Magazine article Computers in Libraries

Public Domain and Shareware: A View from the United Kingdom

Magazine article Computers in Libraries

Public Domain and Shareware: A View from the United Kingdom

Article excerpt

Andrea Kirkpatrick is on the staff of Loughborough University in the United Kingdom.

Over the last year or so, a number of articles have been written in this journal about public domain software and shareware-what it is and why it may be of use. The intention of this article is to build on these foundations, from a United Kingdom viewpoint, and to provide information on national sources, mention some programs that have been found useful, and point out some developments in this area. Newcomers to the subject should see Dan Marmion's column in the December 1987 issue of Small Computers in Libraries.1

The vast majority of public domain software and shareware in circulation at the moment originates from the United States. This poses two potential problems of supply for users in the United Kingdom: obtaining the programs, and registering shareware material.

United Kingdom Sources

Sources of public domain software and shareware in the United Kingdom are similar to those in the United States-that is, computer user groups and bulletin boards. Lists of these appear in the Endzone section of Personal Computer World each month. Two bulletin boards that are freely available to a large section of the academic community are the Lancaster University Micro Software and Kermit distribution services. These can be accessed through JANET (the Joint Academic NETwork) by calling the JANET number 000010404000, and entering the user name and password MICROS or KERMIT (depending on the service required).

The Micros board covers IBM PC, BBC, Apple Macintosh, and Atari software, both public domain and shareware. The Kermit board offers versions of the Kermit public domain communications progam for a very wide variety of computers.

Software from either board is downloaded using Kermit. It may be possible, however, for you to download material from Lancaster without being logged on; your university or polytechnic computer centre should be able to advise. For further information on these two bulletin board services, contact NISS (National Information for Software and Services) at Bath University.

A third source of public domain software and shareware is the increasing number of companies that have been set up to market such material (some deal in hardware arid commercial software, too). These do make a nominal charge to cover the cost of the diskette, copying the program, and postage, usually about [BP]3 or [BP]4 for a 5.25-inch floppy disk. You are not purchasing the software, so do not expect to be able to get a refund if the program is not up to standard.

Be Careful and Selective

Be aware that some sources are better and safer to use than others. There have been many articles written recently about virus and "trojan horse" programs, which pretend to be wonderful utilities or legitimate software, but which actually do something nasty, like format the hard disk or render data unreadable. Whether you believe the horror stories or not, it is wise to be cautious. Some distributors of public domain software and shareware have now built up good local or national reputaLions, and it is a good idea to tap a recommended source if possible.

Guard against wasting time on some of the poorquality material that is available by gathering together as much information about a prospective program as possible. What does it do? What equipment does it need to run (EGA, CGA, hard disk, printer)? How easy is it to use (do you have to be a serious programmer to start it up)? Is documentation supplied with it (usually on the disk, to be printed out)? Many of the larger public domain software and shareware supplier companies produce catalogs that devote a paragraph of description to each program. Some also use a rating system to guide you as to which products are easy to use and of good quality.

Watch for short reviews of shareware products in computer magazines, such as PC User. …

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