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THE CUTTING EDGE / PERSONAL TECHNOLOGY | COMPUTER BASICS/
KIM KOMANDO

Downloadable Wares to Share and Share, I Like

September 22, 1997|KIM KOMANDO

Try-it-before-you-buy-it software, or shareware, really is a great idea, isn't it? You actually get to test-drive a program before you commit to spending your hard-earned money. If you like a piece of shareware, you send the author a registration fee. If you don't like the program, you trash it.

Imagine trying to pull that one on your Lexus dealer. Just let me drive it around town for the next month and then I'll let you know if I really want it. Yeah, right.

But how good is the software that's being distributed as shareware? There's nothing more frustrating than taking an hour to download some shareware from the Internet only to discover that the program just isn't fit for human use.

If you're a big computer games fan, you probably already know that there's great shareware out there. Just look at Duke Nukem 3D and Quake. These are two of the most popular games on the market today, and they're both distributed as shareware.

On the other hand--I don't mean to be critical of computer games--let's face it: When you sit down at your computer, you may have something better to do than blasting mutant aliens to smithereens.

And you may be wondering how shareware stacks up when it comes to truly useful software--say, a word processor or something along those lines.

It may come as a surprise, but there really is some great, useful shareware available on the Internet. For example, what do you think of when you think of word processors? Microsoft Word? WordPerfect? These are terrific programs, no doubt, but they're also on the expensive side. Likewise, programs like these often provide many more features than you or I are likely to use in two lifetimes.

If you want a solid word processor at a reasonable price, consider WordExpress from Micro Vision Development (http://www.mvd .com) that's available for both Windows 3.x and Windows 95. This program is short on some of the more advanced features found in Word and WordPerfect--features like auto-correction--but it's more than enough for the average home user. If you decide you like the program, it'll cost you about $50.

Whereas WordExpress has the look and feel of your typical word processor, another shareware word processor, Yeah Write from Word Place Inc. (http://www.wordplace.com), provides a unique interface. This Windows 3.x/Win95 program uses interesting color schemes and a row of tabs across the top of the screen that's designed to make word-processing easier. At $15, the price tag on Yeah Write is easy to handle too.

Mac users will find Scorpio, from Abbott Systems (http://www .abbottsys.com), a fast, efficient word processor. It offers all the features you'd want in a basic processor and makes a nice replacement for SimpleText too. If you decide you like Scorpio, it's just $29 to register.

Before you get too excited about any of these, I should warn you that there is a downside. As our computers become more interconnected, the ability to exchange documents becomes more important. That's why everyone at your workplace probably uses the same word processor, so one person can open and edit a document created by another person.

Many shareware word-processing programs save documents in their own formats. That means, for example, that if you write a letter in WordExpress and then e-mail it as an attachment to your sister in Boise who uses Microsoft Word, she's going to have a hard time reading it.

To work around that, you can save your documents as ASCII text--but then you lose a lot in the way of formatting--bold, italics, columns and the like.

The truth is that when you surf the Net for shareware, you can find more programs than you can shake a mouse at, and you're likely to come up with a few clunkers.

But the same is true when you make a trip to the local software store. At least when you download a program from the Internet and decide it stinks, you don't have to worry about arguing with some salesclerk about the store's return policy. That's a winner in my book.

Kim Komando is a TV host, syndicated talk radio host, author and entrepreneur. You can visit her on the Internet at http://www.komando.com or e-mail her at komando@komando.com

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