Freeware

 
Why use freeware?

Free software is a valid choice for many home computer, office computer and Internet server uses. Freeware comes in two basic types, free software with proprietary (ie private) code, and open-source software. It's important to remember that freeware is not a cheap or second-class option - it can often be functionally superior to equivalent commercial software and even of higher quality.

This is possible because of the way software of this type can be developed. As an example, if we look at the Firefox browser, you can see that it is better in perhaps 20 out of 25 measurable parameters, when compared to rival commercial offerings. Such an application is built and developed by a large distributed workforce as opposed to a small centralized one. You can appreciate the advantages - a large number of programmers who will contribute a range of skills, and whose input is graded according to peer review. The resulting program can be tested and further developed in a wide variety of locations and situations.

Another example is free CMS software like Joomla and Drupal. These community-developed products would cost millions to create commercially. Obviously, none but the largest enterprises could handle such a project, and even then the results would not be without issues.

In a nutshell, free software can be of the highest quality and should not be considered inferior to commercial products.

Free vs Open-Source software

Freeware can be either of proprietary code only accessible by the developer or open-source software, aka OSS, where the code is published and available for inspection. It would be interesting to measure the percentage of each, in proportion to the whole of the free software 'market'. In the past, free proprietary programs would have been clearly ahead, but the numbers are much closer now, due to the big rise in popularity of the open-source method of software development.

Free programs tend to be created by one developer or a small localized team, and OSS programs are often built by large distributed teams. Such large team efforts are called projects, and the products they generate are among the most successful applications in the world - examples are PHP, MySQL, Apache, and the various types of Linux.

A new business model has also evolved, where a commercial enterprise sponsors an open-source application, and makes it available to the community. Revenue is generated by commercial support and also the creation of a parallel enterprise-level product. There are variations on this model, as used for example by Ubuntu Linux and Sun Computer (MySQL). It is an interesting way in which commercial and free software co-exist and contribute to each other's success. A mix of commercial and free resources has proven highly successful in many areas.

Program safety and security

Open-source software has another big advantage: it's transparent. The code is public, which means nothing dubious can be inserted in it, and it can't be made to also carry out someone else's agenda. This is immensely useful for users as it cuts out any possibility of applications also running someone else's operations on top of your own, such as reporting on websites visited.

This advantage is so great that in areas such as cryptography and security it is recognised that open-source software is the only viable solution. Commercial producers are subject to pressures, and a supplier's business model may not always be clear - but if the application code is published and moderated by the community, then it is considered to be safer for users.

There is an argument that open-source coded applications are less secure than proprietary ones, since the code is public. However on inspection this argument does not hold water since:

  1. All code can be viewed by decompiling it, in any case - this is a standard way of looking at code
  2. Open-source programs are proven to be the most secure - a worldwide community works to plug the holes
  3. In the most sensitive software fields of all, such as cryptography, it is accepted that open-source is the best choice since the code cannot be compromised.
How do freeware authors earn a living?

As just seen, there are a variety of business models. The authors give the software away for a number of reasons:

  • The authors are developers who work for commercial ventures in their day jobs, and wish to code something more personally interesting in their spare time
  • Coders like to code, and will find some outlet for their work
  • A developer would rather see an application in wide use, than have the aggravation of trying to sell it, and then have a comparatively small user base
  • Among other developers (who, after all, are the only people who count), a developer gains status by rising in the ranks of top contributors to a well-known project
  • A coder with a stand-out application gains plenty of status - and this may help in the commercial arena, since proven high-quality work must be of benefit
  • Authors can earn a living by customising and supporting their software
  • There are a range of new business models in which commercial and free resources coexist and cooperate

...and no doubt more.

Isn't there a better commercial option than freeware?

Often not. In some cases the free version is clearly better than the commercial option, as we have seen. And in many cases, a free version of a top paid-for program is distributed for good commercial reasons.

Take security programs such as firewalls and antivirus, for example. Firstly, the authors need a vast usebase in order to develop the software and update it optimally. It just can't be done with a small number of users, it needs hundreds of thousands - if not millions.

Secondly, providing a free option is a highly successful business model. If your users like the product they are much more likely to upgrade with you, and you lock out your competitors by doing this.

What sort of free programs work best?

It used to be that the clear answer to this was 'utilities'. There are many priceless small programs that carry out useful tasks on the computer, such as disk defragmenters and image viewers, that work better than the operating system's resident applications. But now, free software is a viable solution in every possible area of a computer's work. From the smallest PC resource meter to the largest office suite, freeware is an everyday #1 choice.

Perhaps the best guide to the acceptability of freeware now is the Internet server situation. Software for servers must be the most robust and reliable of all, since the operating environment is many times more testing than that on a personal computer - and freeware is the standard server solution now. In fact commercial software is an anomalous choice in this area.

Another indicator of the acceptability, performance and robustness of freeware is the PC security software situation. Here, free versions of popular firewalls, antivirus and antispyware programs are the accepted first choice. These applications work in the front line of PC safety, and have to be reliable and robust. There is no question about freeware's suitability for this role.

How do I find the right free program?

Well - that's the big problem. Because freeware may be out-advertised by the corporate giants, you may not know it's out there. And when you do, it can be confusing as there are a very large number of programs to choose from.

Luckily we can provide the answers. The team here at Gizmo's Freeware (techsupportalert.com) have selected and ranked the best freeware programs for you.

We hope you find our freeware recommendation, guides and tutorials of value. If you do,  why not participate by leaving a comment at the end of a software review, posting to our forum  or perhaps even writing a review comparing two or three free programs?

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