Free Software Basics

Posted By: Hayley Tuesday 16th February 2016

Free, gratis and for nothing, on the house, on the cuff and complimentary, I want free stuff!

Free is good, generally and very exciting.

Choosing cereal as a child for me, depended on one thing, what was the free gift? The excitement of opening the box was thrilling, sifting through the sugary cereal in search of a small cellophane rapper containing the FREE gift. What would it be? A Dalek, a spokey dokey, no, it’s a spoon that changes colour in the milk!! My life is complete.

However, I don’t really need a small cardboard dalek, I don’t need a spokey dokey, my Raleigh Lizard is already festooned with them. I can certainly live without a plastic spoon that changes colour.

Free is now looking rather disappointing. I have a plastic spoon and 1kg of snap, crackle and pop that I didn’t want in the first place.

Free is usually the way to sweeten a deal, a marketing device to lure you in.

So how does all this work when it comes to free software? What’s the catch?

Itunes, the popular media player from Apple is free and it works as effectively as any paid for equivalent, so too does the popular PC optimizer CCleaner. But Apple want you to buy your music from them and play it on their hardware. CCLeaner offer their package for free but temp you with the Pro version with added and much needed (?) features and technically support.

“There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch”. Or is there?

I want to briefly explore how you can pretty much do anything on your computer for free but also explain the importance and benefits of shelling out for proprietary, paid for software. From the ground up, you can install an operating system (Linux Ubuntu), office package (LibreOffice), runtime environments, internet browser (Chrome), music software (Audacious) all for free.

Even with an installation of Windows, you can usually find a free equivalent to common software packages. So why pay for Windows or Microsoft Office?

LibreOffice, a free alternative to Microsoft Office is arguably just as competent.

But what happens when something goes wrong? There is no free technical support line to call, you will have to pay for that and trawling forums for answers can be time consuming with no guarantee of a result.

Free software usually has far less development time than paid for software. You can regularly expect to spend a lot of time fighting with buggy features, complex and messy installation procedures and there is the learning curve that comes with all new software.

With paid for software, you are investing in security, up-time and peace of mind. If it goes wrong, there is someone there to help and in most cases, quickly. It’s a widely use platform which guarantees compatibility with colleagues and clients.

If you have the time and enjoy the technical challenge, free software is a great alternative to the typical paid for software solutions. But if you rely on software for your business and you aren’t willing to or have the technical knowledge to fix problems yourself, paying for your software is likely to be the best option.