By 9 June 2009 | Categories: internet general


Take a look at the top of your web browser – if it says Microsoft Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox or Google Chrome then you are currently using freeware!

Install software or games on your PC, and the chances are very good that it probably includes components of freeware (like Microsoft DotNet Framework, Direct X, Adobe Acrobat or possibly some CODECS). Sometimes, even hardware vendors, like producers of MP3 players, will bundle freeware (like Audacity) with the player.

What is freeware?

Freeware offers a cheap (read FREE) alternative to often overpriced products. Freeware is software that can be freely used, modified, and redistributed by anyone. It has only one restriction; all version of the software (even modified ones) must be distributed with the original terms of free use.

In many cases the free alternative will be smaller, faster and more reliable than the pay-option. At times, some features will not be found in freeware, but you should consider how critical a huge list of features is to you.

Very often the freeware software will run without installation, and thus does not completely bury itself into the depths of your computer leaving a permanent stain in your registry like the paid-for products. This is especially useful when you want to run applications directly off a portable memory stick.

Look around enough, and you may find a freeware equivalent that is AS GOOD AS if not BETTER than the paid-for alternative.

As an example, I have two screen-shots. The first one is a freeware text editor (Crimson Editor) and the second is what I consider to be the ultimate chargeable text editor (EditPlus).

Can you tell the difference in functionality?

Furthermore, you do not normally need to register to download freeware, let alone register to install it or register to activate the product. I have seen a few exceptions where a once-off or completely free registration is required, but this is merely for the developer to keep track of the products’ usage.

The joy of activation-less software is that the software will not one day stop running with errors like “Your Product is NOT Activated. Please contact.....” since these bloated internal self-crippling functions do not even exist in freeware!

Who creates software, and then gives it away for free?

Often companies will make a smaller, simpler version of a chargeable “upgrade” product, in the hope that you will fork out the cash and upgrade from the freeware. Sometimes university students will write software (often VERY GOOD software) and release it for free after semester. And then there are some very clever and generous developers who just have too much time......

So what exactly is the downside of Freeware?

Well, sometimes the documentation (if any) could be improved upon and in most cases support for the product is limited. This does not mean that the product is likely to just stop running or suddenly fail, but sometimes some research on the Internet (forums and user groups) may be necessary to get the best out of the product.

Also, the products are often not widely marketed (which is done by well-known vendors for commercial software at huge expense). Neither is it always readily available for download on glamorous websites (which also costs a fortune to keep online and maintained) – an expense which is recovered when selling commercial software.

Sometimes the freeware is “less intelligent” than commercial software suites and will just do things that you cannot explain or did not ask it to do.

But that’s just the price of using free products- so you should only use freeware if you’re willing to accept these risks.

The Search

So admittedly, many times the search for freeware is just that – a hunt for the best piece of software that you’ve never even seen or heard of- yet. However, like hunting for gold - the rewards are definitely there when you hunt, uncover something, and pick up a new favourite application, which is just waiting to be discovered!

Over the next few months we are going to be doing just that in my freeware column- available on the Freeware section of the TechSmart website. I will be looking at free operating systems, free antivirus programs, free office productivity tools, free utilities and free editors. Essentially any free software that I have used and found useful- freeware you will hopefully find useful too.


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