Public domain. There is a load of it out there, just waiting to be taken. I will explain a bit about it, and review some of the better titles.
There are many different software titles that are legally copied and freely distributable among people. The most popular format for the IBM is Shareware. This type of software costs about $5 a disk. The buyer uses the program for a short time, and decides if they can use it. If they can, then the honor system calls upon them to send the programmer a donation of some amount mentioned in the program. For Atari, this is usually from $5 to $20.
When the user sends the programmer money, they have registered themselves as program owners, and usually receive printed documentation, free or inexpensive upgrades, and support if needed. Sometimes the Shareware program will have fixes, so that it will not work unless the user has registered. The author then sends a working copy. (This is not usually the case in the Atari community.)
Then there is public domain. This is the category of programs that do not cost anything except the price of the disk, plus a small copying cost. Most places charge $2 or $3 a disk. Many places also give discounts for bulk purchases.
The public domain (PD) contains many types of programs, including games, word processors, databases, utilities of every description, and other goodies.
There are drawbacks to PD software, though. The quality of the software is almost never commercial quality, which should be expected. Often, PD disks come with many programs that fill each disk, rather than just one program that leaves the rest of the disk empty. There is almost always something worthwhile on a disk.
You have probably heard of other names, but it all comes down to those two categories. Freeware is actually Shareware. In fact, if it doesn't call itself public domain, then it is some kind of Shareware, and the author often requests a one-time usage fee. If you don't pay for your Shareware, you are expected to erase it.
Atari by no means has the grip on PD software, but I haven't explored other computers as much as my beloved Atari. (I have this Atari fetish. I'm not sure why...but if I seem a bit biased, that is because I am!)
The largest source of software is the online services such as GEnie, CompuServe, etc. However, for those who don't have modems or don't want to spend the time downloading software, there are also many places that have PD and Shareware lists or catalogs.
What follows is a list of some places that carry PD software. Also, there are some reviews.
Lake Almanor Public Domain (L.A.P.D.), C/O Stefanee Hoffee, 333 Peninsula Drive, Lake Almonor, CA 96137, GEnie: S.Hoffee2. - L.A.P.D. carries a wide selection of disks. A catalogue on disk is available for one dollar. Send two dollars for one side of a disk, plus two dollars per disk ordered. Here are two reviews of PD games that L.A.P.D. carries:Arkanoid (Disk 112): Just about everyone has heard of this excellent, Breakout-type game. This is not a clone, but the Atari release by Taito. It has been released into the public domain because it has a flaw: the computer locks up at high levels. (I have played for a really long time and have never had this happen to me...) The game can be played with a joystick, paddle or keyboard. Response is quick and very smooth. The graphics are great, and blow Breakout back into the seventies, where it just withers to nothing. HINT: Place something heavy onto the space bar; it will slow the ball down sometimes. This game is highly recommended.
M.W.P.D.S., 890 N. Huntington Street, Medina, OH 44256. - This company's catalogue is not on disk, and costs one dollar. Each disk costs $2.50, and comes with both sides filled. There is a minimum order of five disks. This works out to $12.50, not including the $3.00 shipping cost. They have a large selection of games, but here, I will review some utility disks:
The following two places carry PD software for other computers:
F.M.H., P.O. Box 493, Chesterland, OH 44026, (216) 729-0761. - Fred carries Adam software, much of which was once commercial and has been released into the public domain.
CALOKE IND., P.O. Box 18477, Raytown, MO 64133. - Apple and C64/128. Specify which for a free catalog, or send two dollars for a sample disk. This amount is refundable.