Seven. That’s the number of computers I’ve bought over the last 15 years. Each shopping experience has been the same. I start out with a great deal on a computer and then I get to the part where I choose software.
Yikes! Not only are software products expensive, there is always a challenging debate over what software I must have versus what is overkill. By the time I’m done picking and choosing the programs, that great deal on a computer is a faint memory.
Some things haven’t changed over the years. There is software that is worth buying. However, computer application competition over the years has led to many useful tools that are user-friendly, dependable and most importantly; free. What software should you buy and what should you get for free?
Antivirus programs are still a purchase worth making although there are hints that the paradigm might be shifting.
A few years ago, Microsoft introduced Windows Defender. It’s a free antivirus program that comes with Windows Vista or higher. While this might indicate a trend were operating systems form their own, free, antivirus protection, Windows Defender may not have the same quality protection that is offered by companies that specialize in malware protection. CNET gave a scathing review of the program a few years ago.
While purchasing an antivirus program is a necessity, stay away from large software bundles that often come with Norton and McAfee. Most programs offer little benefit and generally slow down the speed of your computer.
Writing and Data Applications
For over a decade, owning a copy of Microsoft Office was nonnegotiable. If you work in an office, you use Word and Excel. Even children need these programs or face challenges with school. However, there are reliable, free options that interface with Microsoft Office.
Google Documents allows you to create documents, data and presentation files for free. These files are easily saved online and downloaded. Best of all, they convert easily to any Microsoft program. Google Documents might not have all the functionality that comes with using Word. However, anyone doing simple projects could easily get by. Given the hundreds of dollars that Microsoft Word costs, there is ample incentive to try.
If you like to track your finances, then purchasing financial software will be a temptation. However, unless you own a business, I suggest avoiding the purchase.
Most people don’t have need of fancy financial software. They are easy to create and manage. Microsoft Excel has many free templates for creating a check register or budget.
If you don’t want to track or create your own financial tools, you should take advantage of the many free, online websites available. Mint.com offers the ability to pull information directly from your credit card and bank statements into a budget tracker. Bundle.com is another trusted online tool available for free.
Tax Preparation Software
Whether or not you should buy tax preparation software depends on the person and their taxes.
For years, I filed my taxes through Turbo Tax and TaxCut. However, I learned that a local tax professional costs only a little bit more. Since I own my own small business, avoiding all the tax forms is worth the extra cost.
There are also free sites like Tax Slayer. This could be the best option if your taxes are very simple.
The last time I bought a computer, I spent hundreds on software. With all the available options today, many of those purchases are unnecessary.
What about you? What software do you need to buy and are there reliable free alternatives?