The Real Deal 134: Free versus paid software

Free software is always better right? Not always. We'll help you decide when it's right to pay and give you some of our favorite free and open source picks.

Tom Merritt Former CNET executive editor
6 min read

Free software is always better right? Not always. We'll help you decide when it's right to pay and give you some of our favorite free and open-source software picks.

Listen now: Download today's podcast

    Why choose free software?
  • Money obviously
  • Convenience: Download - move to new pc
  • Quality
  • Company won't get acquired and go out of business

  • Support
  • Quality
  • Community evaporates


Paint.Net vs. Photoshop

Google Docs vs. Microsoft Word (people say Open Office but this is really better)

Google Apps / WordPress

Mint.com vs. Quicken

Evernote vs. One Note


Open Office vs. Microsoft Office




Gparted - Partition software


Paid software:

Free software:


My favorite free alternatives
**Anti-virus: Avira AntiVir
Office suite: Google Docs or OpenOffice

*Operating system: openSUSE or Ubuntu
Financial software: mint.com
Password management: Password Safe

--Chad Zeeland, Mich.
OK, the five best free/paid-for applications:

1. OpenOffice 3.0; free; given a choice between the freebie and a legal copy of MS Office 2007, I'd still stick with Open Office.

2. GIMP; free; OK, it's a pain in the ass to learn,but once you figure it out, it is amazing what you can do.

**3. AVG Free; yeah, there's a paid version, but why? It hasn't let me down in the past two years, on either Windows or Linux.

4. AnyDVD (Slysoft); pay-for; because sometimes a DVD just has to be ripped to the hard drive.

**5. PFDCreator; free; allows a PFD file maker to be installed as a printer so you don't have to worry about compatibility between operating systems, versions or Word, and allows you to save information directly to a file.

I enjoy the show. Thanks for putting it out there.

--jim, Fort Worth, Texas

Tom & Rafe, Since you asked, here are my Top 5 free applications that I use regularly for which there are paid alternatives.

Anti-virus - AVG Free
FTP - FileZilla
**Backup - Comodo Backup or SyncToy 2
**Remote access - LogMeIn
Encryption - TrueCrypt

+1 (not sure if there are paid renaming applications, but I use this one allthe time for my photos)
Renamer - AF5 rename

While there are paid versions of these types of applications, I've found these freebies to fit the bill quite well.

Love the show.

Patrick Schommer Sun Prairie, Wis.

Hi Tom and Rafe. This is a list of the 5 free software I love:

1.  OpenOffice.org
2. Media Jukebox
3. Audacity
**4. FlightGear - open source flight simulator
5. TORCS - The Open Racing Car Simulator

This is what I really for a 15 min documentary for family...

I need a pro level movie editor for free that works on windows.

Or maybe a tutorial for Jahshaka?


Love the show

Hey guys, I use OpenOffice.org 3 instead of MS Office. OOo 3 is a huge leap over OOo 2 and I don't like the ribbon interface of MS Office 2007.

The GIMP, not nearly as easy to use as Photoshop but given the $700 price tag for Photoshop I'll learn to use the GIMP.

xplorer2 Lite http://www.zabkat.com/x2lite.htm replacement for windows explorer. It's dual pane making it really nice to use. There is a paid version but I find the free version does just fine.

I would like to know what you recommend for disk defragging software. I currently use Auslogic's Disk Defrag which works well, but I am curious how it compares with some of the paid defraggers.

Clay J

Rafe and Tom,

OK, so keeping it down to 5 will be tough, but I will do my best.

Cant live without free software for Windows PC:

1- Media Monkey. I found this to work best with my creative MP3 player and just an overall nice layout.
2- Comodo Firewall,  AntiVir, Spyware Terminator, CCleaner, Revo Uninstaller, Smart Defrag, and  DriveImage XML. These are the system utilities I use the most.
3- OO.org 3.0. A little slow, but free and very powerful.
4- Gimp. I will not pay!
5- Lets go with 7zip. Its just so easy

Cant live without paid software for Windows PC:

1- MS Office 2007. only because I got it through my work for $20.
2- Nero 7. Haven't really had the need to upgrade, but for the price it is a decent group of applications.
3- Ummmmm, crickets and tumbleweeds I could tell you more free stuff!

Cant live without free software for WM:

1- G-Alarm. an MP3 based alarm with gradual volume increase with the option to trace a line before you can snooze or turn it off.
2- M2D. Gives me the interface of the newer HTC phones without getting a new HTC phone, which my wife likes.
Just as a side note, if Windows 7 does come out in 2009 along with WM 7 on a stellar phone, and they have most of what they promise in these products, Microsoft Could have a comeback that no goofy advertisement could accomplish. You just have a guy stand there, say "We listened to what you wanted, we used our best and brightest to give it to you, here you go, enjoy." Maybe a few screen shots and they could redeem themselves for a lot of people.
3- Skype. I can use my home Skype account on my mobile phone! No matter where I am, home, office, or on a bus, Skype me.
4-Twitula. For the twit in me. 
5- Opera 9.5

Cant live without paid software for WM:

1- SPB Finance, SPB Wallet. Best software for balancing finances and holding sensitive information, free or not.
2- MyList. Checkbox galore!
3- Sprite Backup! Because unlike the iPhone, I am totally allowed to install the worst crap ever on my phone to make it an $800 paperweight.
4- My Personal Diet and My Sport Training with desktop application. I reached the age of 27 and BAM! So long metabolism.
5- AutoFile. A little quirky, but great for keeping track of car stuff.

This is probably way too long for the podcast, but its nice to write about it.

I can't wait to hear all the free stuff I have been missing out on.


So, here is my list you might notice a pattern.

5 paid

1. window-eyes (screen reader) (about $800)
2. zoomtext (screen magnifier) (about $400)
3. Windows XP (accessibility in linux i can not find)
5. Microsoft Office 2003 pro (2.x of openoffice.org was not fully accessible.  I need to try 3.0 it is supposed to be better)


1. iTunes (need a better podcatcher that is not so hoggy and is more accessible)
2. trillian basic (not accessible)
3.  AVG
4. Windows Defender
5. Firefox (favorite)

Love the show.
Bill, from Portland, Ore.

PS. you might have noticed my annoyance with free software not designed for blind people like me.

And more---- http://forums.cnet.com/5208-7808_102-0.html?forumID=76&threadID=312241&messageID=2881770&tag=forums06;forum-threads


Guys --

In the old days ('80s) congenital wisdom was to leave your PC on all day (an perhaps over night) as the cool-down / heat-up cycles caused heavy wear and tear on your system. My question is this: today CPUs and other components run hotter than in the old days. Is it still better to leave your system running, rather than having it automatically go on standby every 2 hours -- causing you to effectively turn your system off and on a few times every day?

Also -- what about the Windows power option that will turn your internal drives off during non-use? Having that option set to power drives off after 30 minutes of inactivity might cause the drives to go off and on all day. Does the spin-up action cause more wear and tear than what you'd get leaving them spinning all day?

Great show.

-Tom Walker Littleton, Colo.


It did my heart good to hear in episode 133 your description of the self-destructing Dell laptop that worked great but physically fell apart at the seams. When I finally replaced mine with a MacBook it was held together with strapping tape, masking tape, two colors of duct tape, and Velcro. My husband said I just was too hard on my laptops--thank you for vindicating me!! (I still have the laptop--it's kind of an objet d'art of sentimental value.)

Nifty show!
Karen Roth "rednecktech" Scottsdale, Ariz.

Just finished listening to episode 133 on gadget disposal. Costco offers a trade-in and recycle program. You send them your old electronics and they will give you a trade in value in the form of Costco gift cards. It can be found here http://costcotrades.greensight.com/Common/equiptypes.aspx?SiteXfrMsg=1. I plugged my fourth generation 20GB iPod into the Web site and found I would get $20 back for it. This can be a good way to get rid of old electronics if you are a Costco member.
-- by nickerbocker79 October 26, 2008 3:14 PM PDT

Next episode - Retro Software