An MS-DOS-Based Software Portfolio Using Shareware

DR. JOHN F. SCHRAGE, Associate Professor Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville Edwardsville, Ill. Based on the availability of funds in the academic environment for automation (hardware and software), creativity has to be used in obtaining the tools to provide both the instructor and the student with realistic materials. As part of our information systems courses, students are introduced to a portfolio of public domain and shareware packages to supplement the commercial view of computer software. A maximizing of software effectiveness for the dollars available plays an important part in developing a set of programs to use in the academic setting. Almost all commercial computer vendors have adopted a policy to aid the academic community in obtaining hardware and software. While this policy has helped, there is still a cost that might be too much in some environments. The focus of this paper will be on the software portion of providing shareware teaching tools for the classroom environment. About ten years ago, the author received a faculty teaching grant to acquire software for use in the classroom. Part of the monies was spent on examining the realm of public domain and shareware software. Since that time, the author has evaluated over 10,000 packages that could be used by faculty and students. The majority of the evaluation has been for classes taught by the author in Information Systems, but with a continuing focus on end-user needs, as well as the normal computer professional. The software portfolio has also been presented to both prospective and practicing teachers. Continuing support is provided to regional non-public schools on establishing lower-cost software alternatives. This portfolio has been used in classes starting as low as fourth grade and continuing as high as the graduate level, both in business and education. Overview The use of the computer as a tool in all environments is either a fact of life or at least fast becoming a normal tool of use. The two major facets examined are for the Macintosh or MS-DOS environments and those are becoming somewhat transparent. Software exists for each system such that the functional use of the software d'es not matter. Each month in the review of software more applications in every vein are available. Colleagues have consistently asked about different content areas to supplement their teaching resources and there are many available. The classification of software generally falls into five categories: Public domain; Freeware; Shareware -- old version, counter, limited, and full; Educational versions -- full and limited capacity; and Commercial -- low- to high-end versions. Both public domain and freeware can be given to anyone without any legal restrictions when provided as specified. Normally public domain is not copyrighted while freeware has been copyrighted. Vendors even supply freeware as a lead-in for commercial packages. Shareware is the "try it and purchase if beneficial" software. It might be an older version of commercial software. A counter might be built into the program for a limited number of uses or there might be a time limit on use before locking. Most packages are full versions, but other amenities are added when the software is registered. Educational versions are normally a limited set of the full commercial package, but not always. For the author's classroom use, all packages are MS-DOS-based but have been run under the DR-DOS 6.0 system (which is now Novell DOS) and an older version of the shareware 4DOS system. Windows packages were not evaluated based on the computer systems that were available for students and faculty at the time. Packages evaluated and used were diskette-based and mainly portable. Software Categories The three major software categories are used as the base for the portfolio. The three areas are word processing, spreadsheet and database. Each of these categories has sub-groups that enhance the major grouping. Other areas include graphics, utilities, communications, education/training, productivity, statistics, business applications, personal, and the programming function. Examples of the packages used in classes are noted in the following paragraphs of this category. The limitation on packages used is mainly related to those packages which were found by the author in his reviews. While multiple packages exist in each category, only evaluated packages that were satisfactory to students and faculty are given a notation in the paper. Included in the word processing mode is not only the standard word processing software but desktop publishing [Rubicon Publisher and Typesetter PC -- enclosed periodically in brackets are examples of specific shareware packages that have been used in course settings] and writing aids [PC-Outline and Idea Tree]. While many word processors exist, the advent of MS-DOS 5.0 EDIT program makes many shareware word processors or editors unnecessary. The majority of shareware packages produce ASCII files, which makes the data transferable into almost any major word processing package. Spell checkers [Sharespell and Word Gallery] and grammar aids [PC-Proof and Readability Plus] are available but normally are not integrated into the word processor. "Normally public domain is not copyrighted while freeware has been copyrighted." In the spreadsheet area, a limited set of alternatives is available, but add-ons for printing [On-Side and PIVOT] and goal setting [Goal Setter], enhanced graphics to the standard graphs [ExpressGraph], and various templates [Financial Worksheets] that provide specialization for the given situation are available. The major shareware spreadsheet package, as a competitor of Lotus, has been ASEASY. Graphics have been a major seller to this Lotus "equalizer." The database area provides not only the normal packages but multiple specialized packages for such file areas as stamps, coins, sports, address books, and various other personal and business situations. Several packages are available in shareware that emulate the old standard of dBASE [Wampum and 2+2=3]. Likewise, many sets of data are available for access in decision making such as cities [Top Cities], auto pricing [AP9x, updated yearly], financial data [FINDATA], census data [StatMaster], almanacs [Almanac], and name lists [DRC Directories]. The catch-all term given to the remainder of the software categories has been "other area." That other area is huge, and that d'es not even consider the games available that have educational value. Graphics packages [NEOPAINT] that emulate a major commercial node are continuing to grow. Clip art [Cooper's Graphics Set 1-18] is increasing at a tremendous rate, based on an increased use of multimedia in education. The only problem seems to be the copyright nature of items used in the clips. Even general charting packages [FLODRAW and Charts Unlimited] that draw organization charts and logic flows are available for class use. Elementary presentation graphics exist, enabling even novices to integrate clip art, drawings, music and sound. Even the Print Shop package has a clone with Print Partner in the shareware mode. Many utilities that work in the three DOS environments have been used and continue to be added to the portfolio. The utilities section is its weakest portion, but probably has the largest selection of packages. Many utilities are an extension of the normal DOS commands but handle them a more pleasing nature. With the Information Super Highway as close as a modem and telephone line, networks and communication software allow the teacher and students to access data in the most current vein. Toll-free numbers for Internet and Web access are increasing and educational use is following. "How-to" software and general tutorial packages [Lotus Learning System and ECC System for WordPerfect] seem to be also increasing. From learning DOS and concepts [Tutor and WHAT'S-IN-THE-BOX] to absorbing chemical reactions [elements and periodic tables], all are available from shareware. When a student notes a learning problem, the author has been able, in most cases, to find packages to help. Productivity measures have changed from paper and pencil to automated tools. Producing even business cards [Letterhead] is a simple task for anyone having a computer with a printer. Letterhead stationary [Letterhead], banners [Bantastic], calendars [Active Life], appointment schedules [PC-Desk], and project managers [Easy Project] are a few of the work aids noted to classes. Statistical programs [Kwikstat] to analyze data and generate results are another tool change from paper to computer. Some packages will even note what type of statistics tests [Statistical Consultant] is best to apply, based on given criteria. Even some fun packages have been examined that analyze the personality of an individual based on key words [Personality and Employee Management Systems]. The power of the machine has been used as a backdrop to the personality software on how word analysis can generate pages about a person. Another alternative has been Career Life, which also notes the person's IQ, plus primary and secondary career areas. Financial and business applications [DAYO and Takin' Care of Business family of applications] are probably most applicable with various accounting procedures demonstrated to classes. Personal aspects are not ignored with check book balancing [CheckMate Plus and Cheque-it-out] noted in this area. There are many games [Wall $treet Raider and Megopoly] that, selectively, could be used is classes to simulate the business environment. Almost all programming languages have compilers in the shareware or public domain area. The FORTRAN compiler was from Germany and COBOL compilers exist in two shareware editions. Languages such as C, C++, Ada and BASIC are readily available with tutorials packages to support the language concepts. Many programming routines and software add-ons are available for various languages. An emulation of object-oriented programming to use a library of routines is available for PASCAL and C languages. The business language of COBOL has software aids for screen generation and object codes to emulate various standard additional routines added to the COBOL –85 amendments but not implemented by many vendors. Software engineering materials appear as freeware from McDonnell Douglas Corp. in the form of DFDraw and SCdraw. The software is used to introduce their CASE tool, ProKit Analyst. Another shareware tool [Analyst's Tool Kit] not only allows for data flow diagramming but allows the linking of the various levels, plus can generate an elementary data dictionary from the diagrams. Evaluation Methods Software evaluation has a heavy time factor. Many packages are visually scanned and then used without examining documentation since ease of use is the first major factor in evaluation. Checklists are employed to further evaluate packages against an existing baseline of packages used as a guideline. A baseline package is replaced if the software being examined exceeds the capabilities of that baseline package. When a new package seems to be better than an existing package, at least two external business-oriented teachers and three students evaluate the materials for agreement. Normally the external evaluator has been using the current baseline software and thus has a basis for evaluation. When the evaluation process first used external reviewers, those reviews were not normally in favor of changing to the newer package. But now most evaluators seriously consider the change based on the updated content and capabilities of the new program. The skill of the reviewers and teachers in general has greatly improved in the last two years. Finally, one other evaluation factor - that software fit on and be usable from floppy diskettes for portability between systems -- will probably be eliminated in the next year. How to Use Reading and using program documentation is probably 75% of the problem in learning new software. In the course, to not ignore the commercial packages, written instructional documentation is provided on several major packages. Students (upper division and graduate levels) have been given the classroom tasks of summarizing packages such as Harvard Graphics, Corel WordPerfect, and Lotus 1-2-3, in five pages or less. While some commercial books have done a good job on this aspect already, students in particular have been very enthusiastic in trying to accomplish this task. For shareware packages, the "how to use" document is part of the given documentation of the particular packages used in class. Commercial Versus Other Even in the classes that use commercial packages, the computer user is expected to also extract or manipulate the data using a shareware program. Lotus is compared with ASEASY as a spreadsheet clone with an emphasis on the graphics portion of the packages. The simple bar graph for both shows the 3D enhancements of ASEASY over Lotus. Since dBASE has several clones, students have been given the opportunity to view several. Almost all students have been non-committal on the preferred clone. Only dBASEIV skews the preference toward a clone. In as many cases as possible, a commercial package is noted to parallel shareware and public domain materials. Not all shareware will be sufficient to meet the user needs in a practical or teaching environment. The major benefits noted to the faculty, students and users about shareware is cost and duplication in the organization. Institutions such as schools may have a particular problem with unauthorized duplication due to the many and varied users on their systems. Based on the October 1992 change in the Federal Law, the duplication of software not in accordance with vendor licenses can result in a felony. "Not all shareware will be sufficient to meet the user needs in a practical or teaching environment." Normally, shareware authors have a more liberal view of software registration and disk duplication. While Windows-based software is used in classes, the diskette-based non- commercial packages still get a considerable workout. Distribution and Costs Since the major use of shareware over commercial packages is motivated by reasons of duplication and costs, it is logical to create a place to find the recommended packages. Based on the focus of the given class, the appropriate set of software is available in the main computer facility for students to copy. A list of the available software is noted in class with a recommendation for use rather than a requirement. Most students take the given recommendation based on their lack of knowledge of existing software. Most software is provided in compressed format from which the student must use operating system commands to assemble the packaged copy. At one time, multiple copies were provided for students to purchase but the time and effort to duplicate the material soon became too great. As a side benefit, the author has found that the duplication and installation have been good learning tasks for students. Some shareware will be more costly than others, but much software is available at no cost to the user. Fees for using registered shareware are minimal, normally ranging from $5 to $50 per copy. One task in the software evaluation course has been to assemble a package of software based on a given budget with an emphasis of commercial versus shareware needs. The responses to this project have provided some insights. One shareware author states that one copy of the software must be purchased for each building. Yet another suggested giving the software to students with a lecture noting the rules and regulations about shareware. "Fees for using registered shareware are minimal, normally ranging from $5 to $50" The author has been very surprised by his students' mentioning that they have registered a shareware package based on the savings they obtained through its use. One shareware vendor even provides a paragraph with his name and requests that faculty insert their name to promote the dual view on shareware distribution and use. In sending out over 50 letters to shareware authors noting that the author wanted to distribute the software in a classroom setting, only one objected to the procedure. Only the shareware version noted as distributed by major shareware companies is provided; the newest version is normally not provided for students, but only demonstrated to classes. Source of Shareware Originally the major source of most of the shareware used was from diskettes but now the source is CD-ROM. The major shareware vendors have been PC-SIG, The Software Labs, Reasonable Solutions, The Software of the Month Club, Software Twenty Twenty, and the Public (software) Library [PsL]. If a CD-ROM drive is available, this is the best way to get software. The author has compared costs of diskettes and CD-ROM, and even when purchasing a CD-ROM drive, CD is the most economical. Currently, purchasing the monthly CD from PsL provides a multitude of packages to evaluate. In addition to that subscription, other CDs have been purchased periodically. The author's current library has over 45 CDs of shareware and the number grows monthly. Additionally, with the advent of the Internet, various sites are available to download software. These sites vary from a firm producing a specific software package to a general list of shareware libraries. A list of sites is noted in the Appendix. Summary When the author first experienced public domain and shareware packages with an Apple II computer system, the programs were trivial, but the library and depth improved over time. When IBM announced their MS-DOS PC in the early '80s, the shareware movement shifted more to that platform and has continued to grow for almost every application and use imaginable. Personal experience can recount examples. The first discussion with one elementary school system was like a game. Teachers would ask for an application, and the author was able to provide at least one package that was a candidate. One eighth-grade teacher was dead set against the computer and CD-ROM systems, now she has two CD systems in her classroom and we continually look for packages for the class. She was amazed by a disk on the U.S. Constitution and the ability to extract portions for class discussion. The shareware Vietnam diskette she received in early February 1994 continues to impress her. Shareware is an alternative for educators and students to facilitate an automated learning environment that will continue to grow. John Schrage is an Associate Professor in Management Information Systems at Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville, Ill. E-mail: [email protected] Companies mentioned in this article: PC-SIG d'esn't handle shareware anymore Public (software) Library, Houston, Texas, (800) 242-4PsL Reasonable Solutions, Mesa, Ariz., (800) 876-3475; Software Twenty Twenty, Lorton, Va., (800) 800-3122 The Software Labs, Redmond, Wash., (206) 869-6802; The Software of the Month Club, Carlsbad, Calif., (800) 470-CLUB; Sources used for preparing this article: 1.Chien, Philip (1993), "Great Shareware," Compute, 9, pp. 58-64. 2.Conroy, Cathryn (1994), "The Benefits of Bonusware," CompuServe, 8, pp. 24-25. 3.Doligite, D.G. (1992), Using Computers, Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall. 4.Glossbrenner, Alfred (1984), How to Buy Software, New York, NY: St. Martin's Press. 5.Frankel, Philip & Gras, Ann (1983), The Software Sifter: An Intelligent Shopper's Guide to Buying Computer Software, New York, NY: Macmillan Publishing Co. 6.Littauer, J'el (1994), "A 'How to ...' on Using Courseware in the Classroom," T.H.E. Journal, 22(1), pp. 53-54. 7.Munro, David, Sargent, George & Gosenpud, Jerry (1991), "Shareware License Violations: A Survey of Student Views," IBSCUG Quarterly, 3(3), pp. 11-16, 32. 8.Sonenchar, Ken (1994), "Do U.S. Schools Make the Grade?", HomePC, 1(3), pp. 84-93. 9.Strommen, Eric (1994), "Avoiding Computerphobia," Creative Classroom, 9(1), pp. 58-60. 10.Staff (1994), "Defining Software for the Curriculum," Syllabus, 8(1), pp. 16-17. Appendix: Internet Sites Having Notations on Shareware Association for Shareware Group: http://homeasp.html Free Software: Freeware/Shareware: Hardware/Software References: Internet Pearls Shareware: Link of Links for Shareware: List of PC Links: pc-links.html Personal Technology: Search Engine for Shareware: Shareware Central: Shareware sources: SimTel Shareware: Software Publishers Association: Virtual Computer Library: Windows Shareware Archive: http://winworld.html

This article originally appeared in the 09/01/1996 issue of THE Journal.