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-- by Lenny Bailes, Jim Boyce, David Hafke, Nancy A. Lang, Cynthia Morgan, and Paul Silverman
Try before you buy is such an inviting concept, it helped spawn the $350 million shareware industry. But shareware's success isn't just the result of an easy way to buy. Much of the industry's growth can be attributed to vastly improved product quality.
Shareware enthusiasts swear by their favorites and will often match their economy-model software against the slickest, shrink-wrapped beauties. Easy access via the Web has also pumped shareware's popularity, turning hundreds of shareware authors' products into million-dollar sellers, according to the Association of Shareware Professionals.
You could spend a lifetime trying out all the available shareware apps. So we've simplified your job by poring through thousands of apps to find the best of the best in nine key categories-business, communications, e-mail, graphics/multimedia, HTML programming, Internet browsing, Internet server, office productivity and utilities. We picked our favorite in each category, as well as four or five runners up. We also picked 50 of our favorite freeware apps (see the sidebar "Fifty Fantastic Free Files")
Choosing the best 50 apps out of all the great shareware available was no mean feat. Shareware has improved dramatically over the past few years, and it's getting better all the time. Try these out and see if you love them as much as we did, and don't forget to check out our Top Ten Shareware picks each month. To make finding all these great products as easy as possible, we've grouped them and provided links in the table above.