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Friday, February 15, 2008

What is Shareware & Freeware - Understanding Different Types of Software

There is a huge variety of software available to run on personal computers, from business applications, to games, to screensavers.

Most people are aware of commercial software — software you buy in a box at a store — but many internet users have also heard of shareware and freeware programs.

Freeware, as the name implies, is software you can use for free. It can usually be copied to anyone as long as it’s not changed.

More common is shareware: software that you can also copy freely, but which comes with a trial period after which you are supposed to either pay for it or stop using it.

Some shareware programs will allow only limited features during the trial period to give you a taste of what you can get for the full price, others give you all features but you must wait through a time-delayed message asking you to register. Many of the full-featured shareware programs stop working if you keep trying to use them afer the trial period.

Commercial software tends to be written by a group of professionals with a lot of testing done before release to ensure quality and compatibility. Shareware and freeware, on the other hand, often tends to be written by one or two people in their spare time to make some extra money, to practice their software writing skills, or even as a way to show their skills off to get a job.

Because of these factors, there is a large difference in quality from one program to another, which sometimes means they can cause problems on your system if your download and install them, especially screensavers and programs that are always running in the background.

Downloading, as you may know, is the process of copying a file from a different computer to yours over a network.

It is always important to scan any software you download for viruses — some copies of legitimate programs can be infected by viruses, and creators of viruses sometimes disguise their malicious programs as useful ones.

You also should scan programs to make sure they aren't adware or spyware. If you're not aware of adware and spyware programs, they are malicious programs which can cause problems as serious as viruses and worms. I suggest you read my article on adware and spyware which is elsewhere on this site.

There are, however, some very high quality programs available for download. These include, among many many others, WinZip, Stuffit Expander, GraphicConverter, Apple's iTunes (which runs on both Macs and PCs) and Ad-Aware (a spyware & adware removal tool).

If you're looking for software to download, you can find different programs, rated by other computer users on Shareware.com and Versiontracker.com, and other sites. �

For help on downloading and installing programs, plus tips on avoiding installing risky software, take a look at my basic computer lesson CDs for Windows and Mac.

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