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TECH TALK: Free stuff - not always too good to be true

We've all heard the saying, "If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is." Usually that is excellent advice, but there are a few exceptions. Over the next few weeks, I'm going to look at some of these exceptions within the world of computers.

Before I get into specific examples, there are a couple of important things to know. The first is WHY people give away free stuff. The bad guys give away free stuff, including music, movies, and software, to get you to install viruses and trojans, which they then use to take over your computer.

Category #2, which is also worth avoiding, is Freeware or Shareware. It's usually school projects that people are trying to make money off of. The quality varies dramatically, and the opportunities to crash your computer are endless.

The last category is the interesting one. It's called Free or Open Source Software (FOSS). These are produced by actual computer programmers working in teams for credible organizations. Sometimes they come from companies that are trying to score brownie points with you by offering you free stuff ... Xerox has some great templates, for instance, that are very professionally done and are completely virus-free.

Some are community projects built under licenses that allow (and sometimes require) the sharing of the programming code. This creates a situation where piles of developers are working on the same piece of software.

So what about some examples? The absolute king of FOSS is Google. They have the search engine that everyone knows about, but they have so much more. The list of offerings from Google is actually big enough to require its own article, which will be coming next week.