In the bad old days before the Internet became very popular, most consumer users used software that was stored in media like floppy disks or CDs. Back in those days, software was available only in two flavors: paid software or freeware/shareware. Paid software is pretty self-explanatory – it is software you paid for. Sure, it comes in a nice glossy box, has all sorts of great documentation, and does the job it was bought for, but it sure packed quite a wallop on consumers’ wallets.
When it comes to paid software think of the big boys-Microsoft, Adobe, and others. The downside to this type of software is once you pay for it, you’re stuck with it. Many packages also don’t have a test version that lets you get an idea on to how it works so you can decide to buy it.
Needless to say, paid software meant big money! In fact, paid software makes so much money that many pirates and other users of unauthorized copies don’t feel too bad ripping off Microsoft and other big publishes since these companies are thought to make more than enough money to cover piracy-related losses.
On the other hand, shareware and freeware, for many users, were gifts from the guys in the white hats-the good guys. These small publishers or individuals would let people try out their software entirely for free or for limited periods of time. The user can then decide whether to pay for a full version of the software. Some shareware remains completely unlocked for as long as you have it installed on your computer. Other shareware expire after some time or after a set number of uses. Regardless, shareware and freeware offer users a full opportunity to experience the value the software brings.
The downside to shareware is that too many users don’t opt to buy an unlocked or full version of the software. As a result, only a small minority of users are paying for the continued development and support of the software. Eventually, some publishers or developers stop supporting their software for lack of resources. This is the key limitation to shareware-the ‘free rider’ problem. A relatively tiny minority of users end up subsidizing the freeloading of the majority.
Another downside to shareware is that many are set up so that the user is forced to pay for the software. How? The software becomes indispensable to the user. After a while, it expires and the user is ‘forced’ to buy an unlock key or premium version. While many users have no problems with this, some do find expiration periods manipulative since it hits the user precisely at the time he or she becomes dependent on the software. Even other shareware are merely advertising devices for the publisher. The publisher releases several versions to the public and gets a huge following. After some time, it limits its releases to paid versions only.
Thankfully, budget-conscious tech consumers have a third option. They can now use a wide variety of open-source software and never have to worry about paying a dime to the developer. Talk about saving money on your software purchases! What made open source possible? Many developers share code with the public and give them rights to use the code. Other developers use the code and add their improvements and share the code further.
Due to this global collaboration, many different teams can apply some of the same basic collection of publicly available code for different applications. Applications are easier to develop, and the existing body of open source code continues to expand. It’s a win-win situation for developers. Consumers win big time because open-source software has a huge international network of users. People share notes regarding bugs and fixes. This community-driven technical support network has proven to be more effective, in many instances, than the traditional corporate software closed source model where users have to wait until tech support calls back or the company issues a patch or update.
As open-source software continues to become popular, you can find open source software that offers a wide variety of solutions from office-related productivity tasks to entertainment to computer security and all points in between. Use open-source software today save big on software costs. Just make sure it supports popular formats and you should be all set.