Is It Unwise to Use Low-Cost or Free Software?

BY STANLEY ZAROWIN

IS IT UNWISE TO USE LOW-COST OR FREE SOFTWARE?
Our tech support consultant challenges the notion that low-cost, or even free, antivirus utilities are necessarily inferior to products that carry a subscription price. What’s your take on this?

It depends, and by that I mean there is no easy yes or no answer to that question. While it’s true that some free programs are worthless or even dangerous, many others do an outstanding or at least an adequate job. It’s usually hard to tell in advance which are both good and safe. The best guide is a recommendation from a knowledgeable source—but not someone connected to the outfit that distributes the program.

Why do some companies offer their products free? After all, you know there is no such thing as a free lunch. So there must be a catch: If you download some of them, you’ll discover they are really marketing gimmicks, cleverly engineered to entice you to “upgrade” the product for a fee. For example, say you download a free product that’s marketed as a utility which will solve all your computer problems. It then performs a full scan to check the health of your computer, and, of course, the scan will uncover many “problems”—some may even be real. But to correct those “problems,” you need to “register,” which involves paying for an upgrade key to release the product’s problem-solving software. And, of course, once you’ve divulged your address, you will be flooded with junk mail. 

But that said, there is some truth to your consultant’s claim. There are some companies that offer free applications that are excellent and are not marketing scams. True, those companies also hope you will be so happy with the free program that you’ll buy other products they make or upgrade the free program to a more powerful version.

For example, I’ve been testing an antivirus program, AVG (www.grisoft.com), on one of my computers (see screenshot below). It’s free for personal use. I’m very vulnerable to hackers and viruses because I do extensive surfing on the Internet and test loads of new software, yet I’ve never been the victim of a successful attack. I should add that my second computer is loaded with a popular antivirus product that costs about $40, and that, too, has spared me from any attacks.

AVG is, however, a “minimal” program—that is, it provides just the most basic protection. But it’s adequate. For a fee, however, you can upgrade to a more powerful program.

Another free program I use is Advanced WindowsCare Personal Edition (www.iobit.com/advancedwindowscareper.html). It does an excellent job keeping my computer free of spyware and adware. It also cleans and optimizes my registry and performs a host of other housecleaning tasks (see screenshot below) that keep my computer purring efficiently. 

I also have in my utility toolbox NirSoft’s My Uninstaller (www.nirsoft.net), a free program (see screenshot below) that completely removes all traces of an application I no longer want on my hard drive. Although Windows can do the cleanup job sometimes (by engaging Control Panel, Add or Remove Programs), too often it leaves behind traces of the deleted software that can disrupt the operation of other software.

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