Many of you already know how to get a great deal on software, but for those who could use a reminder, we've compiled a list of tips that take freeware, Webware, and boxed software into account.
Ditch the features
Ask yourself how many features of that $30, $60, or $200 program you're really going to use. If the answer is less than half, you can probably make do with freeware or with a less expensive shareware application. If you're already comfortable finding, downloading, and using freeware alternatives to pricey, branded software, then congratulations.
If you're not, there are a few ground rules to know. The programs may not always be as flashy or as feature-rich as the reigning app you're familiar with, and they may require you spend some time with the ReadMe file or Help Manual if they operate differently than you're used to. Yet on the whole, the freeware category is growing ever-more sophisticated in everything from interface design to customer support. If you hate the app, it costs you nothing but trial time, and you can always buy the full-priced software to replace it.
For a real-life example, take an image editor. Unless you're an advanced or frequent user, you may not actually need a program as fully caffeinated as Adobe Photoshop, especially if Paint.NET or GIMP's core features are what you'll actually use the majority of the time. With a little research, you can even find two or more freeware programs that cover the feature spectrum in a suite of pro-grade software. In fact, that's how we cobbled together our own Adobe Creative Suite.
How do you find freeware? We recommend CNET Download.com, of course, as your go-to source for discovering and downloading Mac and Windows freeware (also Mobile and Webware.) It's especially useful if you narrow your search results by free licenses (see the illustration at left).
You can also find Windows, Mac, and Linux alternatives from similar download catalogs. SourceForge.net is another good source for the more adventurous and savvy users who are unafraid of choosing from a list of active builds and downloading through mirrors. Forums run by the open-source community may also reveal worthy freeware for those with time to investigate. While search engines are another path to freeware titles, some sites--especially those advertising cracks and serial numbers--are notorious for delivering malware. We recommend for Windows users to at the very least install an application to rate your search engine results as safe or suspicious, such as McAfee Site Advisor for Internet Explorer or Firefox.
Start off with these top freeware security apps and all-around apps for Windows. Mac users will find freeware in this Mac Starter Kit, plus less expensive alternatives to popular programs that are worth the asking price.… Read more