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Free software

Are you still paying for commercial programs? Why bother when you can get them for free - never pay for another program again!

I get at least a dozen emails every day offering commercial software at ridiculously low prices, sometimes just one tenth of their RRP. Of course, if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is and either the software is an illegally copied one that may or may not work, or it is a scam of some sort and once payment has been handed over to the sender of these junk messages, it is likely that you will never see your money or the software again.

Scams are widespread on the internet and you do have to be wary of any offers that land in your email inbox, but there is a way of getting commercial software for free using the internet that is perfectly legal. In fact, the method I am going to outline is actively encouraged by software companies. They want you to use their software for free, so why not take advantage of their generosity? Honestly, I'm not joking or trying to con you and I will show you how you can have almost any program you want without paying anything for it.

Selling software online
freesoftware2 (6K)The reason why software is given away completely free of charge is mainly due to the way that the internet has grown. Almost everyone that wants internet access now has it and the rise in popularity of broadband connections means that most people nowadays have super fast access that is permanently on.

High-speed broadband for everyone now enables software companies to distribute their products over the internet in a way that was impossible when everyone had dial-up access with super slow connection speeds. Companies can provide a program as a download link on their websites and let users simply download the software they want to buy or try to their computers.

freesoftware1 (8K)This means that a company doesn't need any costly packaging and it doesn't need to duplicate CDs. Manuals are provided in electronic form and are either simple HTML or PDF files, or are the operating system's standard help format and this means that there aren't any printing costs. There is no need to have a costly warehouse in which to store the products before they are sent to stores or customers and there aren't any shipping costs involved. It's quite obvious that there are tremendous savings for software companies when they sell software over the internet compared to selling physical products via mail order or in the high street.

Free trial version
freesoftware3 (8K)For a long time shareware authors have provided their software for free on a try-before-you-buy basis and it is more often than not fully functional for a limited period of time. The most common length of a free trial period is 30 days, but occasionally it is shorter and sometimes it is longer. Trials of 60 days are not uncommon.

Anyone can download and install shareware software and use it for free, and this gives people the opportunity to evaluate it and then decide whether it is worth purchasing. When the 30-day trial period is over and the software stops working (or occasionally converts to a highly limited form), the user has the choice of either uninstalling the program, in which case they don't need to pay any money at all, or to purchase it. Paying a registration fee removes the block on the software when the trial is over and it turns it into a full program that you can keep and use for as long as you want.

It is now common for commercial software companies to provide many top software packages in the same try-before-you-buy format as shareware authors. The idea is that you can download and install the programs and if you like them, you can then purchase a license and register the product. If you decide that you don't want it or cannot afford it, you can simply uninstall it to remove it from your computer.

By taking advantage of fully functional 30-day trial software you need never pay for another program again. Basically, you download and install one program and when it expires you simply uninstall it and then download and install another program of the same type from a rival company or sometimes even the same company. It is a simple and legal way to get free software on your computer.

A working example: Security suites
To see how this would work, let's consider security software. This is a particularly good software category to look at because there is a large number of companies producing many programs that are functionaly very similar and there are plenty of trial versions to download and install. Here is a month by month breakdown of a year's worth of security software for free:

Security Software
January Bullguard Internet Security 8.0 www.bullguard.com
February Continue with Bullguard It's a two month trial version
March McAfee Internet security Suite www.mcafee.com
April F-Secure Internet Security 2008 www.f-secure.com
May Trend Micro Internet Security 2008 www.trendmicro.com/
June Kaspersky Internet Security 7 www.kaspersky.com
July Grisoft AVG Internet Security www.grisoft.com
August ZoneAlarm Security Suite www.zonealarm.com
September BitDefender Internet Security 2008 www.bitdefender.com
October Agnitum Outpost Security Suite Pro www.agnitum.com
November PC Tools Internet Security www.pctools.com
December Norton Internet Security 2008 www.symantec.com

As you can see, there are more than enough security programs to keep on installing trials for a full year. When one trial version expires, you simply download and install the next one (it's best to make a note of which trial versions you have installed and when), and then the next, and so on. There are even more programs than I have listed here and if you tried every program on the market it would keep you going until well into the second year.

freesoftware4 (10K)Bullguard is currently offering a two month trial and this is very generous. Although I keep saying trial, you actually get fully working software that is not limited in any way and it's only called a trial because it has an expiry date. Symantec only offers 15 day trials with its software. However, there are two different products and you could install Norton Internet Security 2008 followed by Norton 360. Other companies have multiple products too, such as McAfee Internet Security Suite with SiteAdvisor 2008 and McAfee Total Protection with SiteAdivsor Plus 2008.

The more alert readers will have spotted a flaw with this scheme and that is that you can only run a trial version of a program once. When the trial period expires you cannot install the software again and get another month's use for free (no-one would ever buy the software if you could). So at first sight it seems that you cannot have free software forever and once all the trial versions have been used, perhaps after 15 or 18 months, you won't have any software. However, the situation isn't as bad as it might at first appear.

freesoftware5 (8K)

Software companies constantly update their products and they don't simply produce a single version then sit back and wait for the money to come in. They develop their products, add more features, fix bugs and bring out new versions. There is a lot of money to be made getting existing customers to upgrade their software to the latest version and when an updated program is released, a new trial version is made available for download on the internet.

freesoftware6 (22K)If you look at the example list of security products you will see that many of them are 2008 versions, such as Norton Internet Security 2008. Security software is updated every year and there was a Norton Internet Security 2006, 2007 and there will no doubt be 2009 and 2010 versions. As a general rule of thumb, you can install a new trial and get another 30 days use providing the software is a completely new version. A company isn't going to prevent potential customers from trying a new version of their latest software simply because they tried last year's or the year before, so they reset the trial period counter and you get another 30 days with each new version.

This means that by the time you have worked your way through all the trial versions of the security software in the list above, the next versions of the programs - 2009 editions - will be on the market and you can download install the new trials all over again. The software list can therefore be used year after year and you will never need to pay for security software again. Full commercial security software free for life!

Photo editing software
Security suites are probably the best type of software to perform this technique with because there are a large number of competing and functionally similar programs that are updated on a regular basis. They aren't the only type of software you can do this with though and there are lots of other possibilities, such as photo editing programs.

freesoftware7 (22K)

Adobe Photoshop is the ultimate program of course, and you can download a 30-day free trial. When that expires you can then download and run Photoshop Elements for a month. It's not quite as powerful, but it's still a great program and it is good enough for home users. Corel also has a pair of excellent photo editing programs and by installing Paint Shop Pro X2 followed by PhotoImpact 12 you'll have commercial quality photo editing until May. After that there are some great shareware photo editors and if you run out of software you can always use PhotoPlus 6 from Serif or the excellent GIMP, both of which are free. By the time you run out of photo editing software trials, hopefully there will be updated versions and you can install trials of the new software.

Photo Editors
January Photoshop www.adobe.com
February Photoshop Elements www.adobe.com
March Paint Shop Pro X2 www.corel.com
April PhotoImpact 12 www.corel.com
May Photo-Brush www.mediachance.com
June PhotoLine www.pl32.com
July Photo Pos Pro Photo Editor www.photopos.com
August LView Pro www.lview.com
September Ultimate Paint www.ultimatepaint.com
October NeoPaint www.neosoftware.com
November Photo Plus 6 www.freeserifsoftware.com
December GIMP www.gimp.org

Potential problems
One thing that you have to be careful of is that the software is fully functional and is not limited in some way. Security software has to be fully functional because you can't have a trial version of an anti virus program that only detects 50% of viruses and lets the other 50% infect your PC. It has to be 100% effective or people will not purchase it when the trial period expires. Photo editors are usually fully working too and there aren't any limitations. If you wanted file recovery software though, you may find that a trial version limits the size of file that can be recovered, or it only shows you the recovered files and it won't let you actually save them. Running trial versions therefore works with some types of software, but it is not suitable for everything.

Another thing that you have to be careful of is proprietary file formats, like Paint Shop Pro's .pspimage. You should not convert all your photos to .pspimage files because when the trial period runs out you will find that none of the other photo editors can access the images. You must use a universal file format that all the programs can read, if not write. Older versions of Adobe Photoshop's files are usually OK, although whether all photo editors can read the latest files is unlikely. Saving photos as .bmp files is OK and JPEG s a universal standard too. There is a problem with multi-layered images that you have constructed yourself because there isn't really a universal multi-layer file format. Use the Photoshop .psd format if you can because it's the one that is most likely to be understood by other photo editing software.

Sometimes software is able to work with any file format you choose and this is a great help. For example, if you are running Microsoft Word 2007 you can create, load and save word processor documents in Word 97-2003 format. This version of the file format is well understood and all word processors are able to read these files, which means that when then trial expires, you can carry on working with a new word processor and use the same documents. You should avoid using Word 2007's native file format because very few word processors can read it. Plain text files can obviously be read by all word processors, but they cannot contain any formatting information, which makes them all but useless for exchanging documents between different programs. RTF files are much better because it's a more complex format that can handle a wide range of formatting features. The RTF file format is quite widely supported too.

There is a similar problem with Microsoft Excel 2007 and you should avoid the native file format and create and save files in the older Excel 97-2003 format. It makes little difference to the software and you can use all of its features, but it makes a big difference when you want to load your spreadsheets into other software packages. Excel contains several features not found in other spreadsheet programs, so unless your sheets are fairly straightforward, it's not easy to seamlessly switch from one software package to another.

Office software
freesoftware8 (6K)There are several office software suites available and you can last quite a long time on 30-day trial versions. Office suites are not updated as frequently as security software, but the excellent OpenOffice can be used when you run out of trial versions and are waiting for trials of the next versions to be released. Let's take a look at office software, kicking off with Microsoft Office 2007 Standard, which contains Excel, Outlook, PowerPoint and Word. You can download a 60-day trial version and when it expires there are several alternatives to choose from, such as StarOffice, WordPerfect Office, Ability Office and many others. When you run out of trial versions you can run the impressively powerful OpenOffice, which is completely free. As soon as the software companies bring out new versions, such as Microsoft Office 2008, you can download and install the new trial versions.

Office Software
January Microsoft Office http://office.microsoft.com
February Continue with Microsoft Office It's a two month trial
March StarOffice www.sun.com/software/star/staroffice/
April WordPerfect Office www.corel.com
May Ability Office www.ability.com
June 602 PC Suite www.software602.com
July Ashampoo Office www.ashampoo.com
August SoftMaker Office www.softmaker.com/english/ofw_en.htm
September ThinkFree Office www.thinkfree.com
October Celframe Office Professional www.celframe.com
November CeylonSoft Office Suite www.ceylonsoft.com
December Techdigm Office www.techdigm.com

Save a bundle
Although I have only looked at security software, photo editing and office software, there are many more categories of software that you can use the same technique with. Of course, it is a slight hassle having to download fresh software each month because it always takes time to get to know a new program and there is the file format problem to watch out for, but just think of the money you will save!