There are two ways to look at netware, that increasingly huge body of software that is primarily available electronically and is paid for informally. (I include shareware, freeware, beerware, and so on in the netware category.) From the point of view of software producers, netware increasingly competes with the more trivial end of software products. This includes, for example, text editors and image viewers as opposed to, say, PageMaker or AutoCAD. Also, more and more commercial products are refined versions of popular netware; examples include StuffIt Deluxe from Aladdin Systems and White Knight (formerly Red Ryder) from Freesoft.
But for users, netware is an often frustrating, occasionally delightful grab-bag that can be extremely elusive for those without access to mainstream networks. Since you are reading TidBITS, an electronically distributed publication, there is a good chance you have at least indirect access to a major network. But even so, netware remains a frustrating experience. With so much out there and so little time, it becomes fairly difficult to track down an application that will actually be useful or entertaining and not crash the third time you use it. The next article is the first in a series intended to steer you towards the best netware and away from the mediocre.
If you have a favorite netware package that you feel deserves some recognition email me about it. Please include information on how to get it via either the Internet or America Online. Some brief comments on why you think it is great would also be helpful.