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Shareware: alternative to expensive software.

The author is a medical technologist at Holy Family Medical Center in Manitowoc, Wis

Commercial software can be expensive, and there's often no way before buying to see if you really like a program or if it will meet your needs. Fortunately, a large number of relatively inxpensive programs can be tried before purchase. These are available in the public domain or as shareware.

Public domain software and shareware are similar but not identical. The authors of public domain software generally hold a copyright but allow it to be distributed freely. Shareware is also distributed freely, but its ors ask for a payment from those users satisfied enough to want an update of the program and a complete user's manual.

Successful shareware must be good, since you do not pay unless you like it. A recent article in Forbes stated that big corporations like Du Pont, Caterpillar, and Times-Mirror are satisfied shareware customers.(1)

Almost any type of program a lab needs, shorts of whole information systems, is available in the public domain or as shareware. Take word processing-an invaluable computer resource for writing manuals, reports, correspondence, and memos. PC-Write is one of the best-known shareware programs in this area. It includes a complete manual on disk with instructions for printing, a help screen for users who need assistance at the time they are running the program, a spelling checker, and all the other features found in commercial word processors.

If you like the program after trying it, you can purchase the latest version plus a printed manual for $89 from its publisher, Quicksoft, 219 First Ave. North, #224, Seattle, Wash. 98109. As we mention other programs, we will note addresses of the companies or individuals that publish them, but keep in mind that the programs are available elsewhere as shareware for a nominal charge.

Another popular shareware word processor is New York Word (Magma Systems, 138-23 Hoover Ave., Jamaica, N.Y. 11435). It features pull-down menus, which are inset in the screen you are working on; multiple windows (split screens); and text in columns, plus all the standard word processor features.

Spreadsheets-for such uses as workload recording, budget projections, and analysis of raw data-are also available as shareware. As Easy As (Trius, 15 Atkinson St., Lynn, Mass. 01905) and ExpressCalc (Expressware, P.O. Box 230, Redmond, Wash. 98073) are two Lotus 1-2-3 clones. They look and feellike the original but are limited to fewer rows and columns.

Many templates (formatted worksheets) and macro files (simple key combinations triggering a series of commands) for Lotus 1--23 and Symphony can be obtained as shareware. One catalog lists templates for financial analysis, depreciation, cash flow, loan and mortgage analysis, a menu-driven program to create files in a format readable by Lotus 1-2-3 from ASCII files, and many other functions.

Database managers-with applications for such diverse purposes as workload recording, inventory control, blood bank record keeping, instrument comparisons, and maintenance of mailing lists--come in two types. Flatfiles are like very quickly accessed Rolodex cards. Falling into this category are older shareware versions of PC-File (Buttonware, P.O. Box 5786, Bellevue, Wash. 98006) and 3 X 5 (Softshell, 1254 Thornbury Rd., Westchester, Pa. 19380).

Relational databases, on the other hand, can relate data from different files. PC-File+ (Buttonware) and Wampum (Ward Mundy, 1460 Club Dr., Atlanta, Ga. 30319) are shareware examples. Intelli-trieve (Richard Ray Viets, 16 Oldfield Farms, Enfield, Conn. 06082) is used with dBase III and its relational database clones to perform weighted searches (prioritizing the data) like those done on mainframes.

Shareware seems to abound in utility programs. Utilities make working with the microcomputer a little easier. They can build start-up menus, recover lost files, provide an on-screen calculator, expand memory, redefine keys, and modify programs, to name just a few applications. Two good sets of such programs are UltraUtilities (Freesoft, 150 Hickory Dr., Beaver Falls, Pa. 15010) and Baker's Dozen (Buttonware).

There are several ways to try these and such other types of shareware as graphics packages, accounting software, health risk analysis programs, and games. Frequently, for example, universities or colleges have a software exchange.

Computerized bulletin boards, services that let you dial in with a modem and log on to a wide variety of files, and computer user groups also disseminate shareware. The best sources I have found, however, are the shareware catalogs advertised in computer magazines. Many catalogs are sent free on request, while others cost a dollar or two. There is a charge of $1.75 to $6 per disk ordered plus a shipping charge, and most catalog firms promise to ship orders within 48 hours of receipt. See Figure I for information on three suppliers.

Shareware, as we have ,noted, comes as a disk with no printed manual. The explanations are usually contained in files with names like these:


Place the disk in the A drive and look at its directory. At the "A>" prompt, use the DOS command TYPE and the documentation file name to get start-up instructions. Manuals found on disk can range from a few pages to book length; PC-Write's is 140 pages. A few disks have a special program to print their manual. Others can be printed using the DOS command:

TYPE file.doc>PRN

Some shareware is stored in compressed form as archived files so that more programming can be included on a single disk. By following instructions provided with a special program on the disk, the user can de-archive the files. Plan on at least two disks for the files once this is done.

Though my experience is limited to MS-DOS microcomputers, shareware exists for most other microcomputers. I have seen Apple II, Macintosh, Atari, and Commodore catalogs advertised.

Shareware is a good, inexpensive source of software for laboratory and home use. You can't afford to overlook it.

1 Hogan, M. Try it, you'll like it Forbes 142: 227 228, Nov. 28, 1988.

Suggested reading:

Campbell, G. Best of shareware. PC World 190-194, August 1988.

Gageway, C H. A beginner's guide to shareware programs. Family and Home Office Computing 6: 32 36, August 1988.
COPYRIGHT 1989 Nelson Publishing
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1989 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Sehloff, James A.
Publication:Medical Laboratory Observer
Date:Apr 1, 1989
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