Computer stuff you should not be paying for

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

There are a number of things as far as computing goes that you do not have to and also should not have to be paying for.

Basic Computer Software

If you are thinking of purchasing a new computer think twice before you fork out hard earned cash for a bunch of extra software.

There is no need for anything paid for. Theoretically not even the operating system needs to be bought as even for that there is an alternative to the proprietary ones such as Microsoft Windows and Apple Mac in the way of the Penguin and others. For penguin read Linux, which is an Open Source Operating System based on Linux.

For anything else as regards to software that you might need and want there are some great alternatives to the name brand software programs available, as free Open Source programs or as free basic programs.

One of the most notable ones here is OpenOffice, the Open Source alternative to those other, often rather expensive, proprietary office programs such as Microsoft Office, for example.

Open Office is completely free and files can be exported in compatible formats. Open Office reads all Microsoft Office files, for instance, bar the silly ones no one really needs, as far as I am concerned.

Any new computer, whether desktop, laptop, notebook or netbook, should come with basic software such as, at the very least, the Operating System (OS) pre-installed with Internet browser and such.

Often trial versions of this or that piece of proprietary software are also included, but I would suggest that you DO NOT even activate any of those. Obtain free Open Source equivalent programs straight away and the easiest way is, if you have a decent Internet connection, is to download those.

Secondhand and older computer can be made to work, as far as the Operating System is concerned, and thus have their lifespan extended considerably, by years to decades even, by use of Open Source Operating Systems such as the previously mentioned Penguin and by use of other Open Source software.

Most distros of Linux come bundles with office software (Open Office), photo editing program (The Gimp) and most other things that you could ever wish for; and it is all FREE.

If you consider that Microsoft Windows Vista requires four DVDs, the equivalent of around 16GB, Linus Ubuntu, with most additional software you will ever need built in, comes on a single CD and is about 700MB or less.

As said, in reality, there are many programs out there that you do not have to pay for and a great many Open Source ones are better even, especially considering the cost of FREE, than the equivalent proprietary software. The old adage of “you get what you pay for” does not apply in this instant.

Let's look at some of those programs, so of which are Open Source while others are not but which, in their basic form, are also, nevertheless, free.


Open Office is an Open Source alternative to Microsoft Office, though it does not have an integrated email client, that is to say, the Outlook program part equivalent of MS Office. Otherwise, however, it can entirely replace that program. If you need an Outlook equivalent then another calendar program may need to be found.

For a zero price tag, I think, this is not a problem, and Open Office, as said, is capable, otherwise to open and understand all Microsoft Office formats.

Open Officer users have told me that, for instance, the equivalent to PowerPoint is better than MS PowerPoint though I cannot judge this as I have, so far, have had not need to do PowerPoint presentations; not with MS PowerPoint nor any equivalent.

Templates for Open Office are now, slowly, becoming available and many Microsoft Office ones can be translates too.

The other program equivalent that Open Office does not have is Publisher but, to be perfectly honest, Open Office Writer can do as good a job as Publisher so I can never understand the reason for such DTP programs.

If you must have a DTP program then there are also Open Source versions available that can be had just for the download.


The Gimp is a powerful Open Source photo manipulation program and, basically, a free equivalent to Adobe Photoshop.

In fact, The Gimp has built-in feature for which you would have to buy ad-ons for Adobe Photoshop in order to do the same.

There is one difference, for lack of a better word, between Adobe Photoshop and The Gimp – and no, it's not the price – and that is that The Gimp cannot export a picture in Post Script for publishing. Most of us though, I am sure, would not even have any use for that feature.


Need a recording program for your computer to record from a microphone to, say, make podcasts in MP3.

Audacity is the answer for sure. It is another Open Source program, available free to download, and works very well indeed and, for the size of the program, is very powerful too, and easy to use.

Once again the cost is zero.


Want to make your own PDF files, maybe an eBook or two, but don't have the fortune to spend on Adobe Acrobat? No need to do so either. There is more than one Open Source program that you could download – or basic free program – that will do the same as Adobe as far as the making of PDF files goes.

PDF Creator is an Open Source program that is a very efficient PDF maker – actually a virtual printer – that creates great PDFs and once again for nothing.

When you then combine the PDF Creator with the Nitro PDF Reader with annotation and notes facility and the capability of extracting text and pictures from PDF files you will need little else in that department.

The PDF Creator is one of the best PDF makers that I have tried and compresses the file much more than do many of the other Open Source and other PDF makers.

Open Office does have a “one click” PDF making facility but the compression ratio is, for my liking, not good enough. Otherwise that facility works well enough.

The Nitro PDF Reader, by the way, can also add a signature to a document, your signature, for instance, in the for of a jpeg but the byte size then increases quite a bit. A good feature though.

Sadly so many people think that they have to spend their hard earned cash on such powerful programs, unaware that there are great programs available on the World Wide Web in Open Source that can be theirs for the download time only.


When it comes to security software, anti-virus and anti-malware, for your computer, once again there is no need to run to the likes of McAffee or Symantec and spend lots of money for such protection.

AVG FREE which, as the name suggests, is free though not Open Source is in its basic from, and that is the free one, a powerful anti-virus program that I have been running for many years by now, with the exception of trying out another program here and there, and it has served me well. Better, in fact, than many of the paid for programs that I have test driven.

Microsoft too is bringing out free protection programs. So, hold on to your money. I know you may be confused about Microsoft giving anything away free but so it is rumored.

Microsoft Security Essentials which I have been test driving in Beta for a while now really does a great job, though I still run AVG as well. Other security programs are in development by Microsoft and supposedly going to be free.

Using such protection programs, together with common sense advice as to dangerous websites and Internet practices should keep you safe online without having to spend a single cent.

N.B. This is, by no means, and exhaustive list and is but meant to give you an idea as to what is available on the Internet as to Open Source and other free programs. While Open Source is, theoretically, always safe this cannot, necessarily be said for other free programs which sometimes have spyware attached.

Download for trusted source only, such as


Email accounts, especially web mail accounts without POP3 or other system enabling importing emails to your computer and sending emails from the computer as well via an email client, you most certainly should NOT be paying for.

Even some free email services can still be had with Post Office Protocol (POP/POP3) or IMAP, etc., that work with email clients such as Microsoft Outlook, Microsoft Outlook Express, Windows Mail, Windows Live Mail, and others.

There are a good number of free email services about with Gmail from Google probably beginning to take the lion share, especially of more business kind of mail accounts, though Hotmail (now Live Mail) and Yahoo Mail (Ymail) not far behind.

In addition to the very big players in the field, as those mentioned above, there are many other free, primarily web-based, email services about. The only problem foreseeable is that smaller providers may not stay up for long and thus mails stored could end up lost as does one's email address should the provider fold.

While there are some folks that raise privacy issues with regards to Gmail, as well as Yahoo Mail and Hotmail/Live Mail, while at the same time maintaining a Facebook account and profile, they are, in general, very reliable services and at least the latter two, Yahoo Mail and Hotmail, have been around for a very long time; as long, I believe, as the Internet almost.

Gmail is part of Google and thus also has the backing of a giant and as a web-based service is integrated with many other Google's Web 2.0 applications, such as Google Docs, Google Calendar, etc. Gmail can also be used via an email client on the computer allowing offline working. Then, however, there is not connection to the Web 2.0 applications.

I must say that I use all three services, that is to say, Gmail, Hotmail/Livemail and Yahoo Mail, though the latter one as a web-mail only. I am not about to pay US$19.95 for a year every year for POP3 access when I can get that free with Gmail and free, via a different protocol, with Hotmail.


Cloud computing is one of the big buzzwords in computing for about theh last couple of years or so now and some predict that cloud computing is to be the way to go, the future and it is also touted as ever so green.

As far as I am concerned, the jury is still very much out on this and thus I certainly recommend to go for free services in this category only. You do not want to commit yourself and your money to something that you may not actually need, or want or don't see how to make use of.

When it comes to storage of my data I prefer it close on the hard disc drive or on removable media over which I have got total and utter and only control. On the other hand remote storage can be handy for a variety of reason but I doubt you need 100s of Gigabyte or even a Terabyte or so. Therefore free cloud services should be considered if you must do cloud.

As to cloud computing being ever so green the jury still is out as well and some predict that, instead of decreasing IT's environmental footprint it will increase it 100 fold. I guess where I will be staying; firmly on terra firma.

© 2010