Download or down payment: the perils of “free” software

They say there is no such thing as a free lunch. I say there is no such thing as free software. The exercise in downloading left me both frustrated and furious.

I already have many of the recommended software applications such as Adobe Acrobat Reader, Flash and Shockwave players, Apple Quicktime for Windows, Window’s Media Player and Real Networks Real One installed on my PC. Of the others mentioned in the unit notes, the Search Manager/Combiners appealed to me most. The ability to combine the best results from the best search engines could be useful.

I followed the link from the unit notes to the Glooton.com site. Unfortunately, it defaults to the French language site – I do not read French and could not find the download site. However there was a link to a site featuring French knickers.  I searched for Glooton for Windows using Google with the same results, more French knickers.

I moved on to Copernic Meta for PC. The link from the unit notes was to a Copernic site but again no sign of the software I was seeking. Instead I was presented with the options for Copernic Desktop Search, Copernic Mobile, Copernic Agent Family, Copernic Tracker or Copernic Summarizer. After some further reading, I opted for Copernic Tracker, which seemed to fit the description contained in the unit notes. I answered some non-intrusive questions and the download proceeded quite quickly. The download was an executable file that also opened and installed without any fuss.

I tried my first search using Copernic Tracker. I would try to find the Glooton for Windows download site in English. A bit disappointing, the first three hits were “paid” results for aluminium window sellers and installers – Copernic Tracker could learn a little from Google Adsense about relevance. The next top two results were more promising; the first from altavista.com and the second from ark.com. Unfortunately, they directed me to the French site I had visited earlier – another opportunity to buy some French knickers.

I applied the evaluation criteria to Copernic Tracker as follows:

  • Cost – free for the basic version but with the hidden cost of irrelevant sponsored results appearing as the top three results.
  • Ease of use – easy to use but not very elegant.
  • Functionality – the basic (free) product has less functionality than the more expensive paid-for products. Copernic Tracker does not utilise Yahoo or Google for its searching, which is a distinct disadvantage.
  • Utility – Could be useful but I found Google, Yahoo and the new Microsoft Bing individually produced better results than Copernic Tracker basic.
  • Commononality – The program does not appear to be in common use nor is it becoming standard.

Another feature that appealed tome that was mentioned in the unit notes me was the offline browser/copier. First up I looked at Webcopier for Windows. I declined a download because it came as a thirty-day trial after which you had to purchase. Free trials can turn into freeloaders. You do not realise until after you have downloaded the file that it has implanted some annoying “prompt” into your hard drive that relentlessly reminds you that your trial will end in 30 days. At the end of the 30-day trial, when you decide to reject the product, you discover there is no uninstall program. After you finally manage to delete the program, your computer is littered with detritus including constant reminders that your trial has expired. Although the trial may have been free, it is difficult to break free from these ongoning reminders.

Pagesucker for Windows appeared to be a better option.  However, I would live to regret the words attributed to P T Barnum that  “there is a sucker born every minute”.  Without reading the fine print, I selected the “free” program, which downloaded and installed quite quickly. However, once I went to use it a pop-up activated to inform me that the program was share-ware and that I would have to pay a registration fee of $US10.00 to continue using it.

There is another truism that you get what you pay for. No doubt, the continuing quest for the nirvana of “free” programs will result in many more experiences that are disappointing.

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