Free Software – When, What, Why, Where and How
by Dave Cottrell
Free Software is good, but only if it’s both useful and reliable.
When is it a good idea use free software?
What kinds of software is available?
Why would you use free software?
Where can you find reliable free software?
Finally, how do you download and install it?
I recently wrote an article about the best free anti-malware software for 2013, and mentioned that I load my own computers, tablets, smartphones, etc., with all the software I use, other than the operating system my device comes with.
This raised so many questions, it has become important to write a followup article that answers the when, what, why, where and how of downloading and installing software on your device from the internet.
The first question, then, is “When should you use free software?” The simple answer is that it’s always a good idea to use free software if it does what you need it to do, reliably. The money you save by not spending it on expensive software can be used for other things. That’s as good as making money!
What kinds of software are available? The chances are that if you need software, you can get almost anything you need legitimately and free. This is not the so-called kind of free where you have to do something else, take a poll, sign up for a trial, etc., etc., that some companies advertise as free. Those are NOT free. You are paying for them with your labour, whether or not you recognize it.
There is actually so much good software available, that when I buy a computer, I don’t get it preloaded with anything but Windows. I download all the rest of the software and install it myself, which saves hundreds of dollars. At the end of this article, I will include a list of commonly used programs that you could load on a brand new computer, laptop or compatible tablet.
Why use free software? The simple answer is, because it’s free. However, there is a much better reason than that. Free software is often better than software that you pay for. It’s lightweight and uses fewer resources, it does what it is advertised to do very well, and did I mention? It’s free.
It makes sense to wonder why free software would, in some ways, at least, be superior to software you have to pay for. There are several possible reasons. Not all of them are true with every company, all of them are true with some companies, and none of them are true with a few companies.
First of all, many companies want you to upgrade to their premium, paid software. By creating a really superior piece of free software, they hope to impress you enough to upgrade.
Another possible reason for the creation of great free software is that its creators are software artists, creative geniuses who dedicate themselves to producing the very best software in the world in the Open Source collaboration. Open Source software is by far my favourite kind of software, because I know the people who have built it have done it for the love of programming. Software to them is like a blank canvas and paints to me. They will never settle for anything less than exactly what they imagined or better.
Finally, there is the free software that is supported by large companies such as Google as a service to attract more users. Chrome is one of their most popular pieces of free software, and they have many, many apps that are very useful.
Where can good free software be found? The number of places to find good, reliable and free software online are too numerous to list, but there are many places that will also upload malicious software to your device if you’re not careful.
For that reason, I almost always download all my free software and even the very few paid software I get from either Filehippo.com, my hands down favourite, or from Cnet.com, also very reliable.
How do I download and install it? This may seem like a very simple question, but it is a critical question, and believe it or not, one that needs to be answered correctly, or you could get yourself in trouble.
The most important part of the question, BY FAR, is to be certain you have the correct download link! These sites make money on the targeted traffic that comes to their websites. What is their traffic looking for? Software! So there are lots of ads for software on these sites. These are NOT the download links.
Since I almost exclusively use FileHippo.com, I am going to tell you how to download software from their site. If you use Cnet, just make sure of the download link before you click.
On Filehippo, here’s what you do:
- If you know the name of the software you want, type it into the search box. That will open you a page with the choices for that software on it. For example, if you are looking for AVG Free Edition, type AVG Free in the search box. That will take you to a page that lists both the 64-bit and 32-bit edition of AVG Free. You would then click on the version that is correct for your machine. IF YOU DON’T KN OW, DON’T WORRY. I am going to list a piece of software that will always give you everything you will need to know about your computer in a couple of clicks.
- If you don’t know the name of the software you need, pick one of the sections. These are about halfway down the FileHippo home page, with headings beginning with Browser and Plugins, Anti-Malware and Audio and Video. As you scroll down, you will find a number of other headings.
- Click on the software you are interested in. * HINT * I always right-click on the link and choose, “Open in New Tab.” That way, I always have the home page to come back to, no matter what I do with the download page.
- Read the description and make sure it’s what you want. Then read the technical and check the requirements. That chances are that if you have anything running on Windows Xp or later, it will work.
- Click the Download Latest Version link near the top on the right hand side.
- Follow instructions for downloading and installing.
- That’s it! It’s very simple. Just make sure you don’t download from any other link on the page and you will be fine.
I mentioned above that I download and install all the software other than the operating system on a new device this way and that I would list the programs I recommend for this. The only requirement is that your machine will run Windows programs. (For free software for Android tablets, go to the Google Play Store.)
Here, then, is the list:
- Ad-Aware Free Antivirus+ or AVG Free Edition Do this first! What I do is download it to a USB drive on another, protected computer, then load it on the new computer from the USB drive. Turn on the new computer, plug in the USB drive, then do a search on the USB drive for the software, just as you would on any other drive on your computer. Then install the anti-Virus software. Once this is done, you can start downloading directly and safely from the internet with your device.
- Speccy. This TERRIFIC piece of software is listed under System Tuning. Once you have this installed, you can run it and it will give you most information you will ever need about your device, including whether you have a 32-bit or 64-bit operating system. (New devices will generally have 64-bit systems).
- Google Chrome. This is lightweight and fast, and has an almost endless list of apps you can add later if you so desire. You get one slow, heavy resource hog with your computer (Internet Explorer); this is the one you will use almost all the time, except when a website like Amazon or Paypal has a programmer who is too dumb to create software that will work with any browser except Internet Explorer.
- Apache OpenOffice This will do everything Micosoft Works will do better and without crashing your computer.
- Adobe Reader
- Malwarebytes Anti-Malware. This is great backup and doesn’t need to be run unless you want to double check for problems.
- SUPERAntiSpyware. This is a very good one to set to run whenever your device is turned on. It does a very good job of keeping a wide variety of nasties off your machine.
- Windows Media Player – probably already on your computer, but you can check
- QuickTime Player
- VLC Media Player
- uTorrent is a great BitTorrent tool if you need one
- CCleaner This one is a must, and should have a shortcut on your desktop. Use this software at least weekly and keep your computer running smoothly.
- UltraDefrag (under System Tuning). This is the best file defragmenting tool I have ever found, hands down. I got rid of Windows defrag completely. When you install this one, set it so that it does a defrag check every time you start your device. It is lightning fast, and you will never again have to wait for hours for a machine to defrag. Fragmented files on your hard drive can REALLY slow your machine down.
- Google Talk
- Pidgin (do you need any more chat clients?)
- FileZilla if you need a good fie transfer client
- 7-Zip 32-bit or 64-bit; if you don’t know what yours is, use Speccy to find out.
- Paint.NET Awesome image and photo manipulation program when you don’t want to sell the farm to afford Photo Shop
- Picasa This may be all you ever use for all your photos. It is SO simple to use and can be directly connected to your Google account.
If you download and install these programs on your new device, you will be set up as well or even better than if you had your machine preloaded at the store, since you probably would not have bought this much software, anyway.
With the money you saved, maybe now you can register your new domain name, get your website set up, and start with a nice traffic package from a reputable site. But that is another article…
Now you know about free software, and the When, What, Why, Where and How of it. That wasn’t so difficult, was it?