By: Noah Matthews

These are reviews of shareware programs for IBM-compatible PCs running Windows 95 or NT. The programs are available from the Internet and on CD-ROMs from this column. Users try them, then pay a fee to register if they decide to use them regularly.

The hour is late, and still my 30-megabyte download is not complete. I started downloading shareware programs from the Internet at 10:00 AM. Twelve hours later, I still wait. It's not that my modem is slow, either. It's the Internet, which during prime time is like rush hour on (name the worst freeway you know). So, when I rave about "The Best of Windows," a four CD-ROM set that contains gigabytes of programs and utilities for Windows 95 that you don't have to download, it's not just the wide range of programs I'm excited about--it's the time I've saved.

The Internet site known as Windows gets 2 million hits a day. Now it's true that not everyone downloads everything on the massive site, but suppose you wanted to have access to the best programs there and, at your leisure, peruse what you want to download. With the CD-ROM version, you don't have to wait in line until you can download a program that looks good. Simply slip the first disk in your CD-ROM drive and you get an instant graphical look at Windows 95 and NT riches beyond your wildest dreams. Each program has a description, information about registration fee (if any) and a link to its Web site.

To start, a copy of Microsoft Internet Explorer is supplied (or you can use your own browser). Here's what you'll find once you're up and running (in a matter of seconds):

Four CDs full of 32-bit shareware and freeware programs for Windows 95 and NT. Compression utilities. Cursors and screen savers. Web tools. Programming utilities. Personal Information managers. Games. Educational programs. Program patches and updates. Dialup utilities. News and chat utilities. Mail utilities. FTP programs. Browsers and plug-ins. Financial programs. Time and clock utilities. You even get trial versions of commercial programs such as pcAnywhere and LapLink for remote computing. And much more. This version of "The Best of" was compiled in April and takes users directly to Web sites for even later downloads. Or you can run many of the programs right from the CD. Others can be installed on your hard disk.

You probably won't use everything on the CD-ROM collection, but you won't waste time downloading programs either.