Freebie CD-ROM has software retailers scared

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

When I heard about Club KidSoft I was excited. I phoned their 1-800
number and placed my order right away. A quarterly kid's magazine
and CD-ROM disk... focusing on educational software, not fast cars
and faster punches. And $15.95 for a whole year.

I'm a teacher and a parent, and that sounded great.

And, I suppose, like most things that sounded too good to be true,
it was.

It arrived quite quickly, addressed to my kids, ages 9 and 12, who
eagerly opened it, and couldn't wait to try it out. The magazine
is colourful, with the first third full of kid puzzles, mazes,
games, and paper airplanes. While the content doesn't break any new
ground (sort of like the stuff they give your kids on long
airplane rides), it's okay. There're no ads... except the last 2/3
of the book is simply a software catalogue.

The CD-ROM disk is like that too, except more so. The advance
publicity I'd read on Club KidSoft was that it was a trial-
software CD-ROM, aimed at the educational kids market. The other
example of this genre that I'd tried out, TestDrive, included full
versions of a bunch of Windows programs... encrypted so you couldn'
t copy them, and set up so you could only use them a fixed number
of times. After that, a call to a 1-800 number, credit card at the
ready, would get you a code that gives you full use of the desired

Club Kidsoft does this too, sort of. The catch here is that you
don't even get to use the software a couple of times first to see
if you (or your kids) like it. There's a dozen PC (or Mac)
applications on the disk, but you can't do anything with them
without first buying them.

What you do get, however, is another catalog... this time on your
computer screen. A picture and a short description. Awards won (if
any). Hardware required. In a bunch of cases, there's also a demo.
In most of these cases, that's simply another ad... this time,
with more or less animation.  In a few cases, the demos were limited
working versions of the software. Broderbund, for example, had
versions of their CD-ROM based kid's books "Just GrandMa and Me",
and "Arthur's Teacher Trouble", that only included a couple of
pages. These were a lot of fun, leaving my kids wanting more...
but in most other cases, the demos in the end, are just more ads.

Surprisingly, there seemed to be a number of demos included on the
disk that weren't even accessible through Club KidSoft's
software... I only found them by peeking at the directory
structure from the DOS command line.

It's too bad. The idea's a good one; the CD's software is well
designed, and has lots of cute sound effects and visuals... but
aside from the Broedbund book demos, there's nothing to make my
kids want to come back for more.

(Note from the year 2003): The above article was originally published in 1993, as a review. A decade and more later, I've gotten a series of emails from Club Kidsoft fans hoping that I could sell them a copy of this software or direct them to a place where it is still available. While I have reviewed software since 1991, I am not a vendor of r any products. I suggest to everyone looking for copies of older software to check at eBay or at you check on my Files webpages, you'll find links to a number of (mostly freeware) downloadable software, some of which may be good replacements for older programs.
-- AZ (September 15, 2003)


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