Everyone likes something for nothing but there’s a widely held suspicion amongst PC users – especially newcomers  -- that if something is free, or very cheap, there must be something wrong with it. This belief has been reinforced by the sometimes extortionate prices charged for commercial software; after all if a program costs several hundred pounds it must be really good…

The fact is that for almost any application you care to name, from word processors to complete operating systems, there is a Freeware or Shareware equivalent that’s often as good, and sometimes even better than the big name or high-profile packages, and what’s more there are literally thousands of programs and utilities that can improve the functionality of your computer, that cost just a few pence to download from the Internet or can be found on PC magazine cover-mount CD-ROMs. So how does it work, and what’s the catch?

Generally speaking there isn’t one. Shareware and freeware is cheap or free because the authors don’t have the overheads of the big software companies. There are no advertising and distribution costs, or fat salaries to pay, there’s no fancy packaging and often no manuals supplied with the basic product, though instructions are usually incorporated within the program. The basic premise is that is you can try the program and if you like it and continue using it, you pay the author or publisher a modest fee that pays for technical support, upgrades and in some cases a printed manual. In the case of smaller utility programs, it is unlikely they would ever be viable as stand-alone commercial products, authors and even large software publishers often make them freely available out of the goodness of their hearts and a wish to help others, and yes all you cynics out there, such people do exist.

Whilst many shareware authors rely on the user’s good faith to pay up a growing number of programs are supplied on a trial basis or in demo form. This usually means that some vital function has been disabled, or the program will stop working after the trial period has elapsed, normally 30 days after installation or after a set number of uses, which is fair enough. Some programs are fully operational but incorporate ‘nag’ screens, that urge the user to cough up and these will disappear once the author receives payment and has issued an ‘unlock’ code.

In the past shareware and shareware has suffered a bit from a reputation for being amateurish, buggy or viral and whilst it would be untrue to say it’s all perfect, the vast majority of programs are no more unreliable than full-price shrink-wrapped offerings sold over the counter. Nevertheless it makes sense to take a few simple precautions. Before you load any software – shareware or otherwise – make sure your virus scanner is up to date and the PC has an uninstaller or housekeeping program that monitors new software and system integrity. Several such programs have appeared as freeware or in trial version on magazine CD-ROMS.

Most shareware and freeware programs are compressed or ‘zipped’, to improve download speeds when distributed via the Internet, or to squeeze more of them on a CD-ROM. Some programs have their own decompression utility built-in but most do not and you will need to load an ‘unzip’ program on your PC and there are plenty of shareware and freeware products to choose from, so we’ll round off this week by showing how to install an unzip program. Next week we’ll look at the Boot Camp top-ten shareware and freeware programs that no PC user should be without.

Step one; create a folder in Windows for all of your program downloads. This has two purposes, firstly you will be able to find the files you’ve downloaded and secondly they will be quarantined, so you can run them through your virus checker, before they’re unzipped. Open Windows Explorer make sure it’s displaying the contents of the C: drive, on the File menu select New then Folder and give it a name you can remember, something like ‘Zips’.

Step two: choose your unzip program, there are dozens of them but for most users we recommend WinZip or PKZip, they are both shareware, very easy to use, very widely distributed on the Internet (home pages and and regularly featured on freebie CD-ROMs. Alternatively, if you would like to sample some freeware unzip programs – and again there are plenty of them – you should visit one of the many Internet shareware libraries and use the keyword ‘zip’ to search them out. The sites we use most often are,, and In all cases when directed by the CD-ROM installation program or your browser to download or install the program on your hard disc drive make sure you specify your newly created Zips folder. Almost of these programs are self-extracting, so once the installation or download is complete, open Windows Explorer and click on the file icon to start the installation. That’s all you need to do, from now on whenever you download a program or file with the extension *.zip and click on it, your unzip program will start automatically. Finally, don’t forget if the program is shareware and you intend to keep on using it make the payment, it’s only fair!

Next week – Shareware and Freeware, Top 10




A window or display that appears when a program has started to remind the user to pay a registration fee or indicate how many days of the trial period remain


A compressed program or file that contains its own ‘unzip’ utility


Shareware that is time-limited or has restricted functionality can be fully enabled with an unlock code, sent to the user by email from the author or publisher once they have received the appropriate fee – usually by on-line credit card payment



A pound to a penny says your Windows 95/98 Taskbar is still in its default position at the bottom of the screen, taking up valuable screen space. Maybe you’ve enabled the Hide Taskbar facility (Start > Settings Taskbar & Start menu), so it doesn’t take up any room when you are working, but it still pops into view every so often, when your mouse strays close to the bottom of the screen. So why not move it?  The most logical place has to be the right or left side of your screen. The right hand side in particular is often a ‘dead’ area in programs like word processors and since a VDU screen is over 30% wider than it is tall; you can afford to loose a little room at the side. To move the Taskbar simply put the mouse pointer into an empty area of the Taskbar, right click and hold and drag it to its new location. You can enable Auto Hide, or better still, leave it on show and more accessible, then re-size your application to fit, so that it doesn’t obscure scroll bars, most Windows programs will ‘remember’ a new layout whenever they are opened.

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