us can't afford to ignore cheap software. There are exceptions—people who don't own computers, people who have deep, deep pockets and people who can write their own programs. The rest of us though should keep our eyes fixed on one superb source of inexpensive software—shareware and public domain programs.

Shareware and public domain software have a tremendous advantage over commercial software—their cost. Public domain programs cost nothing because they aren't copyrighted, and shareware software sells for the price of a registration fee. By encouraging free distribution of their work. shareware and public domain programmers reduce packaging and marketing costs.

Make copies for your friends, your user group, your favorite electronic bulletin board. With few exceptions all this is not only legal but also aggressively encouraged.

Any way you look at it the result is a bonanza for consumers. Good or bad, public domain packages are a sure win because they're free. And shareware programmers do their best to deliver dependable products because they rely on satisfied customers for their income.

In exchange for payment, shareware users usually receive full documentation, information about future updates, and telephone or mail support. Some program authors will even customize their software by special request.

Furthermore, the shareware circle often has specialized, hard-to-find products. Many dedicated authors devote time to projects no traditional publisher would touch. Hard disk managers and virus-detection programs often fall into this category. Other popular examples include font creators,


In both quality and power, business-related shareware for MS-DOS stands out above the rest. Many of these programs compare favorably with their most successful commercial counterparts. As usual, high quality costs, so expect to pay more for MS-DOS shareware applications than for those created for other operating systems. In addition, Powerful PC-compatible software often takes patience to learn. Beginners should proceed cautiously, perhaps choosing simplicity over sophistication.

Consider word processing, for example. Quicksoft's PC-Write (registration fee: $89), is a professional-level program on a par with IBM's own DisplayWrite 3. PC. Write boasts a 50,000-word spelling checker, advanced mail merge, and extensive online help. As with its commercial cousin, PC-Write requires some getting used to, but you'll soon come to respect its versatility.

For beginners (and experienced writers who prefer simplicity to brute strength). It's tough to beat Galaxy ($59.95). Its pull-down menus are so intuitive that you'll be editing and printing documents within minutes. Galaxy works well in all but the most demanding situations.

Lotus 1-2-3 fans will appreciate. As Easy As ($40), a Lotus look-alike spreadsheet with most of the commercial program's features and functions. Since it can read and write worksheets in Lotus version 1A and 2 format. As Easy As has the added advantage of file compatibility with the industry standard.

Experienced spreadsheet users might want to preview QubeCalc ($70). This innovative program goes well beyond current standards by adding a third dimension to the typical spreadsheet environment. With 64 rows × 64 columns × 64 pages, its layout opens up possibilities that are just now becoming available in the most advanced commercial products.

Database-management systems have earned a reputation for complexity, but ease of learning separates Expressware's File Express version 4.0 (about $40) from the pack. Helpful menus and prompts make it easy to create files enter data, and generate reports. Each database file can hold as many as 16 million records, and every record can contain up to 120 fields of 250 characters each. File Express is an excellent database choice: the program's author even grants schools free use of the software.

In addition, the MS-DOS shareware world offers a wide selection of programs that improve upon the sometimes frustrating DOS environment. RPG Software Farm's Professional Master Key ($25) simplifies disk-management chores such as renaming deleting and undeleting files. Jim Hass's Hard Disk Menu III ($25) is a user-configurable menu-based DOS shell for intermediate and advanced users.

PC shareware doesn't ignore education either, but such software isn't its greatest strength. Preschoolers can study the alphabet, numbers, and shapes with Amy's First Primer ($15). When they reach high school students might want to try Professor Weissman's Algebrux ($25). For studying the PC itself. Public Brand Software recommends a PC tutorial called Tutor.Com ($15). It introduces noviees to keyboard layouts, common DOS commands, subdirectories and more.

Apple II—Looking Laid Back

Generally speaking Apple II shareware costs less and is not as sophisticated as the best PC programs. The Apple shareware and public domain community seems more relaxed more congenial. Don't expect to find an Apple Works look-alike or an avantgarde spreadsheet or database. Do, however expect to encounter many well-designed programs of all types—applications utilities games and educational offerings.

Although strong business software isn't abundant there are two noteworthy word processors. Zipscript II ($10) is a DOS 3.3 text editor that runs on everything from the base-model Apple II + to the Apple IIGS. Another popular though dated favorite is FreeWriter (free) a ProDOS-based word processor written by the author of Apple Writer II.

If you're interested in telecommunications, find a copy of Warp 6 (free). It's all the software you need to start your own small bulletin board system. Because of the program's local mode beginners can gain online experience without even buying a modem. An Apple II and Warp 6 are all it takes for you to create a completely functional BBS simulation at home.

Ten Shareable Favorites

Ask sysops, users-group librarians, and distributors to list their favorite shareware or public domain programs and they'll inevitably respond with caution. "No one can say what's best," chides one. "Each person has to look around and decide for himself."

Certainly no one could test everything available. Nor could any single individual anticipate the needs and preferences of others. Press them hard enough, though, and the experts will talk. When they do, these are a few programs they'll mention:

  • Krakout. One of the most popular games for the Commodore 64.
  • CommTerm 3. An easy-to-use Commodore 64 terminal program.
  • Story Writer. A Commodore 64 writing program for children.
  • Copy All. A slow but dependable Commodore 64 disk-copying utility.
  • Monopoly II (shareware: $10). A very enjoyable MS-DOS version of the popular board game (also called Monopoly version 6.2).
  • Sidewriter (shareware: $15), An MS-DOS utility that prints spreadsheets sideways.
  • Are You Ready for Calculus? A PC-based precalculus tutorial available from Public Brand Software.
  • JoliWrite (shareware: $20). A handy word processing desk accessory from Paris, France (Macintosh).
  • Space Shuttle. An AppleWorks database that includes information about all but the most recent shuttle flights (available on AppleLink).
  • JumpStart (shareware: $20). A versatile program launcher for the Apple lies. For managing hard disks, it's better than the Finder.

If you want Print Shop graphics or Apple Works templates, you'll find plenty. Unique fonts and new and classic desk accessories for the IIGS are also readily available.

Some of the newest and most impressive programs run only on the Apple IIGS. The GS/OS environment and Apple's human-interface guidelines encourage programmers to use menu bars, windows dialog boxes and mouse input. Consequently even the simplest shareware and public domain products look professional. Several such programs are available on national telecommunications services and from mail-order distributors.

Free Term GS a freeware terminal emulator, works with the Apple IIGS modern port and a Hayes-compatible external modem. It supports mouse control, autodialing text capture and XMODEM transfers. Although it doesn't have some of the advanced capabilities available elsewhere. FreeTerm GS is perfect for most telecommunications tasks.

With CheapPaint version 1.3 ($10) would-be artists can doodle for hours. This version requires 768K of RAM. It switches between two paintings in memory and displays as many as 256 colors simultaneously. Many features included in the best commercial paint programs are also available in CheapPaint—Cut. Copy. Horizontal Flip, Invert, Paste, color printing and more.

There's so much outstanding business software for the Macintosh that we hardly dare mention Bird Race (public domain), a comical variation on the horse-race theme. The programmer calls it curseware. If you don't give copies to your friends, you'll be cursed. Its charm comes largely from Macln Talk, another public domain program that teaches the Mac to speak. "Hey, there! Why don't you race?" the program's track master encourages. "A photo finish!" he exudes after close contests. "Why don't you raise your bet?" he randomly cajoles. Useful? Probably not Fun? Absolutely.

Commodore 64/128—Going Public

Commodore people are helpful, generous, and loyal to their computer family. In their Commodore 64s and 128s, they have good machines and they're anxious to gain converts. Maybe that explains why most user-distributed software for the Commodore is still public domain rather than shareware.

On one hand, this means you can get some very good utilities games, and educational programs absolutely free. On the other hand, the fact that public domain software may be legally modified and renamed leads to confusion. "Many enhancements are added to existing programs and there is no uniformity with respect to numbering subsequent versions." explains Alexander Priest, newsletter editor for the Bronx-64 Users Group. This adds a certain element of potluck to the Commodore game.

"We have not found a topnotch word processor for the 64 or 128 in the public domain or shareware field," admits Robert Cust of Lightspeed Software. Occasionally, he uses Quick Script. Q-Link currently offers Writerswkship. SDA, a word processing program many people have found useful.

Commodore bulletin boards often use Ed Parry's EBBS 64 and EBBS 128 ($60). The programs can be configured to handle most hardware arrangements, and they support transmission rates up to 2400 bps. They offer plenty of versatility for sysops to personalize their boards and perform the usual file-maintenance duties.

Dependable Sources of Public Domain and Shareware


PC-SIG claims to be the world's largest distributor of low-cost software for the IBM PC and compatibles. PC-SIG's shareware library includes more than 1000 disks. Like many distributors, PC-SIG charges a $20 annual membership fee. Members receive a year's subscription to Shareware Magazine, special discounts on software, and initial technical support for all disks purchased.

1030 E. Duane Ave.

Suite D

Sunnyvale, CA 94086

(800) 245-6717

Public Brand Software

Public Brand Software, another popular PC shareware source, requires no membership fees. Call and request its free catalog. It's loaded with good suggestions. Furthermore, it includes complete descriptions and objective rankings of each entry,

P.O. Box 51315

Indianapolis, IN 46251

(800) 426-3475

Public Domain Exchange

For 8-bit Apple II's, Apple IIGS's, and Macintoshes, try the Public Domain Exchange. They charge a $20 membership fee, but with it you get a thick, descriptive catalog and special discounts.

2074C Walsh Ave,

Dept. 644

Santa Clara, CA 95050

(408) 496-0624

Bronx-64 Users Group

The Bronx-64 Users Group is just one of many Commodore-authorized organizations that accepts both local and national members. The club publishes a monthly newsletter, runs its own BBS, and maintains a disk library. Except for an annual $25 membership fee, access to all services is free. For public domain software, just send them a disk and a prepaid mailer. They'll send it back with the programs of your choice—no charge.

P.O.Box 523

Bronx, New York 10475

Classified Ads

Several smaller companies distribute shareware at very competitive prices, sometimes for as little as $1.50 per disk. Although they cannot always offer extensive personal assistance, they do provide courteous and efficient service for those who know what they want. Check the ads and classifieds in COMPUTE! (or nearly any other computer magazine) for more listings. Some small companies are listed below.

California Freeware

1488 Springline Dr.

Palmdale, CA 93550

(805) 273-0300

Caloke Industries

Public Domain Software

P.O. Box 18477

Kansas City, MO 64133

Disks O'Plenty

7958 Pines Blvd.

Suite 270

Pembroke Pines, FL 33024

Lightspeed Software

P.O. Box 340427

Tampa, FL 33694-0427


P.O. Box 6429

Lake Charles, LA 70606

(800) 356-2697

Several games are making the rounds on the network forums. Desert is a classic text adventure listed on CompuServe's CBMART game forum. When your car leaves you stranded in the desert, your problems have just begun. Getting out will take all the adventuring skill you can muster.

Another popular game on CompuServe is Wheel of Fortune. Graphics, sound, and color add interest to this classic. Since its first posting over a year ago, satisfied fans have uploaded word lists related to biology, math, states, 1987 trivia, and North American wildlife.

Start Looking for Shareware

No other source can match the national information services—like CompuServe. The Source, GEnie, and the Quantum group of computer-specific networks (Q-Link, PC-Link, and AppleLink)—for locating shareware and public domain software. If you want the latest and best versions, you can have them up and running within minutes.

As a bonus, downloading over telephone lines provides a mystique that the United States Post Office just can't deliver. Dedicated telecomputists enjoy acquiring programs—downloading, decompressing, and testing—almost as much as they like owning them. Unfortunately, online charges mount quickly.

No matter. Check out the bulletin boards within your local calling area—they usually post several public domain and shareware files. Selection may be limited, but the price is always right.

If you don't telecommunicate, ask a local computer hardware or software dealer about user groups in the area. Such organizations maintain well-stocked libraries for their members. Expect to pay a copying fee between $1 and $6 per disk, but free advice and sound recommendations make the total package well worth the cost.

Commercial distributors provide another alternative. Reputable firms charge only a nominal fee for copying and handling (none of which, incidentally, goes toward payment of shareware registeration fees), but this is often the easiest way to get started. Many such distributors have toll-free numbers and accept credit-card orders. Your order will usually arrive within a week.

If you don't collect shareware and public domain software, you're missing much of the fun of computing. What's important is not where you start looking, but that you start.