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17 : Shareware & PD Software        


It is a fact of life that PC software is generally much more expensive than BBC software, and in many cases more expensive than the price paid for the Master 512! Once paid for, unless it appears in our compatibility list in Appendix A, you are not entirely sure that it will function and behave as it should.

There is, however, a wide source of software for IBM-compatibles, including the Master 512, which you can 'try before you buy' for the cost of the media it is supplied on and p&p. If the software doesn't work, you haven't lost anything. This is public domain software and shareware. The main differences between this type of software and normal commercial software are:

         Distribution is not through dealers, but through other sources
    You only have to pay for the software if you like and use it
    It's much cheaper than commercial software
    It's often the only source of those obscure little useful items

About Shareware

Shareware is a software distribution system which originates from the USA, which works on a principle of honour. The software is distributed by the author to the computer-using community at large, through specialised shareware distributers and bulletin boards. Shareware distributers make charges to cover the cost of discs, postage and packaging and so on, but these are small compared with the true value of the software. If you like what you have tried, you can then register, and again the costs are small in comparison with a similar commercial product. For example, a small disc management utility might have a registration cost of $5 (£3), against say, a cost of £20 as a commercial product. A full-blown word processor may cost $75 (£50) to register, whereas the commercial equivalent would be several hundred pounds.

When initially distributed, the idea is that the software is 'on approval', effectively a free trial. Each program will contain information about registration and a disc based text file providing enough documentation to allow you to use it effectively. Registration means that you pay a more realistic price for the software, by sending payment to the author. In return, you will receive the benefits of a normal, commercially available package, such as updates, printed manuals, extra facilities and so on.

Because you, the customer, are dealing directly with the author, the registration fee is usually much lower than the cost of similar commercial packages. Even major packages cost only about £30-£40, and small ones may be as little as £3. It is even reported that (some) shareware authors are often better at providing customer service than (some) commercial firms. Naturally, registration is a matter of trust, and no-one is going to know if you don't register, however, if you are serious about a particular shareware program, you are likely to want the full documentation and extras that are available, so there is a natural incentive to register.

Payment is not the problem it might have been a few years ago. Most of the authors will accept Access and Visa card payments, or have European agents. It is fairly straightforward to obtain dollar cheques for a small charge at your local bank. Dabs Press are publishing a book in 1989 dealing with PC shareware. Details of Shareware: A Dabhand Guide can be found in Appendix G, and should prove to be invaluable reading for all Master 512 users.

Public Domain

Another category of software is 'Public Domain' – often referred to as PD. This is similar to shareware and is distributed in a similar fashion, but unlike shareware, it is completely free of charge! Once you have it, there is never anything more to pay. This is because the author is genuinely giving you something for nothing, or more usually, the software originates from a source, such as education or industry, where the actual author doesn't own the software, perhaps because it was written in 'work' time, and the 'owner' is not set up to receive registrations.

Shareware and PD Sources

There are five ways of getting hold of shareware and public domain software:

         By copying friends' discs
    By downloading it from a bulletin board
    By sending off to a shareware distributor
    From Dabs Press
    From magazine discs

Copying from friends is the quickest and cheapest way of obtaining material. Unlike normal commercial software, for which passing between friends is illegal, you are positively encouraged to copy shareware. The authors desire the widest possible distribution, as this increases the number of people who may possibly register. As the Master 512 can read standard PC 360k discs, you can copy it, not only from fellow 512 owners, but also by swapping with standard PC owners. Possible sources are colleagues at work, computer user groups and clubs, and your computer-owning friends.

There are two points to remember when exchanging discs with regular PC owners. Firstly, if you are giving a shareware disc to someone else, the only formats common to both the 512 and standard PCs are the 360k (512x9 IBM) format for 5.25 inch discs, and the 720k (512x9 IBM) format for 3.5 inch discs. Secondly, if receiving discs from an 'XT' owner – that is someone with an 8086/8088 processor based PC, such as the Amstrad 1512/1640 or RM Nimbus, then there will be no problem, but if someone with an 'AT' computer – one with an 80286 or 80386 processor – gives you a disc, it must be in the 360k (720k for 3.5") format, and not the 1.2Mb (1.44Mb for 3.5") format also supported by the AT, which cannot be read by the 512 under any circumstances.

If your AT-owning friend is not sure, tell them to format the disc they are giving to you using the command:


before copying software onto it. This will format the disc in 360k format. The IBM AT and compatibles, like the Master 512, can automatically sense the disc format, so once a disc is formatted in this manner there should be no problems.

A slight hiccup can sometimes occur when a disc formatted on one machine cannot be read by another. The most common problem is that a disc formatted on an 80-track drive, such as a Master 512 or an IBM AT, will sometimes not allow writing, and sometimes even not reading, on a standard 40-track XT drive. <See here for more details – YP> The way around this is to format the disc on the XT, rather than any other machine. If you do have this problem, work with fresh unformatted discs, rather than those which have already been formatted or contained data.

Downloading From a Bulletin Board

To download software from a bulletin board, you will need some communications software, and a modem. Note that, because of the problems with serial communications on the 512, this will have to be done with either native BBC software, or another PC. Most people will take the former option.

If you are unfamiliar with communications ('comms') don't worry, it is all fairly straightforward. A bulletin board is simply a computer and modem connected, normally permanently, to a telephone line, which is capable of answering the phone when it rings. Because the noises generated by a modem make no sense to the human ear, the telephone line is normally separately installed, and dedicated to the bulletin board. Full details on how to use a bulletin board can be found in Appendix D if you are unfamiliar with the world of comms. If you are familiar with comms then you should have few problems, however, to save download times files have often been compressed into one large file that must be un-compressed before it can be used. Appendix D contains details on how to go about doing this.

Shareware Distributors

Naturally, using a bulletin board runs up your telephone bill, so another method of obtaining shareware is to order it from a shareware distributor. You send your money and get discs in return, just like commercial software, but with one big difference – the money you pay to a shareware distributor covers only the cost of the discs themselves, plus carriage and the distributor's overheads. The software on the discs is not being paid for, and you are still expected to pay the author if you register.

Shareware distributors come in all shapes and sizes, from hobbyists doing it for fun, to highly professional firms with large and detailed catalogues. Naturally, a professional firm employing staff and printing catalogues will have more overheads, so you might expect to pay a little more per disc for the material. Costs range from about £1.50 to £10 per disc, although virtually all the distributors at the higher price bracket reduce the unit price if you order several discs at once. In practice, the cost of blank media plus duplication is usually the smaller part of the distributors' overheads, the larger part being staff to fulfil orders and answer telephone calls, and advertising and printing. There is, incidentally, no law preventing anyone actually making a profit from shareware distribution, but natural competition has brought the charges to a very fair level. Some distributors have a 'club' system, whereby as a member, you obtain better prices. For example PC-Serve currently charges £5 per disc, but only £2.50 to members.

Many authors have actually specified a maximum charge (usually $10) to be made for the distribution of their disc, and shareware distributors generally have charges which are below these levels. Some authors even go as far as to specify that no charge whatsoever may be made – you will normally only find these programs on bulletin boards, or bundled on discs with other programs, as even blank floppies cost money!

Most shareware distributors have no involvement with the author registration process, and once you have purchased discs from them, that is the end of it – if you want to obtain updates, you have to contact the author direct. However, one leading distributor, Shareware Marketing, of Tonbridge, also acts as UK, and in some cases European registration agent for many North American shareware titles. Therefore, if you wish to register, you would send your money, and obtain the full manual etc from them, even if you obtain the 'free' copy from another distributor or a bulletin board.

Brown Bag Software, a leading shareware author, have actually set up their own office and bulletin board in the UK to receive registrations, and supply manuals etc. There are signs that more of the 'upper echelons' of shareware authors will do this. Because of the disappointing level of registrations from Europe, some shareware authors have made their product shareware in North America only, and insisted that the programs be sold on a normal commercial basis in Europe. Shareware Marketing, through their registration connections, are UK distributors for many of these programs. Full details are given in their regular catalogue.

UK Shareware Distributors

The following companies are the leading shareware distributors in the UK and you can obtain a free catalogue on request.

Shareware Marketing,
87 High Street, Tonbridge, Kent.
Phone: 0732-771344

1147 Greenford Road, Greenford, Middx. UB6 ODP.
Phone: 01-864 2611

Northumberland House, Staines Business Centre, Gresham Rd, Staines, Middx. TW18 2AP.
Phone: 0784 64257.

Dabs Press

When you obtain shareware from one of the above outlets there is no guarantee that it will actually run on a Master 512. Dabs Press have already released a Shareware Collection containing five discs of Master 512 tested software and full details of this can be found in Appendix G.

Magazine Discs

There is, increasingly, a fifth method of obtaining shareware, and that is through the monthly hobbyist magazines for PC owners, such as Personal Computing with the Amstrad, and PC Plus. These magazines often contain a free disc affixed to the front of the issue. Be careful though – not all these programs are shareware. Both the magazines mentioned include a mixture of shareware, and reader-submitted, or staff-written programs (the equivalent of the printed listings in BBC magazines) and these latter programs are not shareware, and you cannot pass them around.

CP/M Shareware

DISC 4 of the Master 512 discs contains an emulator for CP/M 2.2, the Z80-based operating system which preceded 8086-based MS-DOS and DOS Plus. Quite a bit of CP/M software will work with this emulator, albeit slowly, and there is a fair amount of CP/M shareware. Unlike DOS, CP/M does not have a standard disc format, so if you are obtaining this through a shareware distributor, you must get the disc in one of the CP/M formats that the Master 512 can read. These are the last three items in the format list given in the FORMAT section of the Master 512 DISK program on DISC 1.

How Do I Know?

If a friend gives you a program, or you obtain one from a magazine disc, and you are in doubt as to whether a program is shareware, look for the author notice. If it doesn't say anything about sending contributions, or that the program is in the public domain, or 'freeware', then you had better assume that it isn't shareware, and don't pass it around. There is very little public domain material around for the IBM PC relative to shareware – the majority of program authors do ask for a contribution, and therefore will always place a message to that effect fairly prominently in the program.

If a program is shareware, you may pass it on to whom you like. If you do this, especially if you do it on a regular basis, take note of the author's requests in the documentation – for example some authors insist that all the files must be given (fairly obvious), and some insist that the programs be distributed in ARC form, or with no other programs on the disc, or some other conditions. You should honour these requests, not just because they are morally justified, but also because the author retains copyright, and has only permitted shareware distribution subject to those conditions.

There are many thousands of shareware programs available for the IBM PC and compatibles. Most of them will work correctly on the Master 512, and just about every application you could ever want is there. It's a very exciting area.

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About the Master 512 | Bibliography