The freeware community is not about to take over the world of software, but it is alive, healthy, and growing. There are freeware archives, development projects, publishers, support providers, and more. The problem, really, is keeping track of them all.
Occasional articles cover freeware, but there is very little regular coverage of the topic. Aside from The Internet Notebook, I know of no monthly columns devoted to freeware-related issues. (Let me know if I've missed something; I'll be glad to mention it!)
In any case, a monthly column can go only so far in providing coverage.
The space is limited and the timing constraints are severe.
What we really need is an online resource of freeware-related information.
Conveniently enough, there finally is one.
Freeware Central is actually my own project, so this column could easily be seen as an exercise in self-promotion. On the other hand, I think that Freeware Central serves a long unmet need, and deserves a bit of promotion. So, you decide...
In any event, Freeware Central is a set of WorldWideWeb (WWW) pages, located at http://www.ptf.com/free/. The pages are organized topically, covering (currently):
This area covers noteworthy freeware archives. Some, like Netlib and the CMU AI Repository, offer definitive coverage of their chosen topics. Others, like the UUNET archive, offer a selection that is both broad and deep.
Note that this area only covers "independent" archives.
Many archives are maintained by development projects and/or user groups.
Freeware Central lists these under the organizations involved.
This section is open to scheduled, freeware-related events.
These may include freeware-related conferences, meetings, or even picnics.
Even if a conference itself is not freeware-related,
one of its BOFs or other sessions might be.
This section covers legal issues events regarding freeware,
occasionally spilling over into related issues
such as export restrictions, interface copyrights,
and software patents.
This section covers news events regarding freeware.
Like the Legal section, its boundaries are somewhat fuzzy.
This section covers organizations that contribute to the growth of free software. It has sub-sections for:
Commercial publishers and support organizations supplement the informal freeware infrastructure. They provide formal distributions of freeware, printed documentation, installation support, porting assistance, and more.
Many development projects and user groups
also produce formal freeware distributions
and/or printed documentation.
It is also common for such organizations
to provide archive sites related to their users' interests.
Hundreds, if not thousands, of individuals have made significant contributions to the free software community. They include archivists, authors, documenters, maintainers, publishers, and more.
These pages list superstars of free software
such as Richard Stallman and Larry Wall.
They also list folks who are not famous now and probably never will be.
All of the people listed, however,
have done things that benefited the free software community.
Freeware Central lists them as a way of honoring that contribution.
There is a substantial and growing number of products
that contain freeware.
In addition, many books have been written
about free languages and systems.
This section is a topically-organized tree of product listings,
keyed back to their producers.
Some freeware support organizations have started to offer specific services, as opposed to straight hourly consulting. This section lists known freeware-related services.
The server has two other sets of pages that may be of interest to freeware enthusiasts. The Internet Notebook pages (http://www.ptf.com/tin/) contain HTML versions of my Internet Notebook columns, complete with links to referenced sites and email addresses. The Prime Time Freeware pages (http://www.ptf.com/ptf/) cover PTF's freeware-based offerings.