Libraries of Free Software

Freeware, Shareware, Demoware, and Just Plain Stealing

When you download and install a program, you should know whether you have permission to do so. Many programs are marked on software listings as freeware, which means that the author gives you permission to use the program forever for free. Other programs are shareware, which means that if you like the program and plan to use it, you should send the author money -- shareware programs usually display a "nag screen" that tells you the suggested donation and the address of the author.

A recent development is adware, which is freeware that displays advertisement while you use it. Some adware offers you the option of paying to register the program, which turns off the ad display.

Less useful is demoware, which are demonstration versions of programs. They are free to use, but they are either crippled in some way or they stop working after a month or so. If you like the program and want to continue to use it, you have to buy it.

Finally, you may stumble across a warez (short for "softwares," we guess) site that offers commercial software for download. These programs are offered without the knowledge or consent of their owners (for example, it is not okay with Microsoft to offer Microsoft Office for free download). Don't use pirated software -- it's stealing.

Many web-based libraries offer all types of programs that you can download and install for free. Here are our favorites:

  • The Ultimate Collection of Windows Software (TUCOWS) classifies programs by operating system and type. It has lots of mirror sites (identical web sites) all over the globe, so it's rarely a problem to begin downloading even very popular programs. It's particularly easy to browse a long list of programs of a given type (browsers, or e-mail programs, for example) and compare reviews. Note that TUCOWS now includes Mac programs, as well.

  • The CWApps List is the original Winsock library, and is still excellent. Forrest Stroud set up this site when shareware and freeware Internet software were just starting to become available.

  • also offers lots of non-Internet-related programs.

  • C|NET has thousands of downloadable programs organized by category.

  • The Mac Orchard is "carefully cultivated list of the most vital Internet applications and links for Macintosh Internet users."

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Updated: Oct 12, 2001

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