Sheltering from a thunderstorm in Currys the other day, I found myself laughing heartily at the price of everything (£10 for a ruddy USB cable – if I weren’t already tripping over spare leads that came free with USB devices, I’d be starting, and almost certainly ending, my search in Poundland) and trying to resist interrupting the clueless saleswoman who had just told a middle-aged couple that you had to buy a laptop with Vista Professional to get the software that played DVDs.

This led me to think about the vast number of people who shell out for software, despite there being legal free alternatives that are as good, if not better. I used to be one. I used Microsoft Office 2000, and dutifully paid an annual subscription for Norton Internet Security. For the last few years, however, I’ve been an OpenOffice kind of guy, with AVG Free, Malwarebytes and the firewall in my router taking care of the nasties that might infest my IT infrastructure given half a chance. If it weren’t for a few work-related things that need to be done in a Microsoft operating system, I’d be using the Ubuntu side of my dual-boot installation for the majority of tasks.

Why do so many computer users ignore the wealth of good free software that’s out there? Are they suspicious of its provenance? Does the act of paying for something give it some kind of imprimatur? Perhaps, but that’s assuming that everybody’s using commercial software that they did actually pay for, and not a cracked copy off a torrent site. If they realised that they could get stuff that did the same job for free without bootlegging it, would they?

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