Business-like, isn't he?



Two shareware gems from JASC

by Alan Zisman (c) 1995. First published in Our Computer Player, July 1995

Jasc PaintShop Pro ver 3.0 and MediaCenter

Remember shareware?

Since the dawn of the PC era, the shareware concept has provided an alternative to standard commercial software distribution. Even back in those semi-prehistoric times, several shareware titles became sort-of best-sellers, bringing fame, and some amount of income to their creators.

Products like PC-Write, AutoMenu, and the original ProComm used shareware as the basis of successful businesses. More recently, games such as Doom showed that shareware products could, even today, become best-sellers.

What is shareware, a few of you may ask? Well-- it's not free or public domain software. Instead, it's an alternative distribution channel. Normally, programmers either work for larger companies, or if they work independently (yes, software is a product that CAN be created in your basement), assign their creations to a company for distribution.

The company owns of licences the product, advertises it, produces the package, distributes it to stores. In exchange for paying all the overhead costs, the company keeps the bulk of the profits (if any).

Shareware is still commercial software; copyright is maintained by the creator. Unlike commercial software, however, the creator isn't paying a lot of overhead producing, distributing, and advertising the product... they are counting on informal ways of doing this: typically BBSs and word of mouth.

Shareware licences permit users to try out the software for a limited period of time, and to copy and distribute it freely (at least in a non-commercial manner). This gets around two problems that people often have with commercial software:

-- it's difficult or impossible to legally try it out to see if it runs on your system, does the promised job, or if you like it.

-- you generally can't legally pass it around to your friends to try.

Shareware relies on users to choose to either register it, paying a fee, or to remove it from their machine after deciding it isn't really what they want. Of course, some people fail to register shareware, just as some people pirate commercial software. If too few users register shareware, the authors will get discouraged, and move on to a more conventional line of work.

To help convince users to register, some shareware authors have resorted to a variety of techniques. For example:

-- Shareware nag screens. These can be minimal, just a polite message when the program starts up or shuts down. Or they can be vicious, like in the Windows telecommunications program, Unicom, where the nagging can seem almost constant. That program's author, David Gan, says he reduced the nags in one version, only to find that registration dropped.

-- Gifts for paid users. Popular games from ID and Apogee come in several episodes. Episode #1 is typically freely available, through all the usual shareware channels. To get the other episodes, however, users have to register.

By the way, many users are confused when they purchase shareware disks... these are often advertised in mail-order catalogues, or appear on store shelves-- I've even seen them in supermarkets. Since the users pay for the disk, it's natural to assume that they've purchased the program. But not a cent of that $5.95 or so is going to the program's author-- it's all a distribution fee to the company that distributed the floppies... often without the knowledge of the author. It's a legal, and legitimate way of distributing shareware, but you still have pay the author's registration fee if you want to legally own the program (as opposed to the disk-- you DO legally own the disk, just not its contents).

Shareware had gotten a bad reputation in some circles-- it was suspected of spreading viruses, along with BBSs, or to represent a category of software that 'wasn't ready for the big time'. Neither of these rumours are any more true of shareware than of commercial software-- viruses have been spread in original, shrinkwrapped packages much to the embarassment of the companies involved. And buggy, poor software, unfortunately, can be found in pricy packages as well as anywhere else.

Two of my favorite shareware programs are both products of Minnesota's JASC Software. Both of these are Windows utilities for working with the wide range of bitmapped graphics files.


PSP has been floating around the usual shareware circuits for a couple of years, now, and has reached maturity with version 3.0.

It started off as a graphics viewer and conversion program. You know-- BMP to TIFF to PCX to GIF, and on and on. Over time, features were added. Resize and re-sample, keeping the original proportions or not. Increase of decrease colour depth... change that 24-bit graphic, with 16.7 million colours to a mere 256 colours, and decrease the file size to 1/3 the original. Optimize the pallete, and get a resulting picture that will display faster and actually look better if viewed on a 256 colour screen. Change from colour to grey-scale. An especially nice feature is batch conversions-- turn all those GIFs into Windows wallpaper BMPs, all with a single command.

Along the way, PSP started to get ambitious. The number of file formats supported grew, including PhotoCD, and the bitmap varieties of metafiles such as WMF, WPG, and EPS. And a number of filters got added for special effects. Filters like you get in expensive photo enhancement programs like PhotoShop. (No, it still doesn't support PhotoShop add-ins like Kai's Power Tools).

A screen capture feature was added, letting users grab the whole screen, a single window, or an desired portion of the screen, and pop it into a PSP window. TWAIN scanner support lets you scan right into PSP.

Finally, with the current version, PSP jumped a level. JASC added a bunch of paint functions. A toolbox adds 22 tools.. brushes, pens, chalk, charcoal-- natural media as in Fractal Design Painter. Smooth and sharpen tools. Not just an eraser, but an Undo brush. A clone tool.
Of course, the Eyedropper, Lasso, and Magic Wand seemingly found in ever paint and photo enhancement program that wants to be more sophisticated than Windows Paintbrush.

It's a whole new program... not only does it expand on PSP's traditional strengths, it enters a previously nearly empty market niche-- the hole in between the minimal graphics support provided by Windows' freebie Paintbrush, and the graphics professional tools like PhotoShop or Fractal Design Painter.... but at a shareware price of $69 (US), and with the shareware try-it-before-you-buy-it philosophy.


A companion program is MEDIA CENTER. It's an expanded version of a product formerly known as IMAGE COMMANDER. Media Center creates thumbnails of all the media files in a given directory or disk.

You can catalogue the thumbnails, add descriptions, sort or search in a variety of ways. And you can print the catalogues. I recently found this invaluable-- I'd purchased a low-price CD-ROM clipart disk. Multi-directories, huge number of files, and no documentation. No easy way to find a picture, short of loading the several thousand files, one at a time, into a viewer or paint program. And the 8-letter PC filenames weren't much help.

With Media Center, I was able to create albums for each directory, and print each album. Fairly quickly, I had a usable booklet, letting me choose graphics at my leisure, and quickly find the appropriate file.

Media Center supports all the graphics types supported by PSP, but adds other media types (hence the name)... you can catalogue WAV or MIDI sounds, for example, or even AVI videos. Clicking on the thumbnail in the album takes you right to the actual item, ready to play or edit.

You can set the images in an album to play as a slide-show, and can associate sounds to play along with the whole show, or with individual images. In a crude sort of way, it could be used to produce and play a multimedia presentation.

Registered users get, as a bonus, 100 pieces of clipart, all in WMF format. Not great, but not bad, if you like worms with eyeglasses.

The registered version of PSP includes a limited version of Media Center known as PSP Browser, by the way... understandably, it has fewer features than the full product, and doesn't support multimedia file types.

As mentioned, PaintShop Pro is $69 (US), while Media Center is $39. Order them both for $89.

You can contact JASC at:

JASC, Inc.
10901 Red Circle Drive
Suite 340
Minnetonka, MN 55343 USA

Tele: (9am to 5pm USA central time)
(612) 930-9171
(800) 622-2793 (orders)

CIS: 72557,256 or GO JASC

Look for both of these wherever fine shareware if distributed... but remember to register them, and all your shareware, if you want to keep on using them.

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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan