Computer software, for both personal and business use, can be expensive — and it’s one of the first places where people try to cut corners, or find alternatives. Unfortunately, the most commonly-used method is also the most dangerous one, and could land you in a whole lot of trouble, as well as destroying your computer and costing you thousands of dollars in data recovery — if it’s even possible in the first place.

But cheer up! In this article, I’m going to show you how to have your cake and eat it too — and it’ll be a better quality cake than you could ever buy. Does that sound too good to be true? Read on, and I’ll prove it.

The Wrong Way
You know this one: all you have to do is ask your friend — the one who’s so good at finding those “cracked” programs on the Internet — to burn you a CD… MS Office, Word, whatever, he’ll be happy to oblige. In fact, he’s just found this great site in Eastern Europe that’s got everything you’ve ever dreamed of!

As is often the case with this kind of “free” software, there’s a hidden cost — and it just might be more than you bargained for.

For one thing, a lot of the so-called “cracked” software contains viruses — and these days, those are more than just a prank. Much of it is distributed by organized criminal groups that use those viruses to take over your computer and use it as part of their ‘botnet’, a network of computers that does anything from sending spam to cracking bank security — all without your knowledge. Of course, this makes your computer run more slowly, takes up a lot of your network bandwidth, and possibly fills up your disk with incriminating material.



Even if the “warez” you got didn’t come with that kind of infection, an illegal or unregistered copy of commercial software can usually be turned off, over the Internet, by the people who wrote it (example: look up ‘Windows Genuine Advantage angers Chinese’ in Google.) Imagine having your computer shut down in the middle of a business day… imagine all the computers in your business doing so. Not a good risk to take, right?

You can argue this point, but… really, you’re legally and morally in the wrong when you do this. It’s just not a good position to be in, especially if you’re trying to run a business.

The Right Way

Welcome to the world of Open Source software, where the rules are completely different.

Downloading software? Sure — but you don’t have to spend hours and hours searching for special “wareZ d00ds” sites; the people who write the software make it available right at their site. Free. Yes, really free. Free of legal tangles, and almost always at zero cost.

Safety from viruses? Yep, got that. You see, part of the Open Source culture is to make the code available along with every program — and any programmer looking at the code would be able to spot a virus and eliminate it. Problem solved.

Want to give copies away? Feel free; in fact, it’s encouraged.

Whether you’re using it personally or for business, you have nothing to worry about: you’re not breaking any laws. Sure, it’s not much of a concern for most people… but it’s better to to be on the right side than the wrong one.

So, What Kind of Software is Available?

There are tens of thousands of Open Source programs available, for literally every application you could imagine. Here are my seven favorite software tools, listed by category:

Web Browser: Mozilla Firefox — Chances are, you’re already using it. It passed 500 million downloads back in 2008, and hasn’t slowed down since. Most people simply call it “the world’s best browser”.

Mail Reader: Mozilla Thunderbird — Thunderbird offers a large feature set, supporting all standard email protocols and extensions. It also has a built-in feed reader and spell checking, as well as an integrated USENET news reader, as well as a huge number of “add-ons” — freely-downloadable software plugins to extend its functionality.

Office Suite: OpenOffice — includes a word processor (Writer), spreadsheet (Calc), presentation software (Impress), drawing and graphing tool (Draw), a tool for creating equations and formulas (Math), and a database, reporting and form tool (Base). Reads Microsoft Office files, too.

Photo Editor: GNU Image Manipulation Program (The GIMP) — GIMP has been in continual development since 1995. It has powerful painting tools, support for layers, channels, and filters, multiple undo/redo, and editable text layers.

CD/DVD Burner: InfraRecorder — supports virtually all different formats including rewritable disc, multi-session disc and dual-layer DVDs; audio CDs can be created with just a few simple drag and drops. Other important features include disc copying, audio CD ripping, ISO generation, and burning images. Available in more than 20 languages.

Media Player: VLC — this is a flexible media player available for virtually any operating system including portable/handheld computers. VLC plays all of the common media formats, both video and audio, as well as DVDs and today’s popular DivX and MPEG4 movies. Most streaming media is supported as well, including Windows Media (wmv) and QuickTime. Advanced features include a skinnable GUI and playing media directly from ISO files. VLC is also available as a Firefox plug-in and as an ActiveX component, making it simple to view any embedded video format through your browser.

Archiver: 7-Zip — 7-Zip is an excellent file archiver that supports the following formats for packing/unpacking: 7z, ZIP, GZIP, BZIP2 and TAR — and the following for unpacking only: RAR, CAB, ARJ, LZH, CHM, Z, CPIO, RPM and DEB. It integrates well into the Windows shell (right click menu). 7-Zip is also available in 60 languages.