When Shareware Isn't Anymore

In the late '90s, I was without an internet connection at home.

I compensated by using the internet services at my public library. That meant, sometimes, downloading documents or programs onto 3.5 in. diskettes to take home learn or play with.

A 3.5 in. diskette holds about 1.44 mb of information - not very much, but enough if you're mostly interested in low-tech, low graphic shareware or freeware applications.

Most text adventure games, for example, fit nicely within 1.44 mb. So do many simpler games, including some fun learning games authored before 1995.

For example, I found a version of Hangman with really simple graphics. It was great because my learners and I could customize our own list of (spelling) words.

There was a car design game - called Car Builder, I think - which allowed us to use a text menu system to design our own cars and then test them in a wind tunnel and on a simulated track.

And there was the Loose Change game distributed through Olltwit software. That was a 5 part math game that required learners to make or check their change while handling (clicking on) coins. For example, it would say "You bought something that costs 78 cents and you paid 1 dollar. How much should you get back?" You were then expected to click on the quarter and three pennies, or some similar combination. I managed to stumble across a Canadian version of the game, complete with twoonies ($2 coins). It was great.

And then I lost it.

Well, you know how it is. Old computers stop working. Somebody donates a newer one and you have to move all your software somehow. You go looking on the internet for another copy and it seems to have disappeared.

Or, in the case of Loose Change, lost it's shareware status.

Shareware is software that's put out on the internet to be used for free as long as the programming is not re-written and the creator / owner is acknowledged. Some shareware also requests a donation - we call that nagware. By comparison, freeware is software that is free for all to do with as they please, which includes rewriting it. (We mostly call this Open Source these days.)

Now maybe Loose Change never was shareware. Maybe it I found an inappropriately posted copy of the program. I don't think so - I think it came free direct from the Olltwit webpage - but I'm not sure. I am sure, however, that it's no longer free to use, free to distribute.

That means I can't post it on my skydrive or someplace like that, and then urge you to use it with your learners.

I'm thinking about this because I recently discovered an old zipped copy on a diskette and have been happily helping learners with it. I also installed it on a learner's home computer. That's probably a flogging offense or something.

By the way, Loose Change isn't the only program I've seen lose its "free" status. Sometime around the year 2000, ownership became an issue in a way it hadn't been before, and lots of programs required pay pal.

Before that time, say, in 1988, people were programming solo or in small groups. They posted their efforts, apparently, for the sheer joy of it. They were like artists. They were artists.

Then the climate changed.

And I know they always owned what they owned and all that.

But still.

It feels like the closing of the commons.

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