Why You Should Never Pay For Software

Give a voice to the voiceless!

I have to buy a new computer. The laptop I’ve worked on for the last five years is in a state of terminal decay (pun intended). The CD-ROM door won’t stay shut, and a couple of keys are missing. I don’t mind buying a new unit, but every salesperson I’ve dealt with so far tries to sell me on all the great software it comes with — “And you get 30 free days of Microsoft Office and we’ll give you $50 off your anti-virus software.” I haven’t paid for software in years, and there’s no reason you should either.

Let’s start with the laptop I’m replacing. It’s a plain vanilla IBM Thinkpad (now made by Lenovo). There isn’t a single line of Microsoft code on it. My operating system and all of my programs are open source, meaning the license is free and if you write any improvements into it, you have to share it with the world.

Start with the operating system, the software that makes the whole thing function. Most of you are running Microsoft Windows of one variety or another. The rest of you have an Apple OS. You paid for them when you got your machine. As an alternative, I put a Linux OS on my laptop. More servers use Linux than Windows, and there is every chance you have a Linux OS in your pocket. Android is derived from Linux.

Linux was written by Linus Torvald and given away to the world back in 1991. There are numerous distributions of it, different flavors if you will: Suse, Ubuntu (which I use), Puppy, Damn Small Linux, etc. There are lots of arguments about Linux as an OS, but there are seven that make it highly desirable. First, it is free. Second, it is more stable than any other OS I have ever used — it doesn’t freeze up, you don’t have to reboot, etc. Third, Linux is very resistant to malware. Fourth, downloading drivers is rarely necessary. Fifth, you have a whole community looking at code for you, finding ways to do things. Six, it boots up faster because it is smaller. Seven, all programs update automatically when you want them to update — not when your software provider does.

OK, so maybe you don’t want to ditch your OS because you feel you don’t know enough about computers to deal with something that dramatic. You still don’t need to pay for anything other than the OS.

About 90% of the time, people are running a word processor, a spreadsheet, a presentation program, surfing the web and/or emailing. Download OpenOffice or LibreOffice and you have just replaced your Office Suite, for free. The icons are a bit different but that’s not a big deal. Need a desktop publisher? Scribus works exceedingly well.

Surf the web with Internet Explorer or Apple’s Safari? Replace them with Firefox, Chrome, Opera or SeaMonkey. Different cars all work on the road; different browsers all work on the Internet.

Email is handled by Thunderbird on my machine. Spicebird, Claws mail and Sylpheed work just as well. Need to do something else? Juicer works great in ripping CDs. Lightworks and Blender handle video editing.

And if you have a Linux OS and the program you want doesn’t exist in Linux, use WINE — Wine Is Not an Emulator. Countless non-Linux programs can run on a Linux machine using this. And if it won’t, virtual box programs can make the cranky software fly.

This is not to say that paid software isn’t good software. I plan on buying a laptop, and it will come with Windows. I’ll leave it on and set up a dual boot — I will be able to choose to run Windows (some games don’t work well on WINE) or Linux. I will run Chrome, Thunderbird and LibreOffice under both Windows and Linux. And I won’t bother with anti-virus software. Linux won’t contract any if you run it properly, and if Windows comes down with one, I can detoxify it from Linux.

I am a great admirer of the people at Microsoft and Apple — I just don’t think they need any more money.

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