NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article, April 2003
Software Download Sources
by Ira Wilsker
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In some of my recent columns, I wrote about several software products that were available for free download from their authors' websites. Several loyal readers have asked for information on websites where they can view many titles, and download them from a single source. This column is in response to those requests.

Claiming to be one of the largest sources on the Internet for downloadable software, http://www.download.com is a subsidiary of CNet. While CNet originally started as a 30-minute cable TV show, it has now developed into an Internet powerhouse with much of its growth due to "dot.com" acquisitions. Download.com is an assimilation of several other former premier download resources into a single, easy to navigate supersite. With several hundred thousand titles available for Windows, Mac, Linux, Palm, PocketPC, cell phones, and other platforms, download.com may have earned its laurels. At the top-right of the page is a search box; a topic or title can be entered in the box, and the pull- down menu gives the choice of searching in all downloads, Windows only, all of CNet (including reviews, news, price comparisons, etc.), or searching the entire web. If a particular title is unknown to the user, a simpler and classical menu interface is available. The major menu topics are MP3 and Audio, Internet, Games, Business, Mobile (Palm, PocketPC, cell phone), Multimedia and Design, Web Developing, Software Developing, Utilities and Drivers, and Home and Desktop. Each of the menu headings when opened reveals a comprehensive lower directory of detailed topics, with several levels often appearing below the main topic. A little browsing practice of the menus will reveal a generous cornucopia of choices, sometime numbering in the thousands. Once a software topic is found, and multiple titles are displayed, simply clicking on the column headers "Name", "Date", "User Rating", or "Downloads" can sort alphabetically, by date, by user ranking, or by download volume, respectively. A quick review of just the top few "most popular" downloads will indicate that for some software titles, literally millions of copies of individual titles have been downloaded from download.com. For those who browse this site frequently, a click on the "New Releases" heading on the main page will show the latest additions to the site. On the date that I am typing this, 1105 new titles have been added so far today. As another example of the dependency that many place on this site, the top download of a "new program today" (the evening that I am typing this), is already over 162,000 downloads, and one file "new this week" has had almost one-half million downloads from download.com in the past seven days. As an additional online tool to help narrow the surfers' choices, many of the screens also allow the user to sort by operating systems, license terms (free to use, trial versions, commercial), file size, and category can be selected.

Other headings on download.com can also be used to narrow searches. These headings on the main page include "IS/IT"; "Software Developer" for programmers; "Web Developer" for web page authors; "Business"; "Personal Tech" which includes audio and video utilities, internet utilities, and home and desktop utilities; "Mobile" includes Palm, PocketPC, WindowsCE, Psion, EPOC, and cell phone software; and a huge "Games" section. As a source of downloads, download.com is an excellent resource.

"The Ultimate Collection of Winsock Software" originally started as a source of Internet related utilities, but has now grown into a massive network of local websites offering an extensive collection of software for a variety of platforms. Containing over 30,000 updated titles, TUCOWS, http://www.tucows.com, has become one of my "personal favorite" resources. With software available for Windows, Macintosh, Linux, BeOS, Windows 3.1 (still available!), PDAs, and a variety of other platforms and operating systems, TUCOWS is a geek's paradise. In order to make downloads faster, and complying with the "netiquette" that says that downloads should be done close to home, TUCOWS has hundreds of local mirror sites around the world that are frequently updated with the latest in titles. A listing of all current TUCOWS mirrors is online at www.tucows.com, at the "Choose Your Mirror" link near the center of the page. In Texas alone, there are over a dozen local sites offering the TUCOWS service, with EXP offering the service locally in southeast Texas at tucows.exp.net.

Connecting to a local TUCOWS server shows a tabular heading of "Business", "Games", "Home and Education", "Internet", "Multimedia", "Systems and Utilities", and "Themes". Also on the main page is a weekly list of the top 100 downloads, indicating the popularity of specific titles. The number one downloaded title, which was the topic of a recent column here, is the excellent Irfan View software, which I personally use on a frequent basis. For those who desire to keep up with the latest in available software, TUCOWS offers a free daily email describing the newest software. By clicking on a tab at the top of the main page, another menu will appear showing sub-topics. The "Internet" tab, for example, opens a menu with an even dozen categories with easy-to-understand topics. It is here, for example, that Internet related software from spam killers to instant messaging services could be found.

There are many other fine resources available to locate and download available software. One warning is to beware of some sources, because it has been documented that some sites, as well as several of the file sharing sites, can be sources of viruses, worms, and Trojans embedded in downloaded software. While not perfect, reliable sources such as download.com and TUCOWS are generally safe places to find software. Experimenting with and using downloaded, often free, software can be a significant enhancement to your computing experience.

There is no restriction against any non-profit group using the article as long as it is kept in context, with proper credit given to the author. This article is brought to you by the Editorial Committee of the Association of Personal Computer User Groups (APCUG), an International organization to which this user group belongs.

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