Finding Mac Freeware and Shareware: A Beginner's Guide

  Wayne Linder       January 18, 2007      Tutorials Mac Apps

Why would anyone need low-cost software? I’m sure that some people, after switching from the PC, realize that they need some software to put on their shiny new Mac and their pockets are now empty. Or how about students, who, after spending their last bit of pocket change on some yummy ramen noodles, don’t exactly have a few hundred dollars left for a graphic-editing application. Then you have people like me. If you were to ask one of my children what the family slogan is, they would respond, “Mommy and daddy are cheap tightwads.” My son thinks that moths live in my wallet and that Scrooge was an amateur compared to me. I’m cheap. I’ll admit it!

Not that I’m above spending hundreds of dollars on software I use every day, like Final Cut Studio, Microsoft Office, Adobe’s Creative Suite – all titles whose boxes are staring at me as I write this article. But how about a small application that only does one thing, like MetronomeX, a free audio/visual metronome for OS X. For that, you have the whole category called Shareware/Freeware.

According to the entry in Wikipedia, shareware is software that is “typically obtained free of charge, either by downloading from the Internet or on magazine cover-disks.” The program is either a reduced-functionality version of a full application or game (crippleware), or asks the user to pay for the software after a trial period (nagware). There are also developers who don’t ask for money, but instead request that you send them a postcard or send an amount to a charity.

Freeware can also be classified as shareware, except it’s, well, … free. Freeware and shareware should not be confused with free/open source software (F/OSS). Open-source software usually comes with the source code, so the user can extend the functionality of the program by coding their own functions and extensions. Shareware and freeware, however, usually do not include the source code to the application.

Now that you know what shareware is, how do you go about getting the stuff? There are many great places on the Internet where you can search for and download great shareware titles. We’ll go through a few of them now.

All of these sites offer great searching tools in addition to their categorized listings so you can search for the type of application at the perfect price. Many sites also offer reviews of the software – both from the sites themselves and from users. I often find the user reviews handy since I would rather let someone else have the pain of being the first to find problems in an application rather than myself. I also like to sort applications by number of downloads or popularity to narrow down a list of applications that either work well or others have had good luck with.

Now comes the part of the program where you learn a Valuable Lesson (insert ABC After School Special reference here). Shareware is just what the name implies – shareware. The developer – usually an individual coding into the wee hours in their basement, rather than a corporate code-monkey – has shared this often low-cost application with you. Now it is your turn to share with the developer. Where the professional version of Microsoft Office for the Mac retails for $499.00, most shareware titles are under $30.00 – quite a bargain! Shareware could better be described as “Trustware” since the developer is putting their trust in you to pay for software that you continue to use. Do you really like that password-management application? Do you use it often? Does it make your life simpler? Then let the developer know by sending them a check. Are you saving money by using an incredible shareware audio-recording application rather than one costing hundreds more? By all means, let PayPal show the developer how much you really care.

In the future, Free for All will be reviewing some of the best shareware/freeware applications. In this article, we wanted to give you an idea of just what the whole shareware thing was about. Come back weekly for a taste of what’s cheap – and good – in the world of Mac software.

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