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The most useful software programs are free (and other things your computer technician doesn't want you to know)

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Two weeks ago, David Moore commenced his expose into the secrets of computer maintenance — rules that are carefully guarded or simply too embarrassing to share. This week, he continues with the uncomfortable truth about brands, purchases and the concept of ‘free’.

So, I’ve already explained how there’s no such thing as a virus proof computer and that the technology you buy today is already obsolete before you get it home. I’ve talked about backing up, why it works and sometimes why it doesn’t.

But what about the eternal debate: Do you get what you pay for?

9. Most things you need to achieve with your computer can be done with FREE software.

There are more ways to get software than just handing over cool, hard cash.

When looking for best of breed software to solve a particular problem you are moving in a world where someone else has probably already experienced your pain and, if they are a geek, they’ve possibly written a program to solve it.

In some ways, it is getting harder to find completely FREE software. In other ways, there’s never been more of it around.

A lot of large software manufacturers provide a sweetener for home users but require payment for larger scale use (e.g. AVG antivirus, AllwaySync’s file synchronization tool). If your use is basic and your needs minimal then flying under the radar is not only easy but encouraged.

There’s a whole community of software developers out there that think all software should be free. The Open Source community are providing heaps of new software on a daily basis at places like Source Forge.net.

There is a cost though. Time. You need a bit of time to track this stuff down.

However, if you want to keep abreast of some of the more useful stuff I come across keep an eye on your inbox for our newsletters (sign up on our web site).

10. You’ll only ever use 5% of any suite of software you buy

I’ve touched on this subject twice already.

Software manufacturers put a lot of junk in software that you just don’t need. They want to dazzle you with value. In other words, they ship on weight not quality.

They also ship in shiny boxes that contain little other than the software required to get the first update that makes the software actually work.

Look past the bulk, ignore the “features”. Instead make sure the software does what you want it to.

Here are the tricks to making sure your software does what you want:

  • Buy best of breed not breeding the best.
  • Try it before you buy it.
  • Only buy on recommendation.
  • Only buy on recommendations from people who use the software the way you will.
  • Only buy software with a return and money back policy.
  • Buy software from online stores (you are getting the latest version immediately instead of on a DVD in a box that will just be thrown out… and is more likely not to work first go).

11. Free updates on the web means the software you have now is known to be flawed.

The first thing all software will do these days, upon connecting to the internet, is look for a better version of itself.

Sadly, the internet has fostered a ship-now-fix-later attitude with the manufacturers of our computer based gadgets.

Sometimes they are chasing their tails. In the case of antivirus software they’ll always be behind the 8-ball because the bad guys are always writing new bad stuff. So they have to update daily (at least).

Factor this into your software and hardware purchases by making sure that what you need the device to do immediately works for you. In other words, try before you buy.

Much like the rebooting point above, if you buy the right software the stuff that needs updating may not be of use to you in the first place.

Remember, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!

12. Inside an Apple Mac, it is the same as a PC.

Being a non-geek you may not recall that some years ago the big players got together and collaborated on a common hardware platform (your computer) to reduce their costs and improve compatibility for us.

This ended up being surprisingly easy (I say that because I didn’t have to do it) and for a lot of the time the hardware inside your Mac is basically the same as that inside your PC.

So peeling away the shiny box that is your brand of choice will reveal the same processors, the same hard disks, the same peripherals and so on.

So much so in fact that your Mac can run Windows without any trouble. Sadly, Apples closed policy on their operating system means your PC can’t run OSX. The tricky stuff that prevents this is about the only physical difference between Macs and PCs.

Oh yeah, and of course, the slickness of their advertising campaigns also makes a difference… apparently.

David Moore has 25 years experience in the computer industry and is now Principle PC Hater at ihatemypc.com.au.

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