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A layman guide on free ware and low cost software, introductory guide to Inexpensive Serious Software

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Free Software, Free Society: Selected Essays of Richard M. Stallman


BSD Daemon Copyright 1988 by Marshall Kirk McKusick.  All Rights Reserved. Permission to use the daemon may be obtained from: Marshall Kirk McKusick 1614 Oxford St Berkeley, CA 94709-1608 USA or via email at What concerns most people over free software is the issue of compatibility. Compatibility does exist between software and hardware of different platforms, such as Mac and PC. However there are many ways to go around this issue of compatibility but the key question is do you really have a compatibility issue at all? If you don't share what you do with others you never have to bother with the compatibility issue. For example if you are using a software to catalogue your own collection of materials which is unlikely to be used by someone else, you don't have to worry about compatibility. If you do need to share what you do with others, you can always save your file in a universal format that can be read by many software of different platforms. The good thing about free software is most of them allows you to save the file in universal format as compared with commercial software which normally only save file in proprietary format. However some commercial software do allow you to import or export file in a different format. The issue of compatibility does not exist at all if you are building a web site or working on digital photos. The files format for most web and graphics software are standard not only in software but over different hardware platforms as well. Compatibility issue between software is a smokescreen created by some software companies out of greed to bar consumers from a wider choice of software. However if compatibility is critical for you, otherwise you will lose million dollars business then go ahead to get what you need if that makes sense.

The next issue of concern is support and many users said that free software have no technical support. "Hey! wait a minute, if you are one of those pirated software users you don't get any support anyway." If you are not a pirate then when was the last time you asked for technical support and did you get any really helpful support? Well, if you are not those companies with at least 10 or 100s of software licences with the commercial Software Company you are not likely to get any helpful support. You can tell by judging from the number of people who write in to the local newspaper's computer supplement and magazine for help and support. I was once being passed around in circles by the parent of a software company to their distributors, then to their dealers and back to the parent company without getting my simple enquiry answered!

IBM announces new Linux-based servers, NST COMPUTIMES, November 15,  2001

Free software do come with free support as well. However since you did not pay for the software you have to sweat a little to get it. First you can search for FAQ at the software creator web site - they usually provide one. Download and read the manual, the HOW-TO document and ReadMe file for the software and this is the best support you are likely to get regardless of commercial or free software. You can also search the Internet for the user group; they usually help if you ask nicely. Angry Penguin ready to punce one of the Linux mascot copyright created with the GIMP free graphics software Because many of those who provide free support at user groups are full-time working people who are doing this on a voluntary basis, make sure you have read through the user groups FAQ and newsgroup posting before you ask. In short don't waste their time. It is better that you pay nothing and get no support than you pay for an arm and a leg and get no support! Free software comes with free support as well but you need to look for it and manage it with the free support that is available from the open source community.

The latest trend in free support comes in the form of Forum that you now find in many websites. It has quickly become an economical and viable means of providing support. This type of forum support is not only used by free software developer as a means of getting feedback from, and support to their endusers, it is also used by companies offering budget price products and services to improve their support and lower down support cost! Often you will need to register as a member of the forum before you can post any questions. You will be surprised that many a time the person who helps you solve your problem is not from the software developer but another user just like you. Forum support can be viewed as a semi self-service and members help members kind of support. It can be effective in getting quick and good response if that Forum has many active and knowledgeble members.

Recently many third party companies have been set up to offer support for the GNU and Linux software on yearly contract and 24 X 7 support. Most of these are capable of meeting requirements of mission critical, commercial customers.

Virus - some say you are likely to get viruses from those free software. You are just as likely to get virus from commercial software. Recently there was a recall of a well-known commercial software because virus was detected on the CD after it was shipped! One software we don't advise you to save money on is the anti-virus software. Get a good one with free virus pattern update included in their price and update it regularly. Most reputable free software download sites are not likely to put a copy of the virus infected software on their web site. This applies to download site such as ZDNet and other well- known sites as they have their name and reputation to look after. Always use the anti-virus scanner to scan any software you download from the web before running it. You never know as even big name commercial software companies are equally vulnerable.

Others may be concerned with security and privacy issue with the free software. Again this issue is the same with the free software as well as with the commercial software. There is enough news on the local and foreign media that some new software from the big time Software Company are violating the privacy law. Many of these software have since been forced by the privacy group to reengineer their software before release. If in doubt over these areas check out at the user group web site before you download, read the software maker's privacy statement if there is one, or forget about downloading it if there is non. A search in the Internet for the review or users report on the software that you intend to download can also tell you if there is a privacy issue with that software. Generally the Internet is so connected that you just can't hide any malicious code on your software for long. If software are released as open source software then you are also opening out your programming code and inviting the thousands of programmers to analyse and check it. Commercial software with their proprietary code means that very few people have access to what is put into it until some security or piracy issue surface or some security experts found something wrong with it and publish it.

MS admits new flaw in Windows

The Star - InTech September 16, 2003

The security and privacy issues are generally more widespread on the adware version of the free software, so look out for them if you chose to use these adware. Be very cautious of adware such as download manager, download accelerator, sharing tools such as those for sharing MP3, P2P files sharing adware, etc. GNU is the brand name of the software from Free Software Foundation, GNU = GNU is Not Unix Also beware of  freeware of unknown source and those received as an attachment with your E-mail. You will be better off to stick with the open source software that comes under the Free Software Foundation's GNU General Public Licence.




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