I RECENTLY read an article on one of the international news wires which made me scared for the future of one of the on-line world's greatest assets: software. Most on-line users, whether on the Internet or on the big commercial networks, such as CompuServe or Delphi, have encountered the vast libraries of software available for most computer systems and for most tasks. A large portion of this worldwide collection is what is known as shareware. It is distributed at no cost, on the condition that users who, after testing it, and want to keep it and use it, send the author a fee which is usually low, compared with the cost of commercial packages. But the article made the point that with most shareware, it is possible to keep using it without paying a cent. The software will not self-destruct after a preset period. It will not do anything nastier than remind the user of the requirement to pay for the software. For the media to promote the use of unregistered shareware, as if it were freeware or public domain software, could be a bad sign for the future development and growth of the shareware market. After all, who would keep producing work if they were never rewarded financially? Most people would not and those who will are already distributing their programs as freeware. The most generous put their applications into the public domain giving up all their rights to the software. This may seem like a small issue but it is not. In many fields, some of the best packages are in fact shareware. Shareware is often better than the commercial alternatives. For instance, in communication fields, some of the more popular packages have been shareware. Also, some of today's best commercial applications and utilities were developed as shareware and then later migrated into commercial versions. In fact, it is easy to say the shareware market is part of the key to keeping the software industry creative. Packages developed commercially will only be produced once the companies have been reassured that they stand a chance to make a sufficient profit. But, shareware provides a means by which a programmer, group of programmers, or company, can make a piece of software without high production costs and still feel they will be able to get some form of compensation for the human-work done in creating the product. In Hong Kong, where illegal copying of commercial software is a way of life to the point that it is not even pushed underground as it is in many other countries, it is hard to see how things could ever be any better with shareware. And, unfortunately, this may be true. But, as a different world, with a different set of expectations, the on-line community may be able to become a starting point towards a different approach to the concept of paying for software. One would hope that there remains enough morality and honesty in the on-line world's citizenship to not follow the example suggested in that article. Shareware has been one of the greatest assets of computer users and it should not be allowed to die. On other subjects, CompuServe has recently announced that an archive collection of 60 United States and British newspapers dating as far back as 10 years ago are now available through CompuServe Hong Kong. The archive provides daily and historic, full-text articles on every subject from international news to local sports. A premium charge of $11.70 per article viewed or downloaded is charged to use the archive, which is accessible by typing GO NEWSARCHIVE. The information is being provided initially by Dialog Information Services.