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

ST Fan's Guide to Inexpensive Serious Software

The Must Have's Inexpensive Serious Software

Animator GIMP mascot Wilber, copyright 9 out of 10 PCs are Microsoft Windows based, so our discussion will concentrate on software that run on this platform. Most Windows users know little about the availability of free software and most of the pirated software are in this area. Moving away from Windows, at the Linux or FreeBSD arena you will find almost everything in these areas under the Free Software Foundation's GNU General Public License or GPL. The GPL allows software to be distributed and used freely but you cannot claim ownership of the software. The ownership remains with the copyright holder, the author or creator. Almost everything in Linux is free. You only need to pay for the cost of the materials such as the cost of producing the CD or phone charges for downloading the software.

Windows users are led to believe that you must pay for every piece of software other than those that are built into the version of the Windows they are using. The truth is, it depends on how much you want to pay and how deep your pocket is. You can buy every software you need which will soon add up to many times more than the cost of your hardware. Many people have turned to using pirated software because they are made to believe that they have no choice but to depend on those expensive software which they can't afford!

Linux Penguin siting pretty copyright created with the GIMP free graphics software

Now let's start with what you need to pay before we talk about what you don't have to pay. First you need to pay for the Windows OS - usually a single user or the home version will cost you around RM400.00. Most of the time it is already bundled with your hardware purchase so you can assume it comes free with your hardware, but make sure that it is not a pirated copy! Ask your hardware vendor for the licence and manual. Original copy FreeBSD 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 of Windows should come with these items. If you are still not willing to pay for this amount then you should stop gazing at the Windows and go outside the Windows and into the world of Linux . Check out Linux at or the world of FreeBSD at We will not discuss Linux and FreeBSD in this guide as it is both a vast subject by itself. You will be able to find lots of information on the links above.

V-buster The Utimate Anti-Virus Weapon!!

The next software you must have is a good anti-virus software. They cost around RM50 to RM200. An award wining Malaysia Boleh Anti-virus software is V-BUSTER created by Dr. Looi Hoong Thoong, affectionately referred as Uncle Looi by his supporters and V-Buster users. V-Buster is the only Anti-virus software written in machine code in the market. V-Buster has the ability to automatically rebuild the Boot Sector and Partition Table of a crashed inaccessible hard disk besides the normal anti-virus functions. If you are shopping for anti-virus software, consider this one as it could be just the one you need. Many users of V-Buster, both local and foreign, posted messages of praise and claimed this software to be better than other anti-virus software from the big name software makers. Personally, I have seen V-buster found viruses in PCs that were missed by Norton Anti-virus and PC-cillin. Check out V-Buster at V-Buster live up to Dr Looi's claim -- The Ultimate Anti-Virus Weapon!!

You want a free Anti-virus solution? Yes, you can but not a full solution. Trend Micro the maker of PC-Cillin offers a free online scan-and-clean anti-virus service called HouseCall. It can scan and clean your system on-line but, because it is an online service the anti-virus scan engine does not reside in your PC so it does not provide real time protection. It has a very good users review and feedback. Check it out at

Now you are set, the rest of the software you can choose either the commercial version or get the free version; it all depends on you and your wallet.

For added protection against intruders from the Internet, install a Firewall. Yes, there are free firewalls around. As long as you confine your PC for home use you can have free firewall. One that we are using is Kerio Personal Firewall on our home PC. It has a small foot print, doesn't take up much PC resources and is free. When you are on the Internet the Kerio Personal Firewall will monitor the traffic getting in and out of your PC. You can set three levels of security from minimum, medium to maximum. When set at minimum it will enable full communications but you can set filter rules to block out certain communications. At the maximum level it blocks everything except those that the pre-set filter rules permit. Try it at the medium level. This is the default level where the Kerio Personal Firewall will also block everything. However it will trace your current application and set appropriate permitting rules for well known legitimate network activities. It will alert you when unusual communication requests from your application software or from the Internet occurs and will ask for your permission to set appropriate filtering rules. Kerio Personal Firewall is free for non-commercial home users or US$39 for single business users licence

ZoneAlarm is another firewall software free for personal use or US$19.99 for Business use. We can't tell you much about ZoneAlarm at this moment since we have yet to try it. Both kerio Personal Firewall and ZoneAlarm have some good review in many magazines and in the Internet. Check out Kerio Personal Firewall at,   ZoneAlarm is at or you can download both from

We write to communicate, to document an event, to put forward a proposal or a business plan. What we need is a word processor or editor. However, putting an idea forward and to present it with style needs more than just words alone. You may want to present it in figures, in charts or pictures. So you need more than just a word processor - Office Suite Software with integrated program for word processor, spreadsheet, presentation chart, etc. is what you need. When an Office Suite software is mentioned everyone will think of Microsoft Office and for that you have to pay the richest man in the world around RM1600 for a single user licence. A year down the road you will need to pay him half that amount to upgrade to the latest Office Suite otherwise you will run into compatibility problem with users of the new version of Microsoft Office. See, that is how he become the richest man in the world while you the poor souls got trapped and addicted to this expensive upgrade cycle of never ending story.

Screenshot of StarOffice 5.2 This article was originally written in StarOffice5.2 Personal Edition because I wanted to get the feel of it, which I paid only RM25.00 for the IN-TECH 7 CD from The Star Newspaper. StarOffice is one of the many fully integrated Microsoft Office compatible Office Suites. It contains a powerful web enabled word processor, spreadsheet, graphics design, presentation graphics, database, e-mail, news and charting applications. The GUI in StarOffice will allow Microsoft Office users to be productive almost immediately with its familiar user interface. StarOffice5.2 can access current Microsoft Office files and save it back to Microsoft Office format. However some minor incompatibility do exist which is not only limited between Microsoft Office and StarOffice alone - it happens between Microsoft Office of the latest version and their previous version as well.  The file size of StarOffice 5.2 is about 64Megabyte. The download will take several hours depending on the speed of your modem. StarOffice was originally owned and developed by a small company called Star Division which is now bought over by Sun Microsystems. StarOffice after version 5.2 is no longer free since Sun MicrosMicrosystems deccided not to offer it free. Even then, the price for the new StarOffice is quite reasonable. However all is not lost. Out of goodwill Sun Microsystems donated the source code of Star Office to OSS community and that started a new organisation called the Foundation. The new software from this foundation called  Office Suite is quite similar to the StarOffice.  In fact it is better than StarOffice 5.2 in functionality. It is available for download from and we have since been using OpenOffice instead of the StarOffice 5.2. OpenOffice is available in most platforms such as Linux and UNIX and was originally developed on Linux before ported to Microsoft Windows platform. OpenOffice and  StarOffice 5.2 are both better in design and is a more stable free Office Suite compared with others that we have tried. 

Another free Office Suite available on the PC Windows platform is EasyOffice, which is also a Microsoft Office Compatible Office Suite. You can check it out at During installation EasyOffice sets up lots of icons on the desktop and their GUI too, is congested with lots of icons that can easily confuse users rather than assist them. EasyOffice is more of a non-expiring shareware than a freeware since it keeps nagging users to pay to get a full version each time EasyOffice is launched even though it claimed to be a freeware.

Another expensive and well-known Software that almost everyone who works on computer graphics or digital photography wants is PhotoShop. PhotoShop is one of the most pirated graphics software in the market due to its high-price (RM2600) and with its notable status as an industry standard. A limited edition of this software about one version older than the current version is often bundled with high-end scanners or digital cameras.

Screen Shot of the GIMP - GNU Image Manupulation Program. A group of volunteer programmers and some former PhotoShop users worked on a project to create a graphics software to rival Photoshop. It is called GIMP for GNU Image Manipulation Program. GIMP is capable of everything from advance image manipulation to basic drawing. Many of its features are inspired from PhotoShop and other image manipulation software. GIMP was developed originally as a free (at least reasonably priced) image manipulation software for Linux and UNIX. It has since been ported to the Windows platform. This great software is comparable to PhotoShop or CorelDRAW and is free! The download file size is about 12Megabyte and you can download it from for the Windows version. A free comprehensive GIMP User Manual of 924 pages, 10 Megabytes file size in PDF format and a separate Colour Section of the manual can be downloaded from GIMP web site. You can find lots of information and support on GIMP at their website at including a tutorial, FAQ, information on IRC channel and subscribe to their mailing list, etc. This software is well supported by a large user group and once you have mastered GIMP you don't need any other graphics software.

Another free graphics utility of interest is PhotoAlbum from FotoTime Inc. PhotoAlbum is a free image organiser, viewer and slide show presenter. You can use it to print and share your digital photos. PhotoAlbum allows you to retrieve pictures, add them to albums or groups, sync to the FotoTime web site and share them with your family or friends. In addition you can print high quality prints using your own printer or upload your photo to FotoTime for them to print high quality photo prints for you. FotoTime is an online photo finishing company. To find out more information and to download free PhotoAlbum check out their web site at Another smaller free images utility we use is  Slowview.  This one  is smaller in size and run faster than PhotoAlbum but lack some of the features of PhotoAlbum.

The software referred here are about all you will need to get started using Windows based PC. OpenOffice can create documents, prepare presentation charts, calculate your net worth, create simple graphics and also prepare your home pages. GIMP can satisfy all your graphics and digital imaging needs.Moneybag Kerio Personal Firewall and Anti-Virus software give you some degree of protection against Trojan Horses and other viruses. FotoAlbum will keep your digital images organised. Internet Explorer and other software built in with the Windows OS will serve you well in surfing the Internet, Outlook Express and StarOffice can take care of your email needs. Well, you have saved at least RM5,000 already and don't forget, on top of that you will need to pay close to half that amount for the never ending future upgrades with commercial software.




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