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By Jennie Bartlemay on December 7th, 2011

blog_jennie.jpgFreeware is everywhere. It's software that anyone can use without paying. There's no licensing and no fees. You can download and go, but there is an art to finding the best freeware.

A couple months back, I needed a transcribing program. I'd just finished an interview for February's cover (no spoilers, promise), and dreaded the laborious and time consuming project of typing everything up. This is where it starts: surely there is a program out there that will fit your need! (The screenshot at right is from Tucows). 

The best way to start is to just google your need plus "freeware" (I searched "transcribing freeware). Hopefully you'll get hits from one of these reliable websites: CNET, PCMag or Tucows. If Google is no help, just go to one (or all) of these sites directly to do another search.

Once you have a potential program, or more probably several different freeware options, you need to compare them to determine which one, if any, will fit your needs. Read the descriptions. Look at the screen shots. And most importantly, pay attention to the reviews. For example, Tucows has a "cow rating" (from the editors) and a user rating. Also, read the comments, if there are any. Pick the best option and download. Keep in mind that all the functions of the program may not be available. If you want the full version, you'll have to buy the program. If your needs are simple, freeware should work just fine. 

It's very important that you only download freeware from trusted sites. Otherwise, you risk downloading spyware, malware or viruses, all of which can make your computer at best, annoying, and at worst, unusable. You can trust all of the sites I've mentioned here.

You'll see a lot of shareware when you're searching. If you have a short-term need, shareware should work fine, but it will probably be free only for a short period of time--usually about 30 days. After that, you'll have to buy the program to continue using it.

For other tips on finding free software, check out this brass 10 article.