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A longstanding tradition

Hot on the Web

This column originally ran in ComputorEdge on September 1, 2000
(Issue 1835, Shareware/Freeware)

Since the first personal computers began appearing in the mid-'70s, hobbyists and programmers have been writing software for them and either giving it away or selling it for much less than a commercial program would get.

When dial-up computer bulletin board systems (BBSs) began appearing in the mid-'80s, one of their most popular features was their file areas. In the years before the World Wide Web, it was BBSs you went to for the latest shareware, freeware and public domain software.

iD Software's "Doom" was one of the first, and certainly the first big, examples of using the online world to successfully market a shareware program. It was distributed over the Internet and via BBS as a free three-level demo. If you liked that demo, you could then purchase the entire program.

Today, the shareware/freeware market is as busy as ever, and – thanks to the Web – it's easier than ever to find programs online. (In the age of the BBS, you had to individually call up each board, look around their files, then log off and start over with the next board.)


Absolute Freebies
For Windows users on a budget, this is a good place to start building your software library. From the Best Freeware menu entry, you get to a list of essential utilities that are all freeware (you don't have to pay a dime, not even guilt money). You'll find an FTP client, virus protection, media player, fax, graphics viewer and other programs whose commercial cousins would set you back hundreds of dollars.
This is a more polished site than Absolute Freebies, and has more files to boot. The files found here are more likely to be partially disabled demos of commercial programs, though, rather than full-fledged programs by hobbyists or open source projects as found on Absolute Freebies. There are several good fully free MP3 players, though, as well as a couple of good virus scanners. Lots of free clip art here, too.


For both Mac and Windows owners, and is one of the best sites for finding just about any kind of program, from application to game to utility.

While they started life as two separate sites, c|net has blended and so much that they've become in reality one super-site.

The files can be accessed either by category or through a search. While the OS category tabs are limited to Windows, Mac, Linux, WindowsCE and Palm OS, the search engine from offers a pull-down menu with options for Amiga, Atari, OS/2, Unix and DOS, in addition to the above.

Software category types on the menu are organized into audio, business, games, etc. – 10 in all. Each of those has a dozen or so subcategories, plus each category has a listing for the most popular downloads, the editors' picks and most recent additions.

Interestingly, the files listed aren't necessarily on c|net servers – the links often go to other software archives, and not all the links are good, especially on older titles.

Jumbo! isn't quite as large as the c|net site, but it's bigger than most shareware sites and has thousands of files. It's a little better organized than c|net, making it easier to find what you're looking for quickly. And while there are a handful of Mac-oriented files here, this site is really geared to the Windows user.

Dave Central
Dave Central aims to serve Windows and Linux users equally. Dave has collected hundreds of current shareware and freeware files for both platforms. It's very well laid out and easy to navigate – only complaint would be that his server seems fairly slow.