Software can be cheap... and legal

by Alan Zisman (c) 1993. First published in Our Computer Player, December 17, 1993

So you've bought that new computer. Paid about $2000 for it. Feeling
pretty happy, until you get it home and realize it really won't do
anything without software. It may not even boot up.

Some 'experts' suggest that you budget 50% or more of the cost of
your hardware for purchasing software, but you don't have that kind
of cash around... not after buying your new computer.

You may feel cheated... yet after you buy your new car, you still
have to purchase the gas to make it run. Your home stereo needs CD
disks. It's the same with a computer.

Or maybe you don't have this problem. Maybe your new computer came
crammed to the gills with programs on the hard drive. That's
great. Or is it?

Well, first, it's often not legal. Did you receive floppy disks
and manuals for all that software? I thought not. In most cases,
then, it's not legal. I don't know of any individuals being
prosecuted for this (at this time, anyway... that could change),
but some retailers have been taken to court in Canada for this

As well, you miss out on the benefits of legally owning
software... technical support if (or when!) you have questions or
problems, and low-priced upgrades to newer versions.

Finally, with megs upon megs of illegal files on your hard drive,
you have opened yourself to the risk of computer viruses.

The same problems arise if you let your friends give you all those
great programs that they're running, with an even higher risk of
technical problems and viruses.

There ARE, however, some ways that you can save money getting the
software to get up and running, and still be safe and legal.

1) COMPETITIVE UPGRADES: The list price of many power programs
hovers around the $400 mark or more. Stores may discount this, but
an even better deal is the competitive upgrade. Companies want
market share, and will gladly take less money for their product in
exchange for stealing a competitor's customer. They offer these
versions of their software in specially marked (usually plain)
packages, but with all the documentation, disk, and support. And
the typical price for the competitive upgrade on a $400 piece of
software is less than $150. You can even get many of these offers
from regular software retailers.

If you don't already have any software, this may not help you, but
don't give up just yet!

2) GET THE OLDER VERSION: Sure we all want the latest and
greatest. We've read the ads. But when the new version comes out,
copies of last year's version are still around. Rather than
sending them back, retailers will often put them in the sale bin. Recently,
I saw an ad in a Vancouver newspaper, with a long list of software
at very low prices. Reading the fine print, I realized that these
were all older versions of the products. Computer swap meets or
shows often have vendors selling new, unopened packages of older
versions at dramatic discounts.

These products still work just as well as ever, and may really be
all you need. But if you want, as a registered owner of ANY
version, you can take advantage of companies' upgrade or
competitive upgrades, and get the new versions cheaply.

3) BUY USED: You can buy used software... you'll find vendors at
swap meets, and ads in the Buy and Sell. While the price may be
right, you are taking a risk doing that. It is illegal for the
seller to pass on the documentation and disks, while keeping a
copy on his/her machine. As well, even though you have the
software, the registration may remain in the original purchaser's
name, leaving you again without technical support or upgrade
privileges. Finally, again you are at risk of viruses. Get a virus
scanning program and use it!

4) THE SHAREWARE ALTERNATIVE: Shareware is one of the neatest
things about computers. Individuals or small businesses can create
a software product, but may not be able to come up with the cash
needed for commercial distribution and advertising. Instead, they
can release their program through shareware channels.

These programs can be found on bulletin-boards and on-line
services by anyone with a modem. As well, they are showing up
displays in pharmacies, supermarkets, and other non-traditional
outlets. A  number of companies have catalogues of
shareware disks that they will send by mail. You can even go to the
Vancouver Public Library's main branch, and copy shareware off a CD-
ROM on the 3rd floor (bring your own disk).

Shareware programs allow you to try them out at your leisure and
see if they meet your needs. If you want to keep on using them,
however, you are required (both honor-bound, and legally) to
register them, sending a fee to the program's creator. Even if you
paid $5-10 for the disk, none of this money is going to the
program's author; it just goes to the distributor. You're still
required to register.

(If people don't register their shareware, shareware author's will
stop writing the stuff, and pretty soon this innovative source for
software will disappear).

Shareware registration is typically cheaper than equivalent
commercial software prices, but don't expect to find a shareware
Word Perfect waiting for you... these products have tended to
multiply in the less power-packed areas: utilities, games,
communications. Still, it's well worth your time checking it out;
and you may be pleasantly surprised at what IS available. And
shareware authors often provide technical support in person, and
have been known to send individually customized versions to (
registered) users with specific problems.

5) DO LIKE ME... you too can write software reviews! The pay's
not that great, but you can work at home, and best of all, you get
to try out all sorts of neat software. And most of the time, you
get to keep it, too!

Many people feel trapped between pirating software and paying
hundreds or thousands of dollars for products that may not always
meet their needs. There are some ways, however, that you can get
to legally use your computer, and still keep some money in your
bank account.

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