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Chapter 1. Working with Your Mac > Beyond the Desktop

Beyond the Desktop

If the Macintosh consisted of just the Finder and the Desktop, it would amount to a very expensive and moderately amusing toy that would wear thin quickly. Fortunately, the Desktop and the Finder are just the start of things when it comes to using your Mac. They let you run programs, which is how you make real use of your Mac by sending e-mail, editing video, browsing the World Wide Web, writing short stories or papers, manipulating photos, and so on. The list of possibilities is nearly endless.

Commercial Software, Shareware, and Freeware—Paying for Software

There are lots of ways to differentiate the thousands of programs available for the Mac. One very useful way for those of us on a budget is according to how those programs are sold—whether they are commercial products, they are shareware programs, or they come free of charge.

Commercial programs are typically sold in computer stores or via mail-order catalogs, and they're almost always the most powerful programs in their categories. You pay for all that power, though—commercial programs are typically the most expensive in their categories as well. Commercial software is most often created by software companies (such as Adobe, Microsoft, and Macromedia) that employ lots of programmers to do the job—hence the high cost.

Shareware programs are usually smaller in scale and ambition than their commercial counterparts, mainly because they're most often the creations of individuals or very small groups who know how to write Macintosh programs. You can usually download shareware from the Internet or copy it from a CD-ROM and use it before you have to pay any money at all. Then, if you like the software (or find it useful), you register your shareware by paying for it.

It typically costs much less to register shareware than to purchase commercial software, but you face a couple of trade-offs. First of all, shareware is almost never as powerful as a commercial program in the same category. Second, shareware typically focuses on a specific task, not a general mode of working. For example, a shareware program might be great for creating text-only documents, but a commercial program might do that and let you lay out a newsletter, complete with multiple fonts and pictures. You often get what you pay for, but if you need a program for a specific task, shareware is a great way to go. (If you use shareware, don't be a chiseler: Pay the shareware fee.)

Freeware programs are generally programs that an individual (or a small group) writes and then gives away free of charge. Sometimes people release freeware as an act of kindness, as when a programmer recognizes the need for some bit of software, writes it, and gives it away. Other times, freeware forms part of a company's larger strategy, as in the case of Netscape Communicator and Microsoft Internet Explorer, both of which are Web browsers given away to gain some control over the Internet. Some freeware programs released by software companies fall in the category of player programs, used to play movies, music, and live Internet broadcasts.



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