Free software: Can it be as good as products you pay for?

At home, on a lowly field engineer's income, I have to make the most of free software. OpenOffice is a good package for general home usage, AVG AntiVirus consistently outperforms Norton, and IOBit's Advanced Windows Care and SmartDefrag keep my laptop running smoothly. The open-source movement seems to go from strength to strength yet many companies still prefer to go down the expensive Microsoft road.

Most new viruses that are released are usually catered for by AVG within a few hours and should the worst happen you can usually find a tool to clean it up by visiting Symantec's Web site and downloading a free removal tool.

So why do people still shell out their hard earned money on expensive products like Microsoft Office, Norton Antivirus, expensive firewalls, and so on? The answer is that a lot of the free software is only free to home users, those in a commercial environment do not qualify for the free version and have to pay. With this in mind do you go for the most expensive software, using the old adage, "You only get what you pay for," or do you look around for a better value product and do some in-depth product testing?

My experience is that you can do better for free. My experience of AVG against Norton Antivirus speaks volumes. I used to use Norton, taking the view that, when it comes to antivirus precautions, you can't afford to take risks and that a ell thought of paid solution had to better than a freebie.

Removing Norton reduced the time taken to boot up by over 50%. AVG, at its first scan removed a couple of Trojans that were longstanding. It updates automatically each time I switch on and I have suffered no serious attacks.

OpenOffice, whilst it lacks the range of facilities of MS Office, still delivers the key aspects required from an office package and the price is still a favourite of mine, whether it be books, beer, or software, free, gratis and for nothing is a very attractive price.

Many local authorities in the UK are switching over to open source to make tight budgets stretch that little bit further.

My advice? Look at the alternatives. If you have a spare machine that can be used to evaluate software try out all the alternatives before making that purchasing decision.