As a newbie software user overwhelmed by the many programs being cranked out every day by developers, I’d visit software sites and download and install just about anything that looked interesting, even if I wasn’t exactly sure what the software did. I’d buy software from retail stores packaged in some of the most graphically appealing boxes ever seen and find out later that the functionality was lacking. After this age of personal software discovery had passed and my Windows registry was deflowered and full of garbage, I had learned a few things about choosing which software programs to buy, download and install.
There are plenty of wares to be aware and wary of: freeware, shareware, demoware, adware, warez, etc. Most software on my PC now falls under the category of freeware. Freeware download sites like Nonags.com are the very first place I look for a software solution. The kind of ware discussed here is the kind that consumers have to pay for either online or from a retail store. Software buying doesn’t have to be a keyboard-pounding experience. If you do things right, it should be easier than opening the package most cases.
Beware of the Pirates, Matey
If you purchase software from an online auction like eBay, beware of pirated copies. It’s also possible that shrink wrapped software you purchase can be pirated. Be suspicious if you are offered an unusually low price by a dealer that is not well known.
Der Language Support
Kind of a no-brainer, but make sure the program supports your language. If you speak English—you probably do, if you’ve read this far—and are greeted by willkommen, bien venidos, etc., let that be a red flag, a large bright red flat, that is. Don’t assume a software program is multilingual. Some programs that purport to support many languages may not translate every item. You don’t want to have to feel your way around a reformatting tool for the right command.
In version 1.0, often there are kinks that need to be worked out. It’s sort of like buying the first year model of a car. It may take the engineers a few years of recalls to get it perfect. Even after much good faith beta testing, software can require post release user feedback and testing to work out all the kinks. Version 1.2 will be out soon. Or will it? Consider going with a company that makes a product that will be continually improved. This does not mean that you should always choose Norton over Jim’s virus checker every time. Fortunately, many programs today allow you to perform an auto update via the program’s interface. Ask why a new version is being released. Find the company’s website and look for the release notes. Bug fixes are great. But, if you see new and untested features being added to the new release, you may want to keep a copy of the existing version until after testing the new one. Lastly, if the software requires a manual download to update or patch the program, make sure you obtain it from the official company site.
Program Install and Uninstall
Does the program provide an uninstall option from your operating system? There are still programs out there that don’t. Check the readme or user documentation to see if it mentions “uninstall instructions” or “To remove the program, do blah.” Some download sites conveniently state whether an uninstall is included.
Ask what kind of product support and customer service is available for the product. If phone, Toll-Free? E-mail? Forums? Most companies find email support to be an efficient method of resolving customer problems. Often, a ticket number can be generated to track the problem until resolution. Forums are becoming a very popular support tool for small developers and large companies. Forum support has the advantage of allowing everyone to review an issue similar to theirs and the chance to resolve it without having to even make contact with human being. I was disappointed to discover a leading anti-virus software program offered 900 number support lines for a past product I ordered in good faith. I had made my decision to purchase the product based on a positive review featured in PC Magazine. I also have sad memories of trying to contact the support line for Intuit’s Quicken circa 97 around the time of Y2K. Support for my 90′s version of Quicken had been discontinued due to Y2K (I believe the recommendation was to upgrade, that is, buy a new version). I didn’t do the research, so I paid.
If a software product is outstanding, it will have won awards. The most modest developer will likely post those awards on the company’s official web site, even if the product is freeware. Look for awards won from reputable software review sites and examine the reviews on those sites.
Make a reasonable attempt to read/review the software’s license before purchasing. Boring? Yes. Look for words like “non-transferable” which may indicate that the purchaser cannot sell or give away the software after purchasing. The resale value is a consideration if you want to legally sell the program later. eBay has been known to enforce this and de-list if you try and sell. I realized the importance of reading the license agreement after I tried to sell STS software CD’s for CIW exams. I called the company’s customer support to complain about not being able to sell the software and the customer service rep apologized and told me, “That’s how we make our living.”
Software for Life
One of the selling points for a gaming shareware program I purchased was that it included lifetime uprades. With an investment like that, I thought, I could log onto servers and frag my buddies at the retirement home about 40 years from now. I sensed that the software wouldn’t be around much longer when I noticed that the developer actually posted a job solicitation on the web site. The lifetime download policy should be a given, not a selling point.
Bait and Switch Freeware
Freeware is freeware, but some companies offer freeware programs simply to generate interest with the full intention of switching to a paid platform later. There are ways to hedge against this. I had been using a freeware compression tool for about one year. The program did about everything that Winzip did, probably more. I regularly downloaded the newest version from the site as the product was improved. I became an enthusiastic supporter and promoter of the program. One day I downloaded a new version after reading a list of new features. After installing it I soon realized that I had been hoodwinked. After meticulously setting my preferences, to my dismay, I noticed a “Register” icon. My heart began to sink. Without the company web site making mention of the change overtly on the website, my freeware had taken on a new life as shareware. My trust with the company and software product was forever broken. I quickly searched for the old freeware version and found that it had been removed from the major software download sites. Ahhh, all except an obscure site in New Zealand! Be sure and keep a back up copy of your favorite programs.
Did I miss anything?