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« Suddenly, It's All Becoming Clear The RantsBut How Will it Play in Peoria? »

Getting More Than You Pay For
2006.01.26 (Thu) 23:15

Decrepit Old Fool has an extremely useful post up regarding the Everything-Old-is-New-Again concept of free software. Not only did it spark a nice thread inspiring people to share what favorite free apps they use, but DOF also linked to Unqualified Offerings' nicely compiled list of Jim Henley's favorite applications, all of them — you guessed it — free, and ranging from text and image editors to browsers, e-mail clients, and anti-virus/anti-malware software.

It always amazes us what you can find on the Internet. (Someone once challenged Jeff to find llama porn.) The great thing is that there are people out there who are trying to make useful technology without worrying about the bottom line — they've got day jobs, they're comfortable, and they realize that if they found a need for the application they've created, then others will, too. DOF's main focus in his post, Notepad++, is already our new favorite text editor around here — starting off with the simplicity of Windows' built-in Notepad, it adds brilliant bits of functionality, especially for coders (like line numbering, code highlighting, and the ability to expand and collapse specific routines and functions within your code for ease of viewing — beautiful!).

There's a fine line to walk when it comes to the applications you want, and the ones you can afford. Over the past couple of years, we've been steadily impressed with the free applications we've found while wandering the World Wide Web. One of our favorites was found in a burst of desperation — we were quite fed up with the Symantec (Norton) and McAfee anti-virus packages, which were constantly bombarding us with intrusive demands to update, which — if dismissed — popped up again within minutes; the updates and upgrades took up ludicrous amounts of time and unacceptable amounts of system resources (our systems were so slow as to be essentially useless while these programs were downloading and installing updates); and worst of all, the program settings — ostensibly there to enable us to control these updates — simply would not accept changes. How fucked up is that? We're not kidding — radio buttons would be checked, and the interface closed...and not only would it not make any difference to functionality, but the next time the interface was opened to see how the hell we could gain some control, the radio buttons were no longer checked. Pathetic.

In the midst of our preparations for Hara Kiri, we did a quick search on Google — and we swear, the clouds parted, revealing golden rays of sunlight and singing angels (admittedly, we'd taken a few shots of tequila to dull the pain of ritual suicide). We discovered a whole assortment of free and, apparently, good anti-virus programs, including Clam Win, AVG, and — the one we eventually went with — Alwil's Avast! application.

Having used Avast! for nearly a year, now (and installing it on the computers of any family members who conscript our system administration services — you know who you are), we have to say: we're ecstatic. First off, we know it works — within literally 48 hours of installation, it nailed three viruses coming through a peer-to-peer network, and two coming in through e-mail. The application let us know what was up, and gave us options — wonderful, wonderful options! — that we could actually choose from. We're not saying the more common anti-virus apps (like Norton and McAfee) don't do their jobs in this respect; we're just pointing out that Avast! does.

But even better — Avast! doesn't hog all our time and resources. This is, to us, a key selling point. Every so often, Avast! will mention that updates are available, and — how novel! — you can simply ignore it and the reminder will go away, if you happen to be busy at the moment. When you actually okay the download and installation of updates or upgrades, Avast! quickly and efficiently downloads and installs what you need. They even have a final confirmation window which tells you how long the whole operation took, clearly because they're justifiably proud of it — the longest an update has ever taken on our systems is eight seconds, and the longest an upgrade has taken is slightly over a minute (though it's usually half that). Fucking brilliant.

But wait, there's more...because Avast! does something we'd never even dared to dream an anti-virus application would do. Occasionally (rarely, even), Avast! will require a re-boot in order to finalize a new update or upgrade. But — miracle of miracles! — it will ask you once and only once if you would like to restart your system, and if you click "No," it doesn't ever bother you about it again. Yes, Avast! actually treats you like someone who has a brain and can decide when to restart your computer for yourself. Amazing. Even Windows Update, which doesn't demand that you restart (like Norton and McAfee so often did), still keeps pestering you about it. Avast!, you've walked into our systems and into our hearts — we love ya, big guy!

How do they do it...for free? Well, like many free applications, Avast! is only free for home use, so it is supported by the corporate and professional licenses it sells for the steroid-inflated version. However, there are also many free applications that are simply Open Source code, done by developers and users alike to put together an application that does what they need it to do. The GIMP, a really nice free image editor, is a great example of this — while it lacks some of the inherent functionality of commercial software like Paint Shop Pro or Adobe Photoshop, if you learn how to make your own plug-ins, you'll be able to do anything that you regularly do in those other programs.

The upshot here — not quite a moral, but a lesson learned: if you find the right one, free applications can be just as good as if not better than the ones that charge you obscene amounts of money — not just for the program itself, but for update subscriptions. We'll personally vouch for many of them, like Notepad++, Avast!, both AdAware and Spybot, ZipGenius...and anything coded by Mike Lin — seriously, that guy's got some great software, including our favorite registry/startup watchdog, StartupMonitor. It's a nice, small, quick and efficient application which will stop anything from attempting to alter your registry or startup procedures without your okay. It catches everything — no exceptions, so far as we can tell — which is a very useful feature in these malware-stricken times. Softcore users might be frustrated by the confirmation alerts nearly every time they attempt to install new software, but more hardcore users (like, we'll admit, us) will appreciate the total control over what applications get to alter their registry. If you're as happy with StartupMonitor as we are, you might even want to throw a few bucks Mike's way. Of course, the amount is up to you.

Bottom line: the next time you're doing a clean install on a new system, we highly recommend looking into some of this free software before just installing all of the old standbys — we're willing to bet you won't regret it.

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[  Filed under: % Computers & the Internet  ]

TrackBack URL for this entry: http://www.twopercentco.com/rants/tpc-trkbk.cgi/276

Comments (3)

Jeff, 2006.01.27 (Fri) 01:32 [Link] »

Hmm, I think I need to try Notepad++.

There's an excellent (and fairly long) list of free software list here as well.

Jeff from the Two Percent Company, 2006.01.29 (Sun) 21:11 [Link] »

Fantastic list, Jeff — thanks for posting the link. Between that one and the one over at Unqualified Offerings, I'm going to be doing quite a bit of browsing over the next week or so.

deisel and mac abuser, 2007.04.06 (Fri) 13:26 [Link] »

dear all...

I have a teacher we all call llama. but he's one that wont spit. i love llamas because there the most uglist camal i ever saw (camel with no humps)

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