Tech Audit

Be Free!

Freeware--Choose and Use; Moneyware--Spend and Lose

Posted Nov 21, 2004 1:23 AM CDT
By David Beckman and David Hirsch

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Some of the best things in computing are free. But there is a trick to using freeware. It is pretty much the same trick to using “moneyware,” those programs you pay for. If you need it, get it and use it. If you don’t, don’t.

For lawyers, time is money. So free does not mean without cost. Similarly, paying a lot for software does not mean you necessarily get a lot. Consumer be­ware. There is nothing wrong with paying for what you need, but there is also nothing wrong with being cheap. Freeware is something we talk about periodically. We often mention Open­Office suite from openoffice.org, the productivity suite that runs on several operating systems, including Windows. Perhaps the only thing holding it back is that it seems too good to be true. It is proof that a free lunch exists.

We also speak occasion-ally about Linux, the free, powerful, reliable (and sometimes confusing) operating system that can save thousands of dollars (and more) if you know how to use it.

This month we would like to focus on a few of the innumerable other freeware programs available, and how to approach using any software.

Spybot Search and Destroy is available for download at www.safer networking.org/en/download/index.html. Spy­bots are software that infiltrates a computer to gather information about the user and then relay it to advertisers or other interested parties. This program appears to catch every spybot that comes along. Protection against automated robot espionage of your keyboard is important.

Windows Startup at www.windowsstartup.com tells you about most of the programs that are running when you start up your computer. This is a useful addition to spyware protection.

Beauty of a Browser

The most exciting, relatively new freeware is a Web browser, FireFox. It is from Mozilla, at www.mozilla.org. FireFox is faster than Internet Explorer, something high­­ly desirable if your Internet connection is slow, and pleas­­ing even if your connection is high-speed. The theory behind FireFox is to offer an open, stripped-down brows­­er that does the basics.

The beauty of FireFox is the multitude of extensions available for download all over the Net, many of which are listed at http://update.mozilla.org/extensions. Our favorite FireFox extensions include an enhanced Google search bar. This elaborate extension offers instant, inval­uable access to sophisticated Google tools like searches of university sites, news, language tools, Web quotes, dic­tionaries and much more.

FireFox tab extensions powerfully open new pages, as desired, in the same window with a tab for each page. One can quickly flip through everything opened. You can stay on pages already open and return to clicked-on links later. That means you don’t waste time waiting for pages to load.

It can also be fun to explore www.shareware.com. An Internet search of “free­ware” leads to other, similar sites. Most freeware programs are focused, small tools that are usually better at what they do than megatools.

To use computers opti­mal­ly, you must play. To play, you must spend time. Freeware offers a method of spending time without spending cash. While you play, you will learn more than is apparent. And along the way you may pick up some useful programs to complement your enhanced technique.

Be careful what you load. Be careful what you decide to use. Still, while some of this can be dangerous, the most dangerous technique is to leave the choices to others. Software is not a solution, it is an artist’s tool. A significant part of the practice of law is art, and an artist must control his or her tools.

There is a place for freeware on a lawyer’s palette. But, like an artist, the larger your organization, the harder you may have to fight for your creative computing freedom.

David Beckman and David Hirsch practice in the law firm of Beckman & Hirsch in Burlington, Iowa. Contact Beckman by e-mail at ddb@iowalaw.com or Hirsch at david@iowalaw.com.

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