Free Software Has a Price Tag

We love free software, and we use a lot of it. Programs like Adobe Reader, Java, media players and browsers come immediately to mind as indispensable tools. But they can get pretty costly pretty quickly, unless you look before you click.

It’s really easy to download free software with strings attached – especially from Google. Here’s a typical scenario:

  • You want to download the Google Chrome browser. It’s free.
  • You type Google Chrome into the search box – using Google.
  • What do you see first? You see an ad for a free download, but who is offering it?

Here’s a hint: It’s not Google. We strongly urge you NOT to find out the answer to this. It’s not because we want to single out this particular third-party program provider. Rather, we want to suggest what may be behind a provider’s free offer.

That third party might be collecting data about you to sell to its customers who have an interest in selling you something. They could be putting cookies on your computer to track where you browse and then send you ads and spam. That could be an annoyance and an invasion of your privacy, even though you likely agreed to accept those cookies without even realizing it.

At worst, you could be downloading a Trojan horse that could put some serious malware and/or spyware on your computer. It could also compromise your address book and get to any financial information or passwords stored on your computer. We guarantee you’ll get some sort of infection on your machine.

Some of those “free” offers also offer help with the application or with some aspect of your computer’s operation. Here are two more guarantees: They’re not going to help you, and you’ll have to go through a long, aggravating process to get rid of their “help.”

We don’t think of these consequences often enough. We tend to download free software when we need it to continue something we started. You might need Adobe Reader to open a PDF file. You might need RealPlayer to watch a video a friend just sent you. You might need Java to fill out a form. You might need to update Chrome – or Firefox or Internet Explorer – to access information on a website.

The temptation is to simply click on the first link we see because it’s convenient and because we’re rushing or trying to do two things at once. Our advice: Slow down. Look before you click, even if it’s the software publisher.

Yes, the publisher can create problems, too. Many have marketing partners, and their products are part of the free download. You need to look carefully to remove accepting those partners before you click to activate the download. Yes, you can get rid of those partners and all the baggage they load onto your browser and computer, but it’s a pain in the neck. It’s one of the biggest complaints we get.

The solution, of course, is to look before you click. There will always be strings attached to “free” offers, but you can keep them from tying up computing resources or even wreaking havoc on your computer by taking that little bit of extra time. Go to the publisher of that program you want and get it directly. Look closely at everything that site offers and make sure you agree that you want whatever you download.

If you have any questions or need help getting rid of unwanted software, please contact us (973-433-6676 or [email protected]. We won’t say we told you so. We’ll just remind you to look before you click.

This article was published in Technology Update, the monthly newsletter from Sterling Rose LLC.

‘Clean Your Room’ and Improve Performance

Every computer user is like the kid who doesn’t clean his or her room. Stuff just piles up, and at some point, you can’t get to things easily. Your hard drive is like that room. When you have too many files, your computer can’t store and then find bits of data easily. As a result, performance gets excruciatingly slow.

Here’s a spring cleaning tip: Get rid of as many temporary directories and files as you can.

Whenever you install or download a program, the process creates temporary directories and files. In very simple terms, the programs need to be able to write and transfer files from the source to your computer. When you install an upgrade, those temporary directories and files are used to hold the new program while the process removes the old one.

Most programs are pretty good about removing the temporary directories and files, but some are not. In those cases, the temporary directories and files become the operative files, and every time you need to retrieve a file or save a new or existing one, your computer starts looking for the applicable directory and needs to find its way to the temporary one.

In many ways, it’s like you looking for something where you think it should be. When it’s not there, you stumble around and eventually find it.

How do you get rid of all those temporary directories and files? It’s actually a simple process:

  • Click Start.
  • Type %temp% in the Search Box. A lot of directories and files will appear.
  • Type Ctrl+A (the universal Select All command)
  • Click on Delete
  • Click on Yes

This will get rid of most – if not all – of your temporary directories and files and give your computer a more room to put things and fewer places to look for them. You can enhance performance even more by running a defrag and optimization program. Think of those processes as reorganizing your closets and shelves.

If you still believe your computer is running more slowly than it should or need some assistance with deleting temps and getting your hard drive organized, contact us (973-433-6676 [email protected]). We’re happy to answer your questions or walk you through the process.

This article was published in Technology Update, the monthly newsletter from Sterling Rose LLC.

XP in Context

It’s one thing to measure a lifespan in dog years. It’s another to measure it in technology years. If a 12-year-old dog is like an 84-year-old-person, then a 12-year-year-old operating system is truly older than dirt. Here’s a look at XP’s timeline.

Most of you will remember Sept. 11, 2001 forever. As grave as that day was, six weeks later, Microsoft issued the XP operating system.  We can all remember where we were and what we were doing when we heard the news of the terrorist attacks in New York, Washington and a field in western Pennsylvania.

Do you remember what technology you were using at the time?

You are likely reading this article on the Internet, which you reached either by a Wi-Fi connection to a high-speed, broadband network or by a mobile device, such as a smartphone or tablet.

In 2001, the Internet was nothing like it is today. You probably accessed it through a dial-up modem as a customer of AOL, CompuServe or a local provider. DSL service was in its infancy, usually only available to phone carrier customers who lived less than two miles from a switching facility. Internet access by cable TV companies was also in its infancy.

While both industries could offer Internet access, you still used the phone company for telephone service and the cable company for TV. Today, either company can provide Internet, TV and phone service with speeds and capabilities only imagined by a few scientists. And more people are using the Internet to bypass those companies for all of their services.

Think about your smartphones and tablets. Cell phones in 2001 were clunky devices that you could only use for talking. And, it didn’t take too much mobility to be outside your service area and racking up roaming charges. Your phone? It could have been a Nokia. That was the leading manufacturer in 2001.

Today, more and more people have no landlines in their homes, and many business people on the road use cellphones as their primary phones. And the cellphone itself? In addition to being a telephone, it keeps calendars and contacts and provides access to email and the Internet.

If you have a tablet, can you imagine life without it?

Some people thought X-10 was a cool way to control the lights in their houses from their desktop computer. Now, you can control lights, appliances and door locks – and answer your doorbell – with a mobile device.

Video conferencing through Skype or any number products may have done more than any technology to shrink the world.

All of this change happened since 2001, during the life of XP. Our technology has advanced by leaps and bounds. XP really did withstand the challenges of its time and more. But when you look at everything you want to do with computers and devices, your needs have outgrown the capabilities of a technology that dates back more than 12 years.

If you still have XP, you had a good run. Now, it’s time to catch up. We’re available to help you. Just call us (973-433-6676) or email us.

This article was published in Technology Update, the monthly newsletter from Sterling Rose LLC.