The commercial software industry will tell you that free software is riddled with spyware, adware and viruses. Well, they would, wouldn't they? But the fact is, there are no guarantees. You'll discover this if you ever read the EULAs (does anybody, ever?), those lengthy, legalistic end user licence agreements you must agree to before installation.
One of the most notorious infections of recent times came from the Sony BMG rootkit of 2005 that secretly installed a backdoor on Windows computers when users tried to play the company's CDs.
Standards in the commercial industry are generally higher, but there are thousands of fully featured, highly reputable free applications out there too.
Here is a handful of the choicest, many as good or better than their commercial counterparts. With the exception of games, you may never need to buy another program.
* Malwarebytes (malwarebytes.org) finds and removes adware, spyware and other malicious software.
* VLC Media Player (videolan.org) plays everything from DVD movies to obscure music track formats. I have yet to find anything that VLC can't handle - and without having to play find- the-codec.
* LibreOffice (libreoffice.org) is a fully featured office suite - word processor, spreadsheet, multimedia presentation maker, drawing package and database - that can open and save documents in many proprietary formats, including Microsoft's .doc and .docx.
* Thunderbird (mozilla.org/thunderbird) is an email and news client with junk-mail filtering and full web standards compliance. To add a personal information manager, visit mozilla.org/projects/calendar/lightning.
* Gimp (gimp.org) is a stunning drawing and image manipulation program. Think of it as Photoshop for free.
* Blender (blender.org) is 3-D animation software for making films and creating 3-D visual effects. Each year, the Blender Foundation releases a short animated movie made with its software. Check them out on the site.
* Audacity (audacity.sourceforge.net) is digital audio recording and editing software.
* Avidemux (avidemux.org) is for editing videos, applying visual effects and converting between different video formats.
* KeePass (keepass.info) is a highly secure password management utility.
* Eclipse (eclipse.org) is an integrated development environment for coding, debugging and testing a variety of computer programming languages.
* XAMPP (apachefriends.org) is a DIY web server in a single download. Seriously.
There's another advantage to a lot of the free software. Much of it is multi-platform, meaning there are versions for Windows, Mac and Linux. That means you can run the same software on any machine, wherever you are.
But why just stop at applications? Why not do everything for free?
* Geoff Palmer is a computer consultant, freelance technical writer and novelist.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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