Free software - how reliable is it? - Is free software safe?

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Postby Stretto » Fri Dec 30, 2005 1:13 pm

I just got my first home computer ever this Spring. I have always had in mind a "list" of things I would want to do "musically" with a computer once I got one (I've had this list for the last 10 years). So now I have just started researching what I need to set everything up I want to be able to do. Actually talking about music on the PEP forums and reading information on PEP has kind of inspired me to turn what I always wanted to do into a reality.

As per my other topics I'm looking for notation software, a microphone for recording an acoustic piano, and hooking up my old keyboard to my computer (hopefully it will work or I'll be looking into buying an inexpensive keyboard as well).

So now the only other question I haven't looked into much yet is do I need additional recording software? I haven't looked into it much but noticed there is some free recording software on the internet. I am kind of leary of free software and would prefer to buy some if I would need it. Should my apprehension of using free recording software offered on the web be justified? What are the risks of using free software for such things as recording from a keyboard or mic.? Is it safe? How can companies afford to offer free software? Is their a catch? I, myself don't want to go the route of free software but am just trying to understand the why's, wherefore's, and risks of using it.




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Postby Dr. John Zeigler - PEP Ed » Sat Dec 31, 2005 11:11 am

I don't think you should be particularly afraid of "free" software, though you should be aware of what "free" can mean.

Much free software is "shareware" in which you can download a free copy of the software, in some cases with some features disabled, to try for a period of time. If you like it and want to continue using it, you then send a registration fee to the writer of the software. This kind of software can be very good - some of the best commercial packages started as shareware. Shareware packages tend to be focused on doing a limited number of things well, rather than the do everything approach of most commercial packages. Shareware exists because individual software authors don't have the money or marketing prowess that major corporations have to sell software. The shareware route gives them an opportunity to sell at minimal cost. If the program is good, word of mouth sells it. I should tell you in the interest of full disclosure that I'm an author of a shareware package myself for chemists engineers, so my view of this approach is colored by that experience.

Some free software is truly free. It is typically written by single programmers to do one thing well. If it does what you want it's a great deal.

One thing to watch out for: a small number of freeware programs have ad-ware built in that can, in the worst cases, literally take over your system. That's one of the reasons we refuse to review any software on PEP that has ad-ware in it. I scan any downloaded package I get with Ad-Aware SE (itself available free) to ferret these out. They are relatively uncommon among freeware, but, unfortunately, not unheard of.

Although I'm a supporter of the shareware/freeware concept, I would point out that any program takes a certain amount of time to learn its features. If you're already familiar with that class of software, that may not be much of a problem. If you're not, you could get a program, spend time on it, then discover it doesn't do what you want. For that reason, I advise people to read the program descriptions carefully, and, if you download the software and install it, read the README file included with the software.

I would also suggest that you download software only from places that certify their software to be virus free. Shareware.com and download.com are a couple trustworthy sites, but there are many others.

Aside from these cautions, which apply to some extent to any commercial package, too, I would say that downloaded "free" software is generally safe and useful. We have reviewed a number of shareware packages for PEP and most have done well in review. :)
All religions, arts and sciences are branches of the same tree. All these aspirations are directed toward ennobling man's life, lifting it from the sphere of mere physical existence and leading the individual towards freedom. - Albert Einstein
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