PerlShop is a shopping cartprogram written in Perl script that enables customers to shop for products and pay forthem via the Internet. And best of all, it' s free. Using free E-commerce softwaresounds like a great idea to many small businesses that can' t afford expensive softwarepackages, but the question remains: Does the old adage " You get what you payfor" apply to free shopping cart software?

According to Golden Gate Trading Company's Internetmanager, Jennifer Denton, the answer is " sort of." Her company decided to" give PerlShop a shot" at the same time it launched its first online store.Using PerlShop was a great way to test the waters for its online storefront withoutspending big bucks on an expensive, fully loaded shopping cart program.

Denton claims that PerlShop was a great way to see if Golden Gate could make a go of itselling its products online without incurring outrageous costs. Once it startedactually selling its products online, she knew it had found a niche in whichit could be successful.

" We are now in the process of switching from PerlShop to a different shopping cartprogram. It isn't free, but it's a more advanced program," Denton says. " Our online store has grown. We now actually have three of them, and needed a more advancedprogram to keep up."

But that isn't to say that PerlShop isn't worth a shot, Denton says. " PerlShop letus get our feet wet. When we knew that we could make a go of our business online, we were ready for a more mature software package, and we could afford it."

PerlShop is totally free - it isn't shareware, it's Adverware. If you download PerlShop, the only requirement for using the software is that you provide a linkback to the PerlShop home page - using its logo on each page powered by PerlShop.

One concern for those who want to download PerlShop is technicalsupport. Once you download the software, will you be left high and dry if you haveproblems? The answer is, unfortunately, " Maybe." PerlShop has posted an online manual that covers manyproblems. But if you run into major glitches and really need to talk to a real humanbeing, you might be left out in the cold. So if you choose this software, you'll want tomake sure that you have access to a Perl programming and CGI scripting guru.

As the PerlShop Web page says, " Since PerlShop is free, there is no explicitsupport provided. You may send E-mail about any problems, bugs or suggestions, but a response is not guaranteed."

And for those of you looking to customize, be prepared to pay a fee - you need tocontact PerlShop for a quote on how much it will cost to customize your version.

PerlShop, and other freeware such as MiniVend or NetLink's CyberCash and VirtualShopping Cart offer small online businesses a way of proving themselves on theInternet without spending the big bucks necessary for a shopping cart application that hasfunctionality way beyond their current need. Just one warning: When choosing freeprograms, be sure to read the fine print and look for hidden costs.

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