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This is Leo Notenboom with news, commentary and answers to some of the many questions I get at askleo.info.
Last week I mentioned that I had switched to using Thunderbird, which is a free, open source email client similar to Microsoft's Outlook Express or Outlook.
After seeing someone's on-line compendium 30 essential pieces of free and open software, it dawned on me that using Thunderbird - or any free software for that matter - could be considered at odds with my ongoing rant about relying on free email services such as Hotmail.
I mean, you get what you pay for, right?
To me it boils down to a couple of simple issues: quality and support.
Thunderbird has proven itself for a while. It works. It's a good piece of software. And if I do have problems with it, there's an active user community - often including the very developers who work on it - ready to help.
Hotmail on the other hand, which is my common target only because of the volume of mail I get on it, seems to suffer from problems regularly, and when you do have a problem, there's really nowhere to turn.
There's a lot of good, free software out there. Some of it, like Firefox and Thunderbird, compete very favorably against their commercial counterparts. Some of it, like Open Office, competes well, but still feels rough around the edges at times. And naturally there's a lot of really bad free software out there as well.
So when is free software worth it?
I go back to quality and support. Invest a little time in finding out how others are experiencing any free software that you're considering, and how it meets your needs. Find out how well documented the software is (a common issue with free programs) what support options there are, and whether those are even active. There are plenty of so called support forums out there full of nothing but unanswered questions.
And if you do try one, don't put all your eggs in the shiney free basket right away. For example, though I've been using Thunderbird heavily for over a week now, you know I'm still set up to switch back Outlook at a moments notice should a disaster happen. I don't expect it, but won't risk it either.
Investing money in a commercially produced and supported product is often a wise and expedient investment. But investing some time to look at the free and open source alternatives can also be a very wise investment as well.
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