Is Free Software Really Free?

Screenshot of GLUI example program.

Screenshot of GLUI example program. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There are a lot of sugar-coated offers for free software online these days.  Some are like roaches that multiply with each passing day.  These offers sound too good to pass up, but in reality, sometimes you’re just better off purchasing these programs directly from the publishers.  Why?  This is because free software not only promotes its programs, but other online services as well.

I Want It Because It’s FREE

What attracts consumers?  The word FREE!  Most computer users would like to learn to do more things on their machines as make videos, record music, read or write ebooks, etc, but don’t want to pay for software unless they absolutely have to.  However, times are tough and many consumers lack good paying jobs-that is if they’re lucky enough to still be working.  Before buying software, they must be sure they’ll use it enough to make it worth the price.  They’ll only purchase a program as a last resort.

All the more, free software does sound enticing.  More than ever before, people would like to update their computer skills in hopes that by doing so will land them a better-paying job.  If they can learn skills that are in high demand for free-all the better.

I’ve run across numerous companies that offer free software.  Yes indeed, I was tempted to try some of them.  I would check out the Tucows (www.tucows.com) site where a variety of programs are available for both PC and Mac users.  Some are freeware, others are shareware  (donations appreciated), and the remainder are for pay.  Another great thing, most of these programs run on various versions of Microsoft Windows and have ratings and reviews submitted by past users.  Tucows is a reputable site for safe software applications, for all I know.

Free software downloads are like everywhere online, but some are downright deceiving.  Yes, they’ll say they’re free when viewing their listings, but be prepared to jump through some hoops if you wish to try them out.  I won’t do any name-dropping or finger-pointing here, but I’ve had extensive experiences with many of them.  As I would download a program, I found I wasn’t only downloading that software, but other services as well.  And if there weren’t services connected to them, the application was free for a trial time period, usually 7 days.  Hey, they never said that up front!

The “Free Lunch” Buffet

What kind of services come with free software?  There are numerous types as search engines you never heard of and money-saving programs.  Yes, some offer savings on: groceries, pet products, ebooks, auto insurance, health insurance, college education, books, legal services, medications, and so on and so forth.  Do you really need any of these?  Absolutely not!  They’re like the over-priced corn dogs and cheese curds you buy at the state fair, only they don’t satisfy your hunger.

The next day, you’re phone is ringing off the hook because you checked certain boxes or agreed to certain terms you more than likely scanned over when searching for the “Continue” button.  Shame on you!  Maybe if you’re lucky, you save on insurance premiums or find an inexpensive airline flight to the other side of the globe, but there’s a slim chance in that.  Unless you are ruthless enough to slam your foot down, you may find yourself pursuing a college degree in a few months.  Nothing wrong with continuing your education, but… is this a good college?

Why don’t they just make it a “free lunch” buffet?  What if you saw a sign outside a restaurant offering free lunch between 11:00 am and 1:00 pm that says nothing more?  Would you try this place out?  Say you are extremely savvy and hungry.  You won’t want to pass this opportunity by.

The catch is, you must walk down a long hallway that leads to the diner.  The hall is filled with booths (not dining booths, mind you) on either side where representatives are selling products or services to promote their businesses.  As you make your way down the hall, you’re being greeted by several reps who are pushing fliers and brochures in your face and boasting about whatever they’re trying to sell you.

You’re like, “What the hell did I do?  I wanted to go to the buffet, not some business trade show!”  The next thing you know, you have a plastic bag filled with sample products and advertisements because you were too polite to tell the reps “no”.

Once you finally entered the buffet, you tell a waitress that you would like to try the free buffet.  It turns out that you only receive samples of each entrée for free or there is a limited section of cheap food that you can choose from.  If you want the regular “all-you-can-eat” special, you have to purchase the full meal deal.

The bottom line here is: There is no free lunch.  Free software often works this way.

Types of Software Downloaders

From my experiences, I can say there are three type of software downloaders who are:

  1. The “I need it now” people – These surfers are just so antsy that they want to find something right now and get started right away.  They’re not too cautious, as long as the application downloads and is available to use instantly, they’re satisfied.  They’re eager to check boxes and click through dialog boxes without reading the messages. Many don’t realize they may be downloading a virus along with the software, but they’re not too worried about that.  It never happened to them before so why should they worry?
  2. The “I want to improve my life” people – These people just want to enhance their skills and are open-minded, adventure seekers.  They assume that all companies are fair and out for the consumer’s best interest.  You can say they’re much like the coupon clippers that want to save money, but end up spending more on products they’ve never used before, just because they seem like good deals, or perhaps “steals.”  They accept new services in belief that they could benefit or else feel guilty for turning them down because these services seem so nice or practical.  They’re like, “Maybe this can help me, you never know!” or “What do I have to lose?”  These are the innocent, naïve fools that have money to burn or are strongly convinced that catching a virus can’t happen to them, because it hasn’t happened yet.  Go figure!
  3. The “Computer Scrooges” – They’re like: Hey, if there’s a free program out there, why should I hafta buy one?”  From their point of view, software is way too expensive and they’re scared to spend a dime if they don’t have to.  It’s like, let’s see how good the free software is, it may be great and save me from buying a program with bells and whistles I don’t need.  While a significant amount of them are penny-pinchers, others are in hard financial situations where they feel it’s best to avoid gambles any way they can.

I’ll admit I’ve played all of these roles in the past.  Sometimes I would find a great program, but other times I fell into traps that were hard to get out of.

I’m Not Bashing Free Software…

Before considering a free download ask yourself one question:  If this software is free, then why are companies charging users for their programs?  Most likely, free software doesn’t cover all the bases of a purchased program.  Investigate paid programs to see what features they offer.

Although, I know what I might be getting into, I still search for free programs. I found some good file conversion and sound recording programs that were free.  If you want to go that route, fine, but you should be prepared for what you might get yourself into.

Here are some basic tips:

  1. Install an anti-virus program that determines whether or not a program is safe to download.
  2. Create a backup and restore point on your machine before searching the internet.  (Check your operating system’s help section on how to do this).  This way, if the software raises havoc with your machine, you can restore your computer to the settings it had before the download.
  3. Read reviews on the program you would like to install.  Say if the program is called “Kwik-Write”, enter “Kwik-Write reviews” into your favorite search engine.  If you know others that use similar programs, ask for their input.  Anyway, I just made up the name Kwik-Write.
  4. Allow yourself plenty of time to check out a program before using it.  Never be in a hurry to download and use it!
  5. Be prepared to read and read, read, read!  If you hate bothering with the small details and terms and agreements, you’re putting yourself at risk.
  6. Find out if there is a trial period, how long it is, and whom to contact for support.  Beware!  Trial programs have some disabled functions while others have limited functions.  For example, you can try out a new word processor, but might not be able to save or print with it until you purchase the program in full.
  7. Many free software offers accompany online services that install additional toolbars on your browser.  Though these toolbars promise enhanced searching capabilities, they often slow down your machine and eat up its resources.  Your browser has a means of removing them.  Find out how to do this before you download.  Hiding these toolbars does no good.
  8. Some non-affiliated services will lead you into a trap to accept them.  The only way you can escape their dialog boxes, is to click the “Yes” button (or the equivalent).  If you find yourself in a trap, never accept the service.   Shut down and reboot your machine immediately.  You’ll be doing your system less harm in the long run.
  9. Download from reputable sources as much as possible.  Third-party, off-brand names might carry viruses or other rogue programs.
  10. Scan your newly downloaded programs to make sure they’re safe before opening them.

Just play it smart when downloading free software.  Never rush the process.  There is nothing in this world that must be done online today.  If you want to try out software, it is best to consult the publisher’s site and see if they offer free versions.  Avoid third party sites, they’re more likely trying to make money selling other peoples’ works.  This will save you from a severely handicapped computer, tons of sales calls, and strange charges appearing on your bank statements.

Speaking of bank statements, check yours regularly, especially after the download.

If there’s something I left out or could have said better, please feel free to comment.  Thank you.

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