Last week, faced with no alternative to real work, I downloaded a fully functional copy of Ecco Pro, an utterly absorbing "personal information manager" that excels at outlining, task management and other such functions. Ecco Pro can organize and cross-reference just about anything, and after several brief therapy sessions I now find myself able to lay the program aside for minutes on end in order to write the things I am forever plotting with it.
For Internet mavens, one of Ecco's strengths is that it makes a great manager of World Wide Web addresses, making it easy to send addresses back and forth between Ecco and your browser, and helping you keep track of all those passwords you're always forgetting by enabling you to store each one with the appropriate universal resource locator, or Web address. Ecco even comes with an Ecco-format file of Web addresses that you can alter or add to, and in the future you can expect more personal information managers to take advantage or account of the Internet in this way.
But enough about Ecco (which you can get at http://www.netmanage.com). It's hardly news that there is a ton of shareware available on the Internet, and "evaluation" copies of popular Internet programs such as Netscape Navigator are primarily distributed this way.
Lately, though, I find that I'm downloading more and more fully functional trial versions of quality commercial software from the Internet--like Ecco, which sells for more than $100--even though these programs often have little or nothing to do with the Internet itself.
Clearly, software makers increasingly are using the Internet to distribute evaluation copies of powerful retail programs in order to get people to buy these things. Frequently, as is the case with Ecco, the version you download expires in 30 days, but by then you've had a great opportunity to try before you buy.
In this sense, the Internet is helping to make lots of regular software into a kind of shareware, except that most shareware puts you on your honor to send in your money if you keep the program, and, unfortunately, relatively few users seem to pay.
Downloading an evaluation copy sure beats buying based on reviews only to discover that the program doesn't meet your needs. And it's better than shareware, because (with some exceptions) shareware developers generally can't make enough money to support the development of really powerful applications. I suppose the trend is also good news for hard-drive manufacturers, who stand to get rich on the ever-expanding storage needs of compulsive downloaders.
I liked Ecco so much that I decided to scout around and see what other gems I could find the same way. Be forewarned that in order to take advantage of these offers, you will need a reasonably fast modem and some patience. Full-blown commercial software is often quite large these days, and so at nearly 7 megabytes (compressed), Ecco took quite a while to download even at 28.8 kbps.
One much smaller program that is worth the free download is ClickBook, which enables you to turn a standard word-processing document into a booklet or brochure fairly easily. You can download a free trial version on the World Wide Web at http://www.clickbook.com/, from CompuServe by using Go BookMaker and from America Online by searching the software libraries for ClickBook. The version I got on the Web is 826 kilobytes. If you decide to buy the program, it can be found in stores for less than $50. ClickBook comes in both Windows and Macintosh versions.
Windows users can download a highly rated alternative to the Windows 95 file manager and toolbar called PowerDesk. A free evaluation copy is posted at http://microhelp.com/ and on CompuServe (Go microhelp). PowerDesk sells in stores for about $40.
Mac users can download free evaluation copies of some Claris programs from the company's Web site at http://www.claris.com Just use the 'software catalog" to find the programs you're interested in. I noticed that Claris Organizer and Claris Draw are available this way.
Quarterdeck Software makes a number of its programs available for free evaluation by download at http://arachnid.qdeck.com/qdeck/demosoft/. These include WebAuthor, an add-on for Word for Windows that helps you create Web pages.
If you regularly file expense reports as part of your job, you might want to visit http://www.quickxpense.com/, where Portable Software makes available a trial version of its QuickXpense software designed specifically for this purpose.
A number of programs a little further from the mainstream are also available for free evaluation, some of them getting over into shareware, it seems to me. For example, wine lovers can pay a visit to http://www.winebase.com.au/wbeval.html, where they can download a free evaluation copy of WineBase, an Australian program designed for managing your wine cellar. Deja Vu, an interesting-looking language translation utility, can be had for free evaluation at http://www.logos.it/dejavu/info.html
And finally, nerds who build small boats will want to check out Carene50, some French software for designing small hulls, at http://www.bart.nl/~jmlaine/carene/ Believe it or not, you can download an evaluation copy. Anchors aweigh.
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Where to Point Your Browser
Although more retail programs seem to be making evaluation copies available on the Internet, sharewhare still predominates. A noteworthy addition in this department is the recent arrival of the rich ZDnet Software Library at http://www.zdnet.com/zdi/software/. where shareware guru Preston Gralla offers picks and you can find lots of good freeware as well
* Daniel Akst welcomes messages at firstname.lastname@example.org. His World Wide Web page is at http://www.well.com/~akst/