Free or Not Free: The pros and cons of free software
Anyone who has purchased a Windows-based computer has been exposed to a number of built-in programs that were included with it. Web browsers like Google’s Chrome and music players like Apple’s iTunes are readily available as free downloads regardless of whether or not they are already installed on your computer. This free, downloadable software is also available on a larger scale, with free alternatives to many popular programs that could cost hundreds of dollars. With these alternatives available, then the only question becomes whether acquiring and utilizing Freeware is your best choice for your personal or business use.
WHAT IS FREE SOFTWARE?
Free software, as opposed to proprietary software that is paid for, adheres to general rules established by the free software community, which includes having freedom to use the program for any purpose, study or modify the program, redistribute the original program, as well as distribute your modified copies. This is backed by organizations like The Free Software Foundation. So the freedom you experience with free software is not limited to just how much money you spend on the software.
FREEWARE VS. OPEN SOURCE
There are two general types of software: freeware and open-source software. The biggest difference between them is whether you have access to the source code that makes the software work. With open source software, if you have any coding knowledge, you can actually tinker with the code that makes the software run and make modifications and improvements to it. You also have access to a community of users and developers where you can share problems, changes and innovations to the software. On the other hand, freeware programs like Adobe Reader and Skype are simply free to download and use, without that access. The developer of the software still owns it, and has the right to start charging for it at any time.
There are distinct advantages and disadvantages to choosing free software over proprietary software, and these must be factored in when choosing one or the other.
WHY CHOOSE FREE SOFTWARE OVER PROPRIETARY SOFTWARE?
PRICE: This is the most obvious benefit of using free software. With costs that can easily run into hundreds and even thousands of dollars, free software provides a cost-effective alternative for those who need the software but have limited budgets – or no budget at all.
COMPARABILITY: Some free software offers many of the same features and quality as their paid counterparts. Some of the tasks you are most accustomed to utilizing in a paid program can be done just as easily in a free program.
INNOVATION: Open-source software has the advantage of being worked on and added to by a multitude of coders and developers, so bugs are more quickly caught and repaired, and new additions and features can be added much more quickly than with paid software.
COMMUNITY: Both freeware and open source software are backed by a dedicated community of advocates who believe that software should not have be limited by the constraints of profitability. There are many venues where you can connect with other users of free software for tips, resources and developments which may be more readily available for your free software than for your proprietary software.
WHY CHOOSE PROPRIETARY SOFTWARE OVER FREE SOFTWARE?
LACK OF SUPPORT: When dealing with many freeware or open source programs, there is a chance that the developer might not make an effort to keep the software updated and compatible with newer operating systems. Some developers also won’t offer any help with technical problems, or, in the case of open source, you are forced to search message boards and forums for advice from other users and developers. With open source programs, the problems may be in the code of the software itself. Users who are not familiar with coding could find the solutions daunting to implement.
ADS: Many freeware developers utilize advertising to make money off their software offerings. This can provide an inconvenient or bothersome interruption to your software use, especially if the advertisements interrupt your usage in any way. Some freeware (like the aforementioned Adobe Reader and Skype) is actually just a free trial of paid software. On the other hand, while using the free version, you are constantly bombarded by ads encouraging you to “upgrade” to the paid version of the program.
SECURITY ISSUES: You also have to be cognizant of additional software that comes bundled with your freeware. Malware, adware, Trojans and viruses are a very real threat when downloading free software. Also keep in mind that since anyone can have access to an open source program, it is vulnerable to hacking. Most Open-Source software; however, are required by the Free Software Foundation to not come with adware or spyware.
INTERFACE and FEATURE ISSUES: There are often vast differences in interface between popular paid software and their free counterparts. It can be frustrating figuring out how to perform functions that you are accustomed to in a paid software compared to a free platform. In addition to that, some features that you would take for granted may not even be available on your free software. This can make your free software difficult to use. In addition, there is also a chance that your free software will not be able to recognize the files that you need to work with, such as Inkscape not recognizing .ai or .eps files.
BEST FREE SOFTWARE TO TRY (and the paid alternative)
According to my experience and research, I would recommend the following free software:
• Open Office (MS Office)
• Microsoft Security Essentials, Avast Free
• Microsoft Live Email
• Windows Live Photo Gallery
• Mozilla Firefox
• GNU Cash (Quicken alternative)
• Scribus (Adobe Indesign)
• GIMP (Adobe Photoshop)
• Inkscape (Adobe Illustrator)
• Avidemux (Final Cut Pro/Adobe Premiere)
WHERE YOU CAN FIND MANY FREEWARE AND OPEN SOURCE SOFTWARE OPTIONS:
1. The Free Software Foundation offers a large software directory.
2. www.cnet.com is a widely recognized and trusted source for freeware downloads.
2. The World Wide Web Consortium’s W3C Open-Source software list is also thorough.
3. Osalt.com is useful for finding open-source software alternatives to well-known commercial software
4. Windows users might want to look at www.opensourcewindows.org for a list of the most well-known open-source programs for the popular operating system, while Mac users should check www.opensourcemac.com. There is also www.opensourcelinux.com for people who use Linux, which is itself an Open-source Operating System.
5. For Smartphone and Tablet users, www.f-droid.org is a good place to go for Open Source Android Apps.
There are many options and factors to consider when deciding whether to purchase or use free software. This article has given you some helpful information and resources to help you make that decision. Considering the cost of paid versions, it is worthwhile to take some time and make an informed choice.