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There's no such thing as a free lunch, but how about free software? If two developers have their way, you're about to see a lot more of it for the Mac. But you'll see a lot more advertising on your desktop, too.

Conducent (703/326-9840, www.conducent.com ), which created a method of desktop ad distribution back in 1996, has seen its technology embedded in about 500 Windows-based products. Conducent now has a partnership with Aladdin Systems (831/761-6200, www.aladdinsys.com ) to make a product that lets Mac developers do the same thing.

But if the thought of commercial jingles scrolling across the Mac makes you want to ditch your G4, you needn't get too worked up: ad-supported software will exist only as an alternative to for-pay versions, the companies say.

Qualcomm has offered an ad-supported version of its Eudora e-mail software for more than a year. Close to a third of Eudora's 1.5 million users see what Bill Ganon, vice president of sales and marketing for Eudora, calls "sponsor mode," which features a 1.5-inch ad box that disappears when you call up another application. About 90 percent of the users who download Eudora in sponsor mode keep it that way, Ganon says.

Given the expense of buying a computer and the necessary peripherals, it makes sense to save money on software if you can. And if this trend continues, who knows? Maybe someday there will be a free lunch.

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