Shareware & cracking

If you’re looking for a way to find full version applications while avoiding all that shameless download site trickery, you’ve just stumbled across the perfect solution; the shareware archives. Shareware is cut down software with limited functionality and is designed to work on a try-before-you-buy basis. The idea is that you test drive a particular piece of software, and then if you like it and decide that you want to continue using it once the trial period is over, you pay to have it ‘upgraded’ to the full version. This can be done online using your credit card or by sending the shareware author a cheque via snail mail. At least this is the legitimate, honest way of going about it. The modus operandi of the more frugal software user of course is to swipe it without paying with a spot of reverse engineering or by making use of a generated or leaked registration code. How exactly does that work then?

Well first of all you’ll need to visit a good shareware archive, www.download.com is an excellent resource for example, or you can visit the shareware section of my links page for some more ideas. What you need to do then is perform a search for the application you are interested in, download the program and then seek out the relevant crack, patch, key generator or serial number. All of these will magically transform an application from one with limited functionality to the full version whilst removing any time restraints which may previously have been imposed.

While it’s ridiculously easy to ‘unlock’ limited use shareware without paying for it, I think it’s only fair that if you intend to use a program regularly you should do the decent thing and register it. The majority of shareware authors do not work for gigantic conglomerate organizations that can afford to lose thousands of pounds to piracy each year; more likely they are small teams of hard working programmers who need your registration contributions to make ends meet. Rip them off once too often and they may not survive. Very often you will find that shareware authors, in contrast to much larger scale publishers like Microsoft and Adobe, charge reasonable prices for their products and offer a more personal technical support service giving you an even greater incentive to reward them for their efforts. Like I’ve said before, downloading retail software for free should be a means of exercising your rights as a consumer when faced with shoddy, often unfinished software, unscrupulous business practices and exploitative prices. If there is no case to answer in any of these departments then I’d urge you to dig deep and help shareware authors to go on developing quality products for many years to come.

Moralizing aside, a crack or patch (these terms are often used interchangeably) is a tiny file, which when executed will alter the programming code of an application allowing it to function as though you had bought the full version from a shop or on-line using your credit card. Most cracks operate in one of two ways. You either copy the crack executable file to the directory where you have installed the program you wish to crack and run it from there, or you run the crack from wherever it happens to be residing at the time, and when prompted to select the location of the main executable of the program, you browse for it using the built-in Explorer style GUI. Either way will get the job done, the latter method is simply more convenient. Incidentally you will find that the current trend is to create cracks which use the ‘run from anywhere’ method.

Like game installations, cracking an application can sometimes involve certain idiosyncrasies, and for this reason some cracks may require a bit of tweaking in order to get them to function correctly. So if all else fails remember that as a last resort you can always take a peek at the ‘nfo’ file (refer to the nfo tutorial and all will be revealed), which will be contained within the same zip file where you found the crack itself. Once you have executed the crack make sure you keep your eyes open for any messages which may give you a clue as to whether or not you have been successful. If the crack you have attempted to use is incompatible with your trial software you may see an error message similar to: “incorrect file size”, “wrong version number” or just simply “patch/crack failed”. The reason for this is usually that you have not matched the version number of your trial software with that of your crack or patch – remember that these must be identical. If things start to go pear shaped, make sure you double check these details as well as any references to ‘standard’, ‘pro’ or ‘premium’ variations in the about or info box of your software. By now you will probably have noticed that games are often cracked and released by more than one release group. One group releases a game and then it is discovered that this, that and the other is wrong with it so it is re-released in an attempt to remedy any faults contained within the first version. Well the same thing often happens with cracks and patches, so if the crack you have downloaded won’t play ball, it is worth remembering that you can always go in search of another group’s release and see if you have better luck with that.

A serial number performs the same function as a crack or patch. Instead of giving your credit card details to the software company in exchange for a code to unlock the functionality of a program you would search for an nfo file which will list the user name and registration details for free. Alternatively, if you prefer the personal touch, you can use a key generator to translate your own name and company name into the corresponding serial number. These codes are simply typed into a dialog box located under the ‘about’ or ‘info’ tab of a program. Note that serials are the more reliable way of converting shareware to full version software since you are not interfering with the source code in any way – shareware programs are specifically designed to process registration codes but are not designed to be tampered with by crackers. Having said that, however, cracks are thoroughly tested before being released so providing that you have the right crack for the particular version of the program you are attempting to transform into the full version you should experience few problems.

Sometimes no matter how hard you search through the menus and tabs of your to-be-cracked program you will not find a place to enter a serial number. This is because some programs are designed to be upgraded using a personal registry file rather than a manually entered serial number. Registry files are made up of ascii characters just like a basic text file which can be read using Notepad and contain the name, company name and serial number you plan to use to register your shareware program. These can be constructed using a slightly different type of key generator which instead of spitting out a serial number on request, produces a tiny file with a reg extension that can simply be double-clicked in order to add your details to the Windows registry thereby upgrading the program. Note that it’s also possible to download ready made registry files instead of the programs which generate customized ones. When you use one of these, your program is registered to the cracker who produced the registry key, but since the end result is the same why worry?

We were talking about manually entered serial numbers though weren’t we. After entering your registration details into the relevant boxes, occasionally you may find that you still have nothing more than a partially functional piece of shareware. There are various reasons for this. Firstly, some programs require you to run a patch before entering your serial number. Strangely enough these patches aren’t always included in the same zip file where you found the registration details so you will have to return to your ‘underground’ search engine and retrieve this separately. Another explanation is that the company responsible for the program you are trying to crack is aware that the serial number you are using has been illegally generated and has black listed it before releasing the software. This renders it useless so you will have to find another one to try.

Other problems can arise when your software has to connect to the producer’s home page to check your details before confirming registration. These sort of checks are particularly common with web site submission software. Again, if your serial number has been black listed you will be unable to use it unless you can find a patch which removes the integrated list of black listed serial numbers from the program. Whenever this happens you will receive a threatening message similar to: “You are using an illegal copy of ………., your IP address is blah, blah, blah and has been logged. Software piracy is a crime and if you are caught using it you will be prosecuted. You will now be redirected to the ………. home page where you can purchase a legitimate copy of ………..”. Obviously it would be wise to do your best to avoid these messages, but don’t let them worry you too much if they do appear. The software companies haven’t got the time or the resources to track down everyone who tries to use pirated versions of their software so don’t lose any sleep over it. As I mentioned earlier, sometimes you have to run a patch before entering your serial number. In this case the purpose of this is to prevent the program from connecting to the producer’s home page, enabling you to use a black listed serial number. Armed with all this advice you will no doubt now want to know where to begin searching for these cracks, serials, key gens and patches. Well, the best place to start is astalavista.box.sk – if what you are looking for isn’t here it probably doesn’t exist (or is possibly too new to have been entered into the database).

If the boy scout in you insists that you ‘be prepared’, you may find it worthwhile getting hold of a database of serial numbers. These are huge searchable collections of registration codes for try-before-you-buy software. The advantage with these is that the list resides on your hard drive, so rather than visiting Astalavista every time you need a serial number you can just run the program from your start menu and type in the name of whatever you happen to be looking for. There are quite a few of these programs available on the net, but in my opinion the two best ones are Oscar and Serials 2000. For information regarding Oscar you can visit the program’s official home page at www.kickme.to/pcoscar, whereas if Serials 2000 is more your cup of char you can learn all about that by surfing along to www.serials2000.org. Note that you won’t be able to download the programs themselves from these sites for legal reasons, but in any case I’m sure they’ll tell you everything you need to know in order to track them down,