The good old days of shareware.

The Internet was quite a different place when I first set foot online some 20 years ago. Back then dial-up was the way to go and there was certainly more to do than just browse the web and check your e-mail. You could also transfer files using FTP, use Gopher to access information and use Telnet to connect to other computers. There was a wealth of shareware utilities available that I found handy for utilizing the Internet to its fullest. I myself invested in some of these utilities and found them indispensable, but over time, as the Internet changed, these gems no longer worked their magic and became obsolete.

For example, one of the first shareware utilities I used was a program called 4-Net from Cartoon Logic. Its handiest feature was its anti-idle tool that pinged random servers to keep my dial-up connection active. Normally it would be terminated if idle for at least 10 minutes, not good if I was trying to download a file. Now that we have DSL and broadband connections that won’t disconnect when you’re idle, well, unless you’re idle when it comes to paying for your service, 4-Net is no longer needed just to keep your connection active.

Here are some other vintage shareware utilities I used. Some of them I still find handy today.

NetTerm – This was my telnet utility of choice. Recently I’ve been under the impression that telnet was going away, but from seeing NetTerm still available for download, I could very well be wrong.

FTPEdit – This utility allowed me to connect to my web site via FTP and edit my HTML files online as if they were stored on my hard drive.

NeoTrace – One of the coolest tools I’ve ever used. It did traceroutes while plotting each point of the route on a map. Nerdy fun! This one seems to have disappeared from the Web.

DiDa – An HTML editor with a quick preview function. I still use it today to help me code the HTML code in some of my blog posts.

LIKSE – From the same author as DiDa, LIKSE (Local Internet Keyword Search Engine) is basically an offline HTML viewer with a built-in search engine for searching your locally stored HTML files. I still use it today.

Not all the antique shareware utilities I used were for the Internet. There are a few multimedia programs as well, like the ones listed here:

DubIt – I used this to add sound to a video or a media file. Not really needed anymore.

Easy Hi-Q Recorder – This is a nice sound recorder with a VCR-style timer function for recording my favorite radio shows. It’s worked well for me until I upgraded to Windows 10, and now it no longer detects any means of recording my radio streams. Sadly, I have had to part ways with it and switch to Audacity for recording my radio shows.

Rainbow MPEG Encoder – During the early days of my Internet travels, the dominant video file formats were AVI and MPEG. I used this program to convert my videos to MPEG format suitable for uploading to the Web.

There are other antique shareware programs I used, but the ones I listed here should give you an idea of what the Internet was like back in those days.

Jamming with Synthesia.

2015-12-27 22_33_49-Program Manager

I’ve seen numerous videos on YouTube that show how to play popular tunes while others seek to blow your mind with visual renderings of musical compositions in excess of several million notes. The program used to play the music in these videos is Synthesia.

Synthesia is an educational game that teaches you to play the piano. It has a built-in library of 150 songs ranging in difficulty from easy to hard. Playing the songs is a matter of hitting the right key at the right time as the notes fall down the screen, much like Guitar Hero. Your accuracy is measured and your progress is saved as you progress through the songs.

Synthesia also plays MIDI files and shows you how they’re played using the onscreen keyboard. And of course, there’s the free play mode that lets you play your keyboard your way and improvise some new tunes of your own. It works nicely with my M-Audio O2 USB MIDI keyboard.

I enjoyed Synthesia so much that I decided to buy it. It will come in handy for quenching my thirst for playing music time and time again.

SmartVersion.

SmartVersion is an extremely useful shareware program that allows you to store multiple versions of the same file within the same archive. An excellent example is my resume, which has undergone numerous changes in recent months, thanks to revisions from employment consultants I have been seeing to help me find work.
I loaded each version of my resume into my SmartVersion archive, so now I have 5 different versions residing in the same file. Here’s a breakdown:

version 1: 19,456 bytes
version 2: 24,064 bytes
version 3: 38,912 bytes
version 4: 27,648 bytes
version 5: 44,032 bytes

That’s 154,112 bytes of resumes right there, but the actual size of my SmartVersion file is only 28,816 bytes. That’s because only the changed portions of each file are saved.
I also found SmartVersion handy for storing multiple versions of my web site. I still have copies of my site during its journey from Freeservers to Geocities to mjbdiver.com to my present site (shameless plug).
I don’t usually recommend shareware programs but SmartVersion is excellent if you need to keep multiple versions of your stuff together.

Rubber Ninjas.

Rubber Ninjas is a stunning game that literally takes ragdoll fighting to a new dimension. It takes the unique fighting action of Ragdoll Masters and puts it in a 3-D world with cinematic camera techniques and realistic lighting effects to create a gaming experience unseen in any other fighting game. Even though this is a shareware game, there’s still plenty of fun to be had with the playable demo. Check it out.

Easy Hi-Q Recorder.

Easy Hi-Q Recorder is a very handy sound recorder utility that includes a VCR-like timer function so you can automatically record your favorite broadcasts, whether it’s over a radio attached to your sound card or some audio streaming over the Internet. It has some other interesting features such as sound detection for creating separate recordings, silence removal and file splitting. The file splitting feature is really cool. You can set up the recorder to create smaller files by a specific size or timeframe. So quickly does the recorder create the smaller files in succession that if you burn these files to an audio CD with no time gaps, it sounds like one continuous recording.
There’s a freeware version of Easy Hi-Q Recorder available that does not utilize the timer function but should still give you an idea of its versatility. I consider the upgrade to the full version money very well spent.

Virtual webcam.

e2eSoft VCam is a shareware virtual software camera that functions like a real webcam. You can easily have it play videos and display images through its software-based driver that you can easily pick from your favorite IM program. VCam works perfectly with a real webcam, too. There is an amazing variety of special effects you can add to your webcam shots, including embedding Flash movies and other images. VCam does wonders to make webcams fun all over again

The faxing software missing from Windows Vista.

One of my big grudges of Windows Vista is the lack of faxing capabilities as did Windows XP. I needed to fax something from my computer a few days ago and had to search online for a program that lets me transmit faxes through my modem. At first I wanted to find a free program but didn’t find one that worked, so I had to venture into shareware territory. 32bit Fax is the one program I found that works with Windows Vista. It’s set up as a virtual printer so it works from any program. When you’re ready to transmit your document, just print it to the fax driver and from there you can send it via fax over your phone line. I found it very easy to use and well worth the money spent.

MozPong DX for Windows.

MozPong DX for Windows is a hilarious shareware game from Japan that puts a fresh spin on those breakout type games. Here you control MozMoz-kun, a boy armed with a Butasan on a mission to crack open all the eggs in each level to free the chicks trapped within. Watch out for Josephine, a friendly green dinosaur who will hug MozMoz-kun if he gets too close. Power-ups, bosses and non-violent game action makes MozPong ideal for all ages.

The ultimate file viewer.

V is a shareware program that’s really gone a long way over the years. It’s an excellent file manager able to quickly view your files with a simple double-click. It also has what I think is the best file finder tool of any other file manager I’ve tried. I use it to find and delete those annoying Thumbs.db files that keep eating disk space on my USB key drive, files that don’t show up in the other file managers out there.
The current version of V really has some great improvements and neat features that made me fall in love with this program all over again. It now sports a dual-pane interface that displays two separate folder locations at once. It can also display dual folder trees, which is a unique feature I have not seen in other file managers. It can also display an Explorer window in addition to the dual panes or you can have it stick with the classic one-pane interface.
I think V’s biggest improvement is its added stealth. There are no-install versions made especially for USB key drives that save their settings to that drive, leaving nothing behind on the host computer. No more added entries to the Add/Remove Programs list.
V is one of those rare breeds of shareware I consider money well spent. At $20, it’s not a bad deal either.

Software piracy sucks.

Xplorer¬≤ has long been one of my favorite programs and it’s one I use for my file managing needs both at home and at work. There’s a page at its web site that really drives home the point on the high price of software piracy, especially on small companies like the one run by the author of Xplorer¬≤. It’s distressing to see him struggling to make ends meet despite having created such a popular and well-received program. Even more distressing is the possibility of his business folding because of all those links to unlock the full version for nothing. Xplorer¬≤ keeps getting better with each new version and I would really hate to see it disappear so soon.
If you download a shareware program and find it useful, please support its author by registering. The satisfaction that comes with every purchase is far better than downloading some keygen program or entering a crack code developed by some hackers with nothing better to do than to hurt the software industry, and it’s the small companies that are hurting the most.