Saturday, February 18, 2006

Remember Having To Buy Software?

Let me introduce you to the strange worlds of yesteryear. In this fanciful, far-off realm (a.k.a. the nineteen-eighties) we bought magazines for advertising that might help us decide which software was best. That's right. We bought magazines. And read the ads. For information. But wait, it gets stranger.

After putting together a shortlist of possible solutions, we then visited our local library to look up back-issues and hopefully find maybe, perhaps, if we were very lucky, one measly review that might give us help in our purchase decision. Then we wrote letters, licked stamps, and sent off requests for product catalogues and flyers, obtained through the post. When this information proved to have shortcomings we could pick up our telephones (you know, the old type, connected to the wall by a cord) and call long distance numbers so specific questions might be answered.

After spending a fortune on telephone calls we could finally order a product by mail-order. Or perhaps we would go to a local computer shop and convince the proprietor to obtain it from their distributor. In those days dinosaurs ruled the earth and software came packaged in a large box with a paper manual and a stack of floppy disks. When a disk failed we waited for another. When the software wouldn't install an expert came to our home. When we wanted an update we waited six to eight weeks and paid a fistfull of bills.

Oh yeah, and the software cost money. Maybe $400-500 for a standard business application like, for example, WordPerfect.

We called this experience "buying software".

Well I am about to change your life forever by introducing you to a wonderful thing called "the internet". Now you can look up product info and reviews as quick as a wink (at least for those of you who have very slow cheek muscles). You can download apps almost as quickly, try one out, grab another, compare, see which best fits your work habits and requirements, and then write your own review (or blog page) to tell the rest of the world about how you got on.

Better yet, as we edge our way into the twenty-first century the best software is free. And not just free as in euros but Open Source, which means all of the source code is also free and open for people to use as they wish. Gone are the days of proprietary companies deciding when and how we should use their software and when and how they will make updates to fix long-standing critical bugs. The control hierarchy of the software industry has been destabilised. (Which some of us knew it would, years ago. Ah victory, sweet victory.)

Over the next little while I am going to post articles telling you about some of my favourite software, almost all free and Open Source and far far better than the crud we had to deal with years ago. Some of the applications will be familiar to you, some will be popular choices, but maybe others will be new discoveries that can save you money or make your life easier and more fun. Yippee!

Though I will be recommending apps base on my experiences on Windows XP, many will be marked "cross-platform", which generally means they can be used with Win32, Linux, Mac OS X, and maybe other platforms. Check the product info for full details.

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