Paying for software has never been as unnecessary but might be just as foolish
CAIRO: Not only in Egypt, but wherever you are, finding the right piece of software that does just what you want can be difficult. The challenge is harder still if the stores don’t stock the latest releases or the prices are prohibitive.
There may be an alternative. Depending on what you’re after, freeware – software that you can download and use for free – may be for you.
Let me make a few clarifications. First of all, I don’t mean some Web site your buddy told you about where you can get free copies of pirated software. Contrary to this, freeware is intended to be free – the creator never intended to charge any money for it. I also don’t mean downloading a 30-day trial copy of regular software and then instead of buying it at the end, continuing to renew your trial version month after month. Most companies have moved on from this model anyway, locking you out after your first trial version expires.
Popular freeware includes Thunderbird for email, 7-Zip for file archiving, AVG and Avast for anti-virus protection, and the geographical Google Maps. These practical and user-friendly programs are all completely – and legally – free.
Sounds great, doesn’t it? But there are limitations – namely, that it’s difficult to pour money and time into a project that from the get-go will never return any revenue.
Freeware developers tend to develop their software based on the warmth of its reception; their own online communities will give praise and appreciation. However, there comes a point where the time and financial resources to maintain, upgrade and enhance their pet project dry up, until they eventually give up altogether.
What do the commercial software companies do? More often than not, they wait for this cycle to run its course and then develop their own branded versions based on the very concepts that made the original freeware versions so popular. The gifted programmers may take jobs at the commercial companies that can better leverage their talent. This is because a good coder is not necessarily a good businessperson. The larger software companies have the business know-how to not only nurture a creative idea into a software product, but also to market it, distribute it, handle technical support, and so on.
For freeware consumers, what started as good ideas would never develop into better ideas because the cycle doesn t have the finances to go on.
There will possibly never be a free alternative to such functionality-rich wares as Microsoft Office, Adobe Photoshop or, going even deeper, the foundational business backbones like Oracle or SAP. But this was never the realm of the freeware developer.
Back in the 1990s, freeware was born for tools and utilities, including ad-ons, plug-ins and upgrades. It is in this category that freeware is keeping up and in some cases ahead of everyone else, although the industry is changing.
Google is trying to move freeware from the plug-in-hungry hands of the generally male tech-nerd population to widespread applications for the masses such as Writely for word processing and Google Spreadsheet for calculations and accounting. These don’t have the functional depth to truly compete with Microsoft Word or Excel as needed by large organizations, but for a small-scale home business they may prove to be just fine after a few more rounds of bug fixing and feature enhancement. Having ad revenues to prop up their freeware work and focusing on web-based programs for cheaper updating and distributing means that Google may just be nudging the industry towards software that can be both free and sustainable in the long run.
As for how to get your hands on some freeware, there are tremendous resources on the Internet. It can be easy to get lost in the many search results you’ll have to trawl through to find them though, so here are some sites to help you on your way.
Softpedia (http://www.softpedia.com) is a leader among freeware sources. Their motto of “Updated one minute ago is applied across every platform imaginable and includes applications for mobile and handheld devices too.
Tucows (http://www.tucows.com) is almost as old as the World Wide Web itself and continues to serve netizens well. Its interface is user friendly, well laid out and spans Windows, Macintosh and Linux platforms.
WebGrid (http://www.webgrid.co.uk/) is all about freeware. No shareware, demos or trial versions here. You will find your file in four or five clicks as the site structure is logical and uncluttered.
There’s one perspective out there, that supporting freeware is about the little guy standing up to the department store. If so, then perhaps we should all rush to these sites and start downloading with abandon. Little guy, we’ll save you.