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Software Programs to Share and Share Alike


Running a small business is tough enough, and the last thing you need is to bust your budget with an inventory of expensive software that isn't right for your needs.

One way to avoid that is to use shareware--programs that you download from the Internet to try before you buy.

Shareware software isn't free. The programs have a price--often called a registration fee--that you're expected to pay after a reasonable trial period.

Shareware authors are small-business people too, and you can support them by paying for programs you use.

If you don't find the program useful, you don't have to pay. And once you do pay, shareware is often less expensive than other software.

Take CheckMate Plus from Ctech (, an easy-to-use double-entry accounting program designed for small-business and home use.

The program lets you pre-define checks for vendors you deal with on a regular basis, and can remind you when payments are due.

It offers several standard reports that you can either preview on the screen or print. It can generate balance sheets, income statements and budgeting reports and has some good planning tools, including a loan and interest calculator that can generate amortization schedules.

My only complaint about the program is that it doesn't have an export feature to save your data in a format that can be read by other accounting programs. It does, however, allow you to "print" your reports as standard "wks" files that can be read by Microsoft Works, Excel and other spreadsheet programs.

Unlike most other accounting programs, the software has a check layout feature that lets you print on standard checks. You can also use computer checks from New England Business. The program runs under Windows. Like all shareware, it's free to download, but there is a $40 registration fee for those who continue to use it.

NetBooks, from Symmetry Software (, is a small-business accounting program for the Macintosh. The integrated program includes general ledger, financial reporting, bank reconciliation, accounts payable, accounts receivable, inventory control, job cost and payroll.

Files are compatible with data from popular Peachtree Accounting for Macintosh, Version 2.0, as well as AtOnce. The registration fee is $79.

Before you can account for your funds, you have to collect them. That's where Financial Freedom Billing Manager Pro from M & R Technologies ( comes in.

This billing and receivables program can handle an unlimited number of invoices, payments, customers and products and, in case you're adventurous enough to run more than one business, you can use it for multiple companies as well.

Other features include the ability to create custom-designed invoices, mailing labels and envelopes. It can even be used to maintain a customer mailing list.

It's a snap to create invoices. You just pick your customer from the database, select the products or services, enter the quantities for each item, enter any notes and print out a professional-looking invoice.

The program has an "interest wizard" for billing customers or clients for overdue accounts, and an aging chart that displays a visual representation of your accounts receivable balance. A letter wizard automates the process of sending friendly reminders or nasty diatribes, depending on the age of the account, your mood and, of course, the customer's attitude. The program runs under Windows and costs $69.95 to register.

Billing Manager Pro can be used by consultants and other professionals, but it's best for companies that sell products.

If you're looking for a simple way to keep track of billable time, then download TimeSlice Lite for Windows, Windows 95 or Macintosh from Maui Software (

This little $25 program doesn't do much, but it does it well. You set your hourly rate and just click the start button when you're ready to run the meter.

The same button will pause or stop the meter when you're done. You can then print out a simple report telling you how long you've done whatever it is you're timing, and how much to charge the client.

The only problem with the program is that it's tempting to sit there and watch the minutes--and dollars--add up. Not a good idea when you should be concentrating on the task at hand.

Although not its intended purpose, small companies could use this program to figure out the cost of staff meetings. Just add up the hourly cost of everyone's salary and benefits, enter that as the hourly rate and let the meter run during the meeting. You'll soon realize how expensive it is to digress from the subject at hand.

There are several Web sites that offer collections of shareware from a variety of developers. The leading sites are CNET's Shareware page at and ZDNet's Software Library at

Links to all sites in this column and other sources of shareware can be found at


Lawrence J. Magid welcomes your e-mail at You can visit his Web site at

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