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Shareware Hypocrisy

By Troy Brophy   July 2, 1997

While making arrangements to register a copy of GIF Construction Set, the shareware I use to interlace the images for this site, I recalled my early days online, when I never bothered sending in shareware fees and wondered who did. Now I know that those who take the time to register useful shareware are not just the products of a strict moral upbringing, they are people helping to shape the future of the Net.

Think of the very computer you are using to access this editorial. Chances are, it's a clunky box either standing upright or laying flat, with a monitor, mouse and keyboard. There is also a good chance that the ensemble is some shade of off-white or grey. Sure, a few of you are using a black or teal computer, and some are using a Mac Classic with computer and monitor in one (though that may be just Rob). My point is, computers started out as entire rooms full of mechanisms, tubes and wires. Because only a few companies were willing to work at making a computer into something that can fit on your desk, we are stuck with the form that a small handful of engineers and designers agreed on. Try to imagine what computers might look like today...what sort of operating systems we might have, had a different group of people endeavored to bring us the technology. Imagine an operating system based not on folders, files and trash cans (or recycle bins), but on cities, farmlands and deserts ("I've gotta go harvest some produce...I hope I wrote the seeds right.")

While it's difficult for an individual to design and market a new computer design, writing software and distributing it on the Net is quite easy. People who write shareware are offering the rest of us a choice. I can either use Microsoft's image editing utility, or I can go with software written by a student in Scotland who has a better idea of the sorts of things I want to do with my images. Until I register and pay for my software, what incentive does the student in Scotland have to improve his current software? What means will he ever have to start his own company and compete with the giant corporations who force their version of the tools we use down our throats?

My argument in favor of paying shareware fees is simple: Anyone who complains about the big companies controling the Net and dictating the course of its future development--but ignores the reminder screens for registering the shareware they use--is a hypocrite.

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