Shareware-those superfluous games, novelties, and interface enhancers that clutter your hard drive and distract you from your work. If you've ever had a coworker who thought it was a hoot to play round after round of Jared-that little smiley face that sings off-key Guatemalan folk songs-you know that no good can ever come of shareware. There's no telling where this stuff comes from and how much testing it went through before its release. If you have clients who rely on you to provide professional service on a tight deadline, the last thing you need is shareware . . . right? Wrong.
If you're on a tight budget, you can save a lot of money by choosing shareware and freeware over giant commercial software packages. But even if price is no object, shareware can be an excellent complement to the tools you already have.
Not every graphics chore requires Adobe Photoshop; even if you're a Photoshop pro, you may find that you can perform many image-editing tasks more efficiently using shareware.
Let's say you need to convert 500 images from some graphics format you've never heard of into GIF and then reduce them all by 25 percent, run a "sharpen edges" filter on them, and combine them all into a slide show. You could load up Photoshop, Equilibrium's DeBabelizer, and Microsoft PowerPoint to get the job done, or you could save yourself some RAM and time by launching Thorsten Lemke's nimble $35 GraphicConverter. This Rosetta stone of graphics utilities can batch-convert to and from almost any image format, offers a wide range of image-editing options, and can organize your images into a slide-show presentation.
If you create graphics for use on the Web, some new commercial applications-notably Macromedia's FireWorks and Adobe's ImageReady-can make the job much easier. But for many people, nothing beats Yves Piguet's free GifBuilder, the original GIF-animation tool. Simply create the cels in your favorite image-editing program-GraphicConverter, perhaps-and then use GifBuilder to assemble them. Its drag-and-drop interface and simple transition effects are pleasant enough, but the program's price (or lack thereof) is the nicest touch of all.
If your Windows-using friends are in the habit of sending you sound files they've downloaded or recorded on their PCs, you can hear them on your Mac-just get Norman Franke's free SoundApp and listen to your friends' desperate pleas for a real operating system. This mother of all sound utilities can translate files from just about any sound format into something your Mac can play, which makes the utility ideal for prepping sound files for the Web or a multimedia presentation. Although SoundApp doesn't offer as many special effects as its commercial cousins, its abilities are quite impressive-and it's free.
If you use your Mac to make music, you'll want to try FreeMIDI, from Mark of the Unicorn. This complete MIDI operating system offers an intuitive interface, recognizes more than 200 MIDI devices, and provides a pop-up list of 100 popular MIDI synthesizers.
Sure, shareware can help you generate and edit content such as images and sounds. But several shareware programs have an even more practical bent, helping you work more efficiently and get yourself organized.
Automate Your Life
If you send out tons of e-mail every day or have to key countless entries into a database or word processor, you need an application that automates the process. Riccardo Ettore's $27 TypeIt4Me, for example, can save you time by autocompleting frequently used text strings (such as your name and address) whenever you type a simple abbreviation.
If it's task automation you're looking for-word processing or otherwise-check out Binary Software's KeyQuencer Lite. For just $20, this powerful macro engine can perform complex tasks such as opening a document, merging text into it, editing the text via menu commands, and then e-mailing the finished product to a mailing list at the touch of a button.
Get It Together
Even if you use all this shareware to cut your software budget in half and double your productivity, it won't do you a bit of good if you miss an important meeting because your schedule is in disarray. Luckily, one of the best personal information managers available anywhere is only a download away. Chronos's $40 PIM, Consultant, offers an intuitive interface that makes it easy to keep up with even the busiest schedule and the most unruly collection of contact information.
If your needs are simpler, use Panda Systems' free PandoCalendar to mark events on a compact desktop calendar. There's also John Covele's free Right On Time, a versatile calendar that keeps your to-do list handy and reminds you of upcoming meetings.
Manage Your Money
Once you've started using shareware to streamline your work habits, you may become so efficient that you'll need a way to keep track of all the additional money you're making. One option is NetBooks, Symmetry Software's shareware continuation of the popular PeachTree Accounting; it helps you keep your accounts organized, without requiring that you know a lot about accounting.
If you're a FileMaker Pro user, check out Estimate & Invoice Tracker. This free set of FileMaker Pro templates from FileMaker Inc. will help you generate bids and track projects from beginning to end. As your fortunes increase, keep an eye on your investments with Michael Foreman's $10 Financial Portfolio, a HyperCard stack that stores information about your investments and calculates your net worth.
Nothing ruins your day quite like computer troubles, but several shareware programs can help stop problems before they start. You don't necessarily need Norton Utilities to keep troubles to a minimum and fix the ones that do crop up; you can prevent problems by using MicroMat's free TechTool to perform the regular maintenance Apple recommends. Although this free version doesn't offer all the analysis and repair tools of its commercial cousin, it can rebuild the desktop from scratch, zap the PRAM, test for damaged System files, and clean up your floppy drive-all while you're fetching your morning coffee.
When SCSI voodoo comes to haunt you and all your external drives seem to have disappeared, use the free SCSIProbe, from Newer Technology, to diagnose your SCSI chain and mount volumes with a single command. If what ails you is an extension conflict, use Dan Frakes's $15 encyclopedic reference, InformINIT, to get detailed information about those gremlinesque extensions lurking in the depths of your System Folder.
Even when you've done all you can, sometimes your only option is a clean install of the system software. Alleviate the pain of this procedure by using Marc Moini's Clean-Install Assistant ( (free for personal use) to transfer files from the fallen System Folder to the reborn one.
Mac viruses have been resurgent as of late, but shareware can help keep your system clean. To eradicate the recent Graphics Accelerator virus, just run John Dalgliesh's free AntiGax. The recent AutoStart virus is no match for Matthias Neeracher's free WormFood, which flicks that nasty bug off your hard drive and prevents future infections.
Sadly, John Norstad's free Disinfectant, which at one point was able to combat all known Mac viruses, is no longer in production; if you need an all-encompassing antivirus program, you'll have to get a commercial package such as Symantec's Norton AntiVirus or Network Associates' VirusScan or Virex.
Now that your business is humming along nicely, it's time to put up a Web site to tell the world what you can do. With shareware Internet servers and utilities, you can get your Web site off the ground and ensure that it runs smoothly.
Can You Spell HTML?
For most HTML purists, the preferred text editor has long been Bare Bones Software's outstanding BBEdit or its freeware sibling, BBEdit Lite. The Lite version offers most of the commercial version's editing tools; both give you a wide array of HTML tools that help you breeze through tedious coding chores.
If you aren't an HTML whiz and need a little more help generating Web pages, turn to Optima System's $25 PageSpinner. While this HTML editor is not nearly as powerful as the current crop of WYSIWYG products, PageSpinner is more than adequate for anyone who just needs to post a few pages on the Web.
For serving simple Web sites on your Mac, try Social Engineering's free Web server, Quid Pro Quo; it offers most of the abilities of commercial server software and can handle thousands of hits per day. If you want to add FTP services to your site, Stairways Software's $10 NetPresenz makes it a snap and even includes Web and Gopher services; if you want to add e-mail service, Stalker Software's free Stalker Internet Mail Server is a great choice. Qualcomm also offers an older version of its Eudora Internet Mail Server for free.
No matter how meticulously you set them up, servers have a tendency to crash when you least expect it. You could prepare yourself for the inevitable with a $100 server watchdog or spend just $20 for Karl Pottie's AutoBoot, which restarts your Mac automatically after a freeze. Another Pottie utility, the $25 Keep It Up, attempts to relaunch crashed server applications and can perform regular restarts to help prevent problems.
Crashes aren't the only thing that can bring your Web site to a screeching halt. If an application on your server puts up a dialog box that requires a response, your machine is essentially dead until you click on one of the buttons. Dan Walkowski's free Okey Dokey Pro saves the day by checking for dialog boxes as often as you like and automatically clicking on the default button.
More Online Options
With Web sites sprouting like tribbles, it's hard to make people aware of your site. Rather than writing the address on a napkin, send potential visitors a shortcut to your site-a file created with the freeware Internet Launcher, by Gabriele de Simone. Users simply click on the file to launch their browser and go right to your site. (This works only on Macs; you'll need to keep a napkin handy for PC users.)
If you're not using the Web to publicize your business, chances are you're using it for research. If you're sick of printing 20 pages of images and tables just to get one paragraph of text, download John Moe's brilliant Net-Print and print only the text you select.
Big commercial applications will always be around; they simply offer the biggest bang, albeit for the biggest buck. But if you don't want to buy an expensive application just to gain access to a single feature, or if the application you already own doesn't handle certain tasks the way you'd like, don't shy away from shareware. And-this is the best part-if you don't like it, you don't have to pay for it.
Perhaps the best thing about shareware is that so many new products come out every day that this article is probably out of date already. To keep you current, we'll maintain a list of all the shareware mentioned in this article, plus additional shareware items, at http://www.macworld.com/more/. If you've found other shareware products that help you get your work done better, tell us about them and we'll add them to the list. And if you're looking for a product that doesn't appear on our list, check for it at one of the other sites mentioned in "Bookmarks."
Finally, if you do find a piece of shareware you like, please don't forget to register it. Not only will you be doing the right thing but you'll also be giving shareware authors the incentive to think of more insanely great ways to improve your Mac computing experience.
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The fuzzy, twisting line between shareware and commercial software becomes more and more blurred every day. There's no way to fit every product neatly into a single category, but these definitions should help.
Usually distributed on CDs in shrink-wrapped boxes, commercial software is sold in stores, online, or in a catalog.
Examples: Macromedia Director, Microsoft Office 98
Freely distributed by the author on a trial basis, shareware is usually available via an online service or the Web. The author requests that after a certain period of time, often 30 days, you pay a fee for the software if you want to continue using it. Registering shareware often gets you extra features, or at least removes those annoying payment reminders.
Examples: GraphicConverter, Escape Velocity: Override
Freeware is freely distributed software that's available for unlimited use at no cost, though the author retains all rights to the product.
Examples: SoundApp, StuffIt Expander
Like freeware, public-domain software is freely distributed, except that the author also distributes the source code with permission to modify the product.
Examples: NewsWatcher, Internet Config
Publishers of whateverware don't want money but do want some kind of recognition or reimbursement. These products range from e-mailware (just send the author an e-mail message if you like the product) to the nonsensical sillywalkware (perform a Monty Python silly walk in public if you like the product).
Examples: OS 8 Views Setter, Iconizer
Scaled-down versions of commercial software products, demos are freely distributed with some features disabled, allowing you to get a feel for the product before purchasing the full version.
Examples: Adobe Illustrator demo, MacSoft's Quake demo