Security software

If you know your Trojans from your bots and don't mind manually downloading updates, free security software is, in many cases, as good as the software offered by leading commercial brands. The consumer watchdog Which recently concluded that many free programs outperformed rivals costing up to £50. Big-brand security software such as Norton AntiVirus and McAfee VirusScan typically cost between £30 and £50.

What's more, there's no one-off payment. The only down side is that in some cases users might have to look further for support than with big-name brands.

Which concluded: "If you're reasonably confident with your computer and are happy to look for support in places such as forums, free security software is a good way to go.
It certainly saves a lot of money."

The firm's Abigail Smith says: "You don't have to be a computer wizard to use this software. There may be a bit of additional 'housekeeping', but many of the websites which offer them have good 'frequently asked questions' sections. There are also forums where you can go to seek advice."

Forums such as PC Advisor's Helproom offer free advice and support on how to update your software.
We've identified some of our personal recommendations towards the end of this feature, all of which we've tried and many of which we regularly use. Only The Gimp was anything other than a breeze to set up.

Free games and music

Recent developments in the games and music industries point to new business models that involve giving away products for free. Electronic Arts, producer of the popular Fifa Soccer series of games, recently announced it is to give its products away. However, users will pay as they play.

According to John Riccitiello, EA's chief executive, an online experiment conducted in South Korea will be given an international roll-out.

"We gave the Fifa disc away for free. Instead of charging people for software, we charged small payments within the game: 5p for injury updates, 10p for a new strip," he explains.

"We found that 10 percent of all Korean households downloaded Fifa online and the consumer paid us more online than they would have done buying the game."

If the online experiment in South Korea is successfully extended to the rest of the world, other games publishers will follow suit. As broadband spawns more and more online gamers, the future lies in pay as you play, downloads and subscriptions rather than upfront payments.

Meanwhile, the writing appears to be on the wall for the music industry, which is looking to benefit from the emerging legitimate digital music market to help offset the financial losses from declining CD sales.

It's estimated that around five billion songs were exchanged via P2P (peer-to-peer) sites in 2007, while CD sales plummeted 20 percent. With recent studies indicating that young people are four times more likely to visit P2P filesharing websites than online music retailers, services are emerging that allow legal free music downloads. is one such forthcoming music service. The free music downloads will come with some advertising and the blessings of the artists. According to Allan Klepfisz, chief executive of Qtrax, the exact balance has yet to be worked out and the number of plays is likely to be limited.

"While the industry was embracing these new technologies, the artists were completely losing out on royalties,” he says. "We've already had early indications in the States and other places that artists will come out in true force in support of this.”
As CD sales continue to drop, the idea of giving away free music tracks in their millions, paid for by advertisers, could prove attractive to record companies and consumers alike.

Free software links

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In this month's PC Advisor podcast, we discuss the emergence of 'free laptops', 'free broadband' and 'free software', and check out the best deals available to UK consumers. PLUS: find out why technology vendors are so keen to give their wares away, and learn how to avoid the pitfalls inherent in such freebie deals.