Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Free Sofware: Do You Get What You Pay For?

WXPNews: Published by Sunbelt Software since 2001

Vol. 9, #76 - Jun 23, 2009 - Issue #384

 Free Sofware: Do You Get What You Pay For?

  1. Editor's Corner
    • Free Sofware: Do You Get What You Pay For?
    • Follow-up: Paying for Internet content on a site-by-site basis
    • Quotes of the Week
  2. Cool Tools
    • Tools We Think You Shouldn't Be Without
  3. News, Hints, Tips and Tricks
    • Microsoft extends XP downgrade offer for 12 more months
    • Microsoft is revamping MSN
    • Windows Mobile 7: Will it be an iPhone killer?
    • Find $10,000 buried somewhere on the Internet - and you get to keep it
  4. How To: Using XP Features
    • How to disable the "Your computer might be at risk" popup message in XP
  5. XP Security News
    • Top ten most dangerous search terms
  6. XP Question Corner
    • Is there an easier way to use my printer as a copier?
  7. XP Configuration and Troubleshooting
    • Restore toolbars to the default
    • The screensaver drop-down menu is grayed out
  8. Fav Links
    • This Week's Links We Like. Tips, Hints And Fun Stuff
  9. Product of the Week
    • ZipBackup: Protect your Computer's Files with ZipBackup Windows Backup Software!

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 Editor's Corner

Free Sofware: Do You Get What You Pay For?

Almost everyone has heard the old adage: "You get what you pay for." And anyone who has ever tried to save a few bucks by going on the cheap and then ended up spending more in the long run knows that there is at least some merit to it. I'll never forget the time a handyman assured me that he could do my little plumbing job for me, at a much lower cost than a plumbing company. He ended up botching it, and not only was I out the money I'd paid to him, but I had to pay more to get it done right because of his shoddy work. On the other hand, some of the best and most careful work I've ever had done didn't cost me anything - because it was done by a good friend (who had decades of experience and the proper training and credentials).

The moral of my story is that "there ain't no such thing as a free lunch" - except when there is. A highly qualified professional doesn't normally give his work away. But if there is a good reason (such as a longstanding personal relationship, he just might). How does all this relate to free software?

There is an amazing abundance of software out there that you can legally download from the Internet and use for no cost. Why would a developer give away the product of his/her labor, to strangers, for no compensation? It would seem to go against human nature and self interest, but there can be a number of different reasons - and not all "freeware" is created equal.

In general, under the laws of most countries, the author/developer of a piece of software automatically owns the copyright unless, for instance, it's created under a work-for-hire agreement or the developer is an employee of a software company and the terms of that employment are that the company owns all the software created by the developer in the course of employment. In any event, the copyright owner can control how the software is distributed and can license its use to others, setting the terms of that use (for example, that the software can only be installed on one machine or that users cannot modify the software).

Some software developers are hobbyists. They create software programs for fun, not as a means for making a living. You'll find many freeware games in this category. Other developers create programs for their own utility - they can't find software that does what they want, or all the programs they do find have serious flaws, so they write their own programs - and then also make them available to others.

Some software developers are in business to make money, but they create both free programs and those for which they charge a fee. They use the free programs as "bait" to attract computer users to their sites and to demonstrate their expertise, in the hopes that many of those who use their freeware will check out and buy their "for pay" programs. Sometimes those commercial programs are "premium" versions of the same freeware program, with additional features and functionality.

Some software is distributed as "donationware." You don't have to pay to download and use it, but the author prominently displays a request that you make a donation if you like it. This differs from "shareware," which you can download and try out for free but the license agreement obligates you to pay for it if you want to continue using it after a specified period.

Then there are the "free trial versions" of commercial software, which work similarly to shareware but are different. Most major software companies offer trial versions of their expensive software packages, for evaluation purposes. You can download a trial and use it for a limited amount of time - ranging from only a few days to several months. At the end of the trial period, the software "times out" and either stops working altogether or becomes "crippled" (for instance, you may still be able to create documents but you can no longer save them). If you have a task that you need to do "just this once" but won't be doing on a regular basis, you may be able to take advantage of such trials to install the program and use it for the one project. Some folks have even been known to abuse the intent of the trial periods by using the software until it expires, then uninstalling it and installing a new trial version (using a different email address/ID) until that expires, and so forth - essentially getting continuous free use of the software for the trouble of reinstalling it every few weeks or months.

Another form of free software is public domain software. This refers to programs for which there is no copyright; that is, nobody owns the intellectual property. Usually this means the author has disclaimed his/her rights or the copyright has expired (due to the relative newness of the computer software industry and the lengthy terms of copyright - generally at least 70 years after the death of the author - this isn't likely to be an issue with current software).

Open source software is often distributed free, but under a license such as the GNU General Public License (GPL), which places certain restrictions and requirements on the use and/or distribution of the software (for example, that you can't make changes to the software and then charge people for your new version, and that if do make changes, you must make your source code available to the public).

Finally, there are the free applications that come with all modern computer operating systems and usually include simple word processing programs, graphics manipulation programs, and much more. Free software is a big benefit to many computer users who can't afford to buy expensive commercial packages. This is especially true of office productivity software and graphics/photo editing software, as the top commercial products in those categories often cost several hundred dollars. The OS may also include built in security software (firewall, anti-malware application).

But is free software as good as its commercial counterparts? With OpenOffice available for free, why do most companies still pay big bucks for Microsoft Office? With Windows Photo Gallery available as a free download, why do most serious photographers shell out from tens to hundreds of dollars for PaintShop Pro, Corel PhotoPaint or Adobe PhotoShop? Why do most businesses and individuals who have sensitive information on their networks spend the money for third party firewalls, anti-virus and anti-spyware programs instead of just using the Windows Firewall and Defender?

I use both free software and commercial software. That includes programs that serve the same basic purpose. When I want to do a quick "touchup" of a photo, I do it in Windows Live Photo Gallery - I can crop, straighten and adjust exposure, contrast, color saturation, etc. About 80% of the time, that's all I need. But when I do want to do more complex editing, such as eliminating a background or "air brushing" a blemished face in a portrait or applying special effects such as a charcoal or watercolor look, I turn to one of the programs I paid for. For serious protection from malware, I use Vipre instead of Defender.

In almost all cases, the paid programs have features or functionality that's missing from the free ones, and offer better reliability and compatibility. However, for many people in many circumstances, the free ones are "good enough." Going back to my handyman analogy at the beginning of this article, for some household repair jobs - such as fixing a hole in the plaster wall in a back room - the low cost guy's skills are more than adequate. For an important job like fixing a leaking pipe, where doing it wrong could result in expensive damage, I learned the hard way to enlist a real pro.

Determining whether and when to make do with free software isn't a "one size fits all decision." It depends on exactly what you need to do, the importance of those tasks, your budget, your personal preferences and other factors. Some open source advocates will tell you that all commercial software is a rip-off. Some commercial software vendors will tell you that freeware is always grossly inferior and should be avoided. In my experience, the truth lies somewhere in between.

Tell us what you think. Is freeware "good enough" most of the time, or do commercial packages offer features that you just can't live without? Do you trust the paid programs more than those you can get for free? Is there a price point at which commercial software becomes "not worth it?" Let us know your opinions. Direct your comments to our forums at

Or write to feedback@wxpnews.com

Follow-up: Paying for Internet content on a site-by-site basis

In last week's editorial, I referenced the opinion of at least one industry pundit who believes that within five years, we'll be making "micropayments" to view the content on most web sites. Many of our readers had something to say about that.

Some of you were quite adamant. Mark A. wrote: "There is no way in h*ll I will pay more for what I am getting from the 'net now. I will simply use it less and less until I only use it for occasionally accessing email and other free activities. I'd rather spend time with my family or other, more constructive activities anyway." And Steve M. agrees: "It ain't gonna happen in this house! When that starts, I will cut off the internet, go back to writing checks, and visiting the library, and brick and mortar stores! That even means that I can save on not paying for internet service, and I won't have to worry about virus and malware infections."

Don T. said, "Philosophically, the cable television model matches the internet model. I pay for the delivery, while advertising pays for the content. As long as at least one decent provider exists using this model, I believe it will be successful. So, if the New York Times continues to offer me headline content paid for by advertising, I will not be seeking the services of the Frankfort Times. Nor will I be paying for Ford to show me its line of cars, nor for D-Link to supply me with manuals for a product I have already purchased."

Nate had this to say: "We'll let the dollar vote decide whose site is going to last. I bet Google will be one of the sites looking around wondering where everyone else went. Clearly it works for some kinds of content and for some sites, but not every site has enough good content to warrant a fee, even with the availability of micropayments." And Thomas A. notes that "I visit so many sites that if I had to pay, affordability would become a big factor and I would probably have to do without."

Marc said, "As long as each Web site is free to charge or not, the market will determine whether they charge subscription fees or rely on advertising or other indirect revenue; the latter will get my business, the former not. The only prospect that scares me is of government imposing an Internet tax that would force Web sites to charge for access in order to break even."

However, some are willing to pay. Arnold F. said, "I recently dropped home delivery of the NY Times, which was costing me upwards of $42/month, including the soggy papers on rainy days when the bag tore on the driveway.. The electronic edition of the NY Times, at $15/mo, is an EXACT replica of the print version, articles, ads, the whole shebang. It uses iBrowse software, downloaded for free. I can download the paper to my laptop, and read it off line as well. I'm being green - no newsprint, ink, gas of the deliverer, as well as saving my 'green'[backs], NY Times allows you to download the crosswords for working off line as well. As more people get used to reading on screens, whether cell phones, Kindles, or their laptops, paper use may really diminish. I'll pay a fair share for that."

And Howie M. wrote: "My first point is that no one will know if pay as you go is workable until tried. But I suspect it will not work because it will have to be coerced...pay or stay off the web, although it is not clear if the intention is no more free webmail. There are a lot of potential consequences, good and bad...good for those whose web sites prove viable because they have content that people value, while it will severely curtail visits to other sites valued only by a few. In my case, i.e. doing a lot of research, I estimate that it would cost me from $6,000 to $15,000 per year using about $3-10/month per site. That is not acceptable."

Many of you don't believe it will ever come about. Gregory G. wrote: "most sites are getting decent revenue on existing advertisements. I just don't see it happening. Specialty sites like "experts exchange", that offer an industry-specific service, sure. But having abcnews.com or ebay.com charge to enter their site?? That would be their death knell."

Thanks to all of you who wrote on this topic - and thank you, too, to those who wrote to correct my spelling of LexisNexis.

'Til next week,
Deb Shinder, Editor

PS: Did you know this newsletter has a sister publication called VistaNews? You can subscribe here, and tell your friends:

And for IT pros, there's our "big sister," WServer News, at

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Quotes of the Week

Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things. - Peter Drucker (1909 - 2005)

In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensible. - Dwight D. Eisenhower (1890 - 1969)

Next to knowing when to seize an opportunity, the most important thing in life is knowing when to forego an advantage. - Benjamin Disraeli (1804 - 1881)

Keep The Bad Guys Out With The Sunbelt Personal Firewall

Why do I need a firewall? Together with antivirus and antispyware, a firewall is a "must" to protect your computer. PC Magazine gave the Sunbelt Personal Firewall a "Very Good" rating with 4 Stars and a conclusion of "good protection". Check out the Reviews on the site and it will be clear why you need the Sunbelt Personal Firewall to protect your PC. One good example: Unlike the Windows XP and Vista Firewall, you can tell the Sunbelt Personal Firewall to look carefully at the data leaving your browser, so that sensitive information like your credit card numbers, email address, bank account, social security number and PIN code do not get stolen by hackers!

 Cool Tools

Tools We Think You Shouldn't Be Without


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Backblaze is the no fuss solution to getting all your data backed up online securely, easily, automatically, and for only $5/month for unlimited storage.

PC Tune-Up: 4 Easy Steps That Eliminate Frustrating Slow Computer Problems:

Registry First Aid 7.0 - New Release Is Faster, Safer and Even More Effective

Improve your English writing skills with WhiteSmoke a smarter solution for high quality writing. Download the free trial version here.

Rip DVDs for your iPod/iPhone or Apple TV. Bundle includes video converter too! Try it free!

Vista gets bogged down very quickly! Advanced Vista Optimizer will tweak Vista for Max performance. Easy to use:

Backups? GoodSync is an easy and fast way to backup and synchronize your emails, photos, iTunes, MP3s, and other important files.

Spotmau PowerSuite Professional 2008: Fantastic! All the tools necessary to fix most common computer problems. Clone and backup too!

Print Screen Deluxe is the realistic upgrade of the Windows version. You can crop - before the capture! Very quick!

 News, Hints, Tips and Tricks

Microsoft extends XP downgrade offer for 12 more months

Microsoft was originally offering a six month period in which those who bought new systems that come with Windows 7 could "downgrade" to XP for free. Now, after criticism from consumers and those in the industry over the short time frame, Microsoft has extended that "window of opportunity" by twelve additional months, making the XP downgrade available until the spring of 2011. Find out more here:

Microsoft is revamping MSN

Word came out recently that MSN, Microsoft's online portal, is going to be overhauled soon. The newer, leaner and meaner version is currently being tested in France, and adds personalization (such as a link to your Hotmail account) and more social media features, while reducing the number of channels. Read more about the new MSN here:

Windows Mobile 7: Will it be an iPhone killer?

Apple's iPhone is a hot property at the moment, but there are many of us who don't quite understand why. My Samsung Omnia, running Windows Mobile, does everything an iPhone will do (or at least everything I would want one to do) and more - and provides me with a user-removable battery and microSDHC card slot, two important elements that are sorely lacking in the iPhone. The Omnia II, set to hit the market shortly, promises to be even better. In 2010, Microsoft plans to release the next version of their smartphone operating system, Windows Mobile 7, with improved multi-touch, motion gestures, game mode, and other great features. Read more about the Windows Mobile roadmap here:

Find $10,000 buried somewhere on the Internet - and you get to keep it

Microsoft is promoting IE 8 with a contest whereby IE 8 users can follow a set of daily clues that appear on Twitter and on its web site to find a "cleverly concealed web page" that you can view with IE 8. The first one to find it gets to keep the ten grand. See the clues and find out more about how to participate here:

 How To: Using XP Features

How to disable the "Your computer might be at risk" popup message in XP

If XP doesn't recognize the antivirus you have installed, you may find yourself constantly having to close a "nag screen" popup that tells you that your computer might be at risk because antivirus software might not be installed. The same thing can happen if you turn off the Windows Firewall because you're using a third party firewall. Of course, if you really don't have AV or a firewall, you probably should think about installing one. But if you just use a less-known security program that XP's Security Center doesn't "see," you can get rid of the message. Here's how:
  1. Click Start | Control Panel and click the Security Center icon.
  2. In the left pane, under Resources, click the link that says "Change the way Security Center alerts me."
  3. In the Alert Settings dialog box, you can uncheck the box(es) for firewall and/or virus protection.
  4. Click OK.
Note that this applies to XP SP2 or above.

 XP Security News

Top ten most dangerous search terms

Can you get in trouble just by conducting an Internet search? If you click on the links in those results, you can - especially when you use certain search terms or look for certain products. It probably doesn't come as a big surprise that "free music downloads" carries a big risk that you'll find sites containing malware, but did you know that "iPhone" is another of the most dangerous search terms? AV vendor McAfee recently conducted a study to determine the top ten riskiest search terms and categories. You can find out the results here:

 XP Question Corner

Is there an easier way to use my printer as a copier?

I know you can buy multi-function machines that work as both a computer printer and a photocopier - but I really don't want to invest in a new piece of hardware. I have a good scanner and a good printer, separate devices. I can scan a document, save it, open it and print it, but that's a lot of steps and a bit of a hassle. Is there a faster way to accomplish this? Thanks. - Dolly W.

As a matter of fact, you can turn any scanner/printer combo into a copy machine using software, and you don't even have to pay for it. A free program called (appropriately enough) Photocopier works with XP, Vista and even older programs such as NT and Windows 98. You set the number of copies and the brightness level, click the Copy button and it just works. Download it here:

 XP Configuration and Troubleshooting

Restore toolbars to the default

If you install a third party toolbar that changes the IE and/or Windows Explorer toolbar, and you aren't able to get them back to their default views, it's because the program made a change to the registry. You can edit the registry to restore the toolbars to their default settings, but be sure to back up the registry first. You'll find the step by step instructions in KB article 555460 at

The screensaver drop-down menu is grayed out

If you can't change your screensaver because the drop-down menu from which you normally choose a screensaver is grayed out, it can be because of a group policy setting or a registry edit. You can fix the problem by correcting the registry entry. KB article 555506 tells you how. See it at

 Fav Links

This Week's Links We Like. Tips, Hints And Fun Stuff

Disclaimer: WXPNews does not assume and cannot be responsible for any liability related to you clicking any of these linked Web sites.

 Product of the Week

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 About WXPnews

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