SOURCE: Bruce Boyers Marketing Services

June 24, 2010 07:32 ET

Yes, It's Free -- But Will It Do the Job?

BURBANK, CA--(Marketwire - June 24, 2010) -  If you ask anyone who writes advertising copy for a living, you'll find that the word most responded to in promotional literature of any kind is the word "free." Not surprising -- who doesn't want something useful without paying anything? The problem is that the old adage, "If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is," usually applies.

One version of this is the "free trial." Some trialware is full-featured and only has a time limit. In other cases, however, it is feature-hobbled and when you really need it to do the job, it won't.

Another is simply "free software" which has been common throughout the history of the web. When you look at the functionality, however, you may find many things missing. An example would be word processing. A free word processor might be Notepad, found on all PCs. It's fine if you're simply writing text and don't care about formatting, fonts or symbols, let alone spelling and grammar checking, or the ability to embed graphics and photos. For that functionality you would need to do what many do: pay for and turn to Microsoft Word.

A free virus checker would be another example. If it's not trialware (which is probably going to have limited functionality anyway), then it most likely is not updated with all recent virus signatures and it may or may not protect your computer. For that, you'd need a professional robust application along with a subscription that always keeps it up to date and keeps your computer safe from malware attack.

The bottom line: in responding to any offer of something free, check the functionality. In most cases, you'll find that it won't do the job you need it to do.

In terms of functionality, a great case in point would be a free defragmenter. In looking over the features, you would most likely find that it either must be run manually or -- at best -- it needs to be scheduled. Most sites cannot afford to take a system down for maintenance to defragment its hard drives, as most must remain up and running pretty near constantly. The end result is that the enterprise's computers will continue to suffer the performance-crippling effects of fragmentation, simply because defrag can be run so seldom.

The second problem would be the utility's ability to actually defragment your drives. Does it have the needed technology to truly do the job? Many do not, especially with today's much larger drives, enormous file sizes and sheer number of files. A defrag utility not up for the task will simply grind endlessly and never fully defragment. Once again, a company is saddled with fragmentation's effects -- despite the apparency of a "solution."

The lesson to be learned is that "free" does not always mean "effective." In fact, far from it. Before you decide a free utility is best, look closely at the features.

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