CeePrompt! Computer Connection

Plenty of freebies up for grabs on the Net

by Cathi Schuler

There is no such thing as a free lunch. Says who? The Internet has long been a forum for the free exchange of information and ideas via the electronic medium. It has only been since the advent of the World Wide Web that commercialism has crept into this computer network, much to the dismay of traditional scientists and academicians.

For twenty-five plus years, the academic and scientific communities have used the Unix-based system to share their research files, programs and database information all gratis. Unix also managed to keep the masses at bay due to its cryptic nature.

But this bastion of higher education and knowledge has recently been invaded by Madison Avenue as well as the dreaded masses. The attitude of cooperative learning and living, however, continues in cyberspace leaving many suit-types scratching their heads in skepticism ... "Why would anyone give something away for free?"

"Why not?", is perhaps a better question. The Internet and World Wide Web have caused a paradigm shift of sorts away from traditional models of doing business. Here's the gist: Give your product away first, then politely request payment later if the customer is satisfied. Blasphemous! But it appears to be working. Netscape was one of the first to adopt this business strategy in marketing its web browser and was so effective, that Microsoft in turn offered its competing product, Explorer, also for free. Netscape continues to maintain market share and dominate the World Wide Web browser business.

Many companies on the Web endorse this "Give it away now...hope to get paid later" business style and still others simply offer freebies, no strings attached. PC Computing magazine offers a great list of Free Stuff at its web site, http://www.zdnet.com/pccomp . Some items are truly freeware and others are shareware.

Freeware is free for the taking while shareware is free to peruse and evaluate for a specified time. If you keep your shareware product, you are expected to register and pay for it. If you don't have Internet connectivity, you'll find Free Stuff listed each month in the back of the magazine. (As a side note, this web site features outstanding examples of various web site design tools such as frames, Java and Shockwave...really cool.)

If you're into designing your own web pages, be sure to check out http://www.niagara.com/~pmarquis/backgr.html for over 60 free backgrounds. I just stumbled on this excellent resource when I searched on Free Stuff from the Alta Vista search engine http://www.altavista.digital.com/ .

Freemark Mail should be of particular interest to those without any online connection or those who are using their online service just for e-mail exchange. In May of this year, Freemark Communications unveiled its totally free e-mail service including free software to its subscribers. To use Freemark mail, you must have a 386 or higher PC system (no Mac version) and at least a 2400 baud modem (9600 minimum is recommended). That's it...no strings attached....totally free!

Freemark relies on advertising and sponsors to support this complimentary service and also operates on a "flash session"-type of system whereby the user only connects briefly to the mail server to pick up and deliver mail. All reading and composing mail is done offline. This is, however, strictly an e-mail service. There is no Internet connectivity and at this point, Freemark does not support any file attachments to e-mail. An additional downside is the time it takes to receive the free software: 3-5 weeks!

You can call 800-881-1750 to order your free software, or preview this e-mail system at the Freemark web site, http://www.freemark.com . You'll notice that the software is very user friendly, simple to understand and requires little or no learning curve. So easy and popular is this service, that Citibank has licensed and bundled Freemark Mail with its online banking package as an additional feature. Pretty good example of "give it away now and hope to get paid later."

The Internet business model isn't much different than other marketing strategies. Hand out samples, and hope people buy. Personally, I find the Internet give-aways generally more useful than mini boxes of laundry soap in my mailbox or cereal with my newspaper.

Feedback? E-Mail cschuler@ceeprompt.com

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