Why I Am Losing My Faith in Freeware

Samer Kurdi
Jan 28, 2016
Updated • Jan 28, 2016

Imagine, for a moment, that you publish a site about freeware and free software, and that you’ve been doing it for 10 years. Now imagine telling people about it, acquaintances that you’ve just met at a party. Guess what the first question that they ask you is going to be? The answer, overwhelmingly, is "how do you make money out of that?".

It is actually a very good question, and a question asked by almost everyone who’s made a piece of software available on the internet for free. Not everyone wants to make money off of their free software, but for those who do, there are a handful of main ways to monetize: ads (on the download page or in the app itself), bundleware/crapware (where the installer or app tries to get you to install other software as well), and a simple bait-and-switch, where the software is no longer available for free, with or without a “last freeware version” left behind.

Then, of course, there’s freemium, which gets you to pay for virtual items (or extra features) within the freely accessible software or game.

Nothing new here so far. What is new and what I am proposing in this article is that things are changing in the ‘free software’ world such that the hidden costs of freeware are slowly inching their way upward at the same time as paid apps are becoming cheaper and more affordable, such that using free software is a trade off that sometimes does not make economic sense.

This is not to say that the era of free software is ‘over’ by any means – all you have to do is look at any smartphone or PC and you will likely find the installed base of free software outnumbering the paid counterparts by a mile. But things are changing in a way that even a self-professed “freeware genius” like myself is finding it increasingly more difficult to recommend free software to friends. (Almost).

The following stories are intended to showcase the hidden cost of free software:

When paid is cheaper than free

I am a voracious consumer of audiobooks, and about a year ago or so I decided to do a roundup of available free audiobook apps for Android, in order to compare them and come up with a “Best Free Android Audiobook Player” post to publish on Freewaregenius.

It quickly became apparent that there were two free apps that were the best of the bunch. Both were ad-supported, but neither one was mature (and feature rich) enough for my taste. Because I take my audiobooks very seriously, I tried out a paid app that looked really good (“Listen Audiobook Player” which at the time was priced at a mere $0.99), and found that it was significantly better than any of the ‘free’ ad-supported options, a lot more mature, and was actively being developed by its author as one of his main projects.

And this is where it struck me that it made absolutely no sense to recommend a “best of” free audiobook app for Android (at least at the time). It didn’t make any sense to suffer through ads strategically placed right next to the on-screen buttons, and it didn’t make any sense to forgo the advanced functionality that the paid app provided when the ‘best of class’ app, as far as I was concerned, was priced at a mere $0.99.

I had to face the fact that paying a dollar was economically preferable to dealing with ads forever, and provided a better user experience and better features as well. In a word, it was ‘cheaper’ than the free option.

Of course, you could say that this is a smartphone app, not a PC software title that might cost $50 or $20, and therefore not a situation that is generalizable across the board.

Perhaps this is so, but with services such as Appsumo, Cult of Mac and others like them regularly offering deals on software and apps at 60% and 90% discounts, the price points for PC software may be slowly heading towards under $10 without too many people noticing.

When Free software drowns your PC in crap(ware)

I used to be able to recommend free software at the blink of an eye. Friends and coworkers would ask me what the best free media player, audio ripper, video converter is …. and I would volunteer one or two titles pretty much instantly.

This was, in fact, one of the reasons why I started publishing a blog about free software. These days, however, my recommendations come with a lengthy disclaimer: “this a program is my favorite free software for what you need; however, make sure to pay attention to all the screens during the install, uncheck everything that seems like it is unrelated or like it is piggybacking on the software, and pay attention to the labels on the buttons in the install process”, etc.

Sometimes I would say that this software didn’t used to come bundled with anything when I first reviewed it, but I can’t be certain about it now. Non tech types are sometimes scared off and lose interest.

It is not a rare occurrence to receive emails full of invective from readers who found old, glowing reviews of freeware, accusing me of conspiring to infect their PCs with malware or of misrepresenting the software that I reviewed.

What happens is that months or even years after the write-up, new versions of the software are released with crapware bundled in the installer. Suddenly, and without warning, tools on my “top ten free tools for x” or “the best free tool for y” are now, seemingly with my tacit endorsement, unwittingly adding stuff on people’s machines that is changing their homepages, search providers, cluttering their interface with unwanted toolbars and extensions, and sending their usage data to god-knows-where.

On my own machine, even as I am diligent to uncheck boxes and jump over hoops while installing, I’ve become suspicious of apps that feature frequent updates, paranoid that these updates are designed to disseminate another round of crapware rather than to fix or improve the software.

Smartphones aren’t immune to crapware either. Ironically, the worst offender I have seen on Android is a system cleaner app which I’ve recommended on my site (Clean Master). No sooner than it is done removing garbage from your device, that it displays a massive list of “apps recommended for you”, mostly freemium games and clutter.

In the end, this is another example of an invisible cost to free software. Of course, there are resources to help in the struggle against crapware, such as apps like Unchecky (which attempts to uncheck all boxes by default for unrelated offers during the installation process), and articles like this one which I wrote, about what to look for while installing software in order to avoid crapware.

From a purely economic standpoint, however, there is a price that many are prepared to pay in order to circumvent crapware, and for the peace of mind of knowing that every time your apps update, you are not subject to unwanted toolbars and clutter making its way onto your PC or device.

When an entire platform disappears overnight

Imagine that you are using a tool regularly, storing your data in it for weeks or months, and then having it one day disappear because its creators couldn’t find a way to monetize it or make financially viable.

You can hardly blame them for doing this, of course, but after investing your time and energy in their tool, it is a both an inconvenience and an economic loss to have to switch, and gives ammunition to those who might not believe in free software that may or may not be around when you need it.

An example of this Springpad, an online web clipping and note-taking tool that I used along with collaborators for almost two years, and which I favored over Evernote in a detailed comparison on my site.

The project was shut down in mid-2014 after six years. As far as I was concerned, it was an example of the better product that failed in the face of competition from the more established one. Another example is the TrueCrypt project, which also came to a sudden halt in 2014 around the same time as Springpad, with unexpected questions about its reliability, potential security flaws, and the legality of some of the code used within it.

While I did not use it myself, I remember friends of mine scrambling to find alternatives, and remember wondering whether they may have been better served had they been using a $40 commercial product.

It was shortly after this that I was involved in creating interactive storybook apps, which lead me to research app creation engines. After looking into many options paid and free, and when I finally thought that I found the tool I wanted to use, I was actually relieved that it was a paid tool, thinking that this makes it more likely to still be around a year hence, and that it is safe to invest our time in learning it. It was a very ironic situation for someone who advocates for free software and writes about it for a living.

When ‘freeware’ is merely a free marketing tool

As a blogger, there are very few things that annoy me more than getting comments that a certain software tool I’ve reviewed or written about is “no longer free”. I understand, of course, that a programmer is free to do what they want with a software that they’ve created, but I cannot help feeling like I’ve been duped; subjected to a ‘bait and switch’ designed to provide free publicity, testing, and search engine credibility to the developer(s).

I’m not saying that developers should not aspire to make money out of their software, but I do think that there should be a tacit rule, that the last freeware version should always be made available. Usually, this is the case, and even if the developer him/herself does not provide a last freeware version, there will be many sites and resources on the internet which will.

This is not always the case though: an example of this is ‘Fences’, a desktop organization tool which was written up and promoted extensively by all sorts of tech blogs like mine, and which one day ‘expired’, with the paid version being the only available option.

This is an example of the ‘hidden costs’ of freeware in the same way as the 'disappearing platform' above: you’ve put in your time and energy into a platform only to have the rug pulled from underneath your feet, a risk that you take with free software every single day.

The Conclusion: free software is NOT dead

Despite everything that I’ve said above, I do not believe that the conclusion is that free software is dying, not when free software such as WordPress, Linux, and MySQL powers most of the internet, and not when every single PC, smartphone, and device across the globe is choc-full of free tools.

Rather, it might be possible to say that the success of free software has been so complete that paid software has become cheap enough to compete with it, especially given that the (understandable) efforts to monetize ‘free’ have had the effect of lading it with invisible costs.

At the very least, I hope to have simply shed some light on the concept of ‘hidden costs’ in free software.

Why I Am Losing My Faith in Freeware
Article Name
Why I Am Losing My Faith in Freeware
Samer Kurdi describes why he is losing faith in free software by listing all that is wrong in the "free software world".
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  1. Klaas Vaak said on December 26, 2020 at 12:30 pm

    @Martin Brinkmann: with all due respect, this is now such a basic function, esp. for people reading your articles, that this article is like explaining to the readers how to calculate 1+1.

    1. Herman Cost said on December 26, 2020 at 2:56 pm

      Yes, I have to agree with this. I can’t imagine that there are many spreadsheet users who are computer literate enough to even casually read ghacks, but don’t know how to use a SUM function.

    2. Malte said on December 26, 2020 at 4:05 pm

      @Klass Vaak & Herman Cost
      Ever thought that people might google it so this artice might show up in the search results. So..no it’s not useless. I think it’s a good strategy explaining stuff even if it’s just basic things. Every day there is a new user on the internet searching for this kind of tutorial.

      1. Klaas Vaak said on December 26, 2020 at 6:55 pm

        @Malte: you make a good point, in principle. Nevertheless, nowadays telling people how to do a sum calculation, the simplest of the simple, in a spreadsheet is like teaching grandma to suck eggs.

        If say an elderly person would be sitting in front of a spreadsheet wondering how to sum a number of cells, that person is unlikely to look it up on internet, but would ask one of her/his children.

        And in any case, Ghacks is not a spreadsheet tricks and tips site, so it would not show up high in the ranking in a Google search.

      2. marty said on April 11, 2022 at 1:42 pm

        I`m an elderly person. 71.
        My experience in computers spans 50 years, focused on Unix internals, advanced degrees.
        I look to the internet for answers, since my children hate me and wouldnt tell me “jack”, even if they knew the answer.
        I dont know how to “suck eggs in principle”, or anything else for that matter. I’m retired and not interested in learning. Some other guy learned “the theory of sucking things.”

        Never needed spreadsheets, always too darn busy. Thanks for this info. Now I know how to sum two cells.

        Everyone starts somewhere.

      3. yanta said on September 10, 2023 at 9:34 am

        I am an elderly person and I can use sum, sumif, sumifs and so on. My kids come to me for knowledge on how to use excel and other programs ;)

        But then, I was in IT my entire career before I retired :)

        There are basic sites, and there are advanced sites. GHacks used to be more for people with technical knowledge. You can’t be everything to everyone though that seems to be the trend these days. Since it’s all about clicks and click bait the wider the topics the more you can remain “relevant”…

        However, that mentality tends to alienate the more technical people. I find myself spending less time here every month. It won’t be long before I stop coming here altogether.

        I have no mobile or wireless technology.

        Anything google or apple is insidious to me. And that accounts now for most of the content here.

        As to this article. Avast, and all of their products are untrustworthy. There has been much controversy and negativity regarding their products. I would think a reputable site would be more careful in what they publish… err, sorry, advertise.

    3. Peterc said on December 27, 2020 at 1:22 am

      @Klaas Vaak: In Martin’s defense, it’s the day after Christmas, and some eggnog recipes pack a *real wallop*. Maybe we’re lucky he could type at all. ;-) More seriously, I don’t use Calc super-often, I typically type in the =SUM() function manually, and I’d actually *forgotten* where the Σ button is located in Calc. (The last time I was a heavy spreadsheet user, it was in an older version of Excel and I’m pretty sure the Σ button was somewhere on one of the “regular” toolbars.) So, the article actually did have a small payoff for me. Plus, there might be other intermediate or advanced users of other types of programs (graphics, audio, video, word-processing) who have never used a spreadsheet in their lives. It’s kind of hard to imagine, I know, but it’s possible.

    4. pHROZEN gHOST said on September 5, 2023 at 2:47 pm

      You were not born with the knowledge you have now. You once had to learn too.
      So get down off your high horse, grow up and show a little respect for others who need details.

  2. SpywareFan said on December 26, 2020 at 12:48 pm

    Overall LO has become a good SW, what prevents me to use it is:
    “it will not store the information about the data source once the data is imported”
    Until that functionality is implemented I’m forced to use M$ Office (2003).

    1. Klaas Vaak said on December 26, 2020 at 3:05 pm

      @SpywareFan: an interesting alternative for M$ Office is Softmaker’s FreeOffice.

      1. intelligencia said on December 26, 2020 at 10:02 pm

        @Klaas Vaak

        I have the Softmaker’s Free Office Suite in my computer – – and I LOVE IT!


      2. SpywareFan said on December 27, 2020 at 11:18 am

        In the FreeOffice manuals there is no reference to XML data mapping functions.

    2. Kent Brockman said on December 27, 2020 at 8:01 pm

      Another vote for Softmaker’s Free Office, a very nice alternative to MS Office.

  3. Anonymous said on December 26, 2020 at 3:03 pm

    Yes, I use functions in Calc: Average, Min and Max. I use the mouse to select the cells.
    I don’t usually have to use Sum.
    Thanks for the info, and could we have more tips for LibreOffice?
    I find that the documentation does not keep up with the changes in LibreOffice.
    Also, it is hard to find info in the help documentation.

  4. Bart from Holland said on December 26, 2020 at 9:29 pm

    Thanks Martin for all your great work you put in to make our live easier. Have a nice and healthy 2021.

  5. ShintoPlasm said on December 26, 2020 at 11:09 pm

    To all those complaining about this being a simple ‘101’ function: it’s Martin’s blog, he can write a deep-dive review of Windows Calculator if he so wishes. Do you pay his salary or something?

    1. Klaas Vaak said on December 27, 2020 at 5:27 am

      @ShintoPlasm: yes, it is Martin’s blog, but it is a public blog with a comments section, which means he invites people to comment. And having been an avid reader for several years now, I am pretty sure Martin does not expect commenters to agree with him all the time.

      You do not help him with agreeing with everything willy-nilly and “honouring” him with praise. Martin, like everyone else in the world, is not perfect, therefore he can only learn from constructive criticism.

      Unfortunately you look at constructive criticism as a complaint. I do not agree with you on that and will keep making constructive criticism because I believe in keeping this website one of the best ones – refraining from constructive criticism won’t do that.

      1. Kent Brockman said on December 27, 2020 at 7:59 pm

        Absolutely. People could rather than leaving constructive criticism just stop visiting the site. How is that in the best interest of the site’s authors?

  6. Anonymous said on December 30, 2020 at 9:35 pm

    A new way to sum with the latest version is to place the cursor under the numbers to be summed, then press Alt-=, then ENTER.

  7. Pat said on April 19, 2021 at 6:23 am

    The SUM function doesn’t work. It just keeps putting the same total no matter what figures I enter.

  8. Mary said on March 23, 2022 at 11:42 pm

    I would like to know how to make the sum function work. I know how it should work and it works in excel. But when I put the sum function in, it will not make changes when I edit and change the data, the total remains the same

  9. will willows said on July 26, 2022 at 5:41 pm

    Ditto, Marty. Everyone starts somewhere. Thanks.

    1. Anonymous said on September 29, 2022 at 6:04 pm

      Instead of being snarky, maybe you could be helpful. I’d like to add two numbers in a cell;
      In Excel, it would be

      I try that in this piece of crap software, and get a message “Invalid value.”

  10. semce said on August 23, 2023 at 1:52 pm

    I used Excel a lot when I was working. Retired now seven years. Excel was great, especially for macros. I now use LibreOffice, which works similarly but the macros are difficult in comparrison to Excel. I couldn’t find anything on macros for Free Office, which was disappointing, so I uninstalled it. I find Zoho to be the most similar to Excel but there you’re stuck with your spreadsheets in the cloud which I didn’t like.

  11. Graham said on August 24, 2023 at 1:44 am

    Um… When was this article posted? The date says today (August 23, 2023), but I’m seeing comments from 3 years ago.

    1. Anthony said on August 24, 2023 at 5:04 am

      I was going to amuse myself and check out the comments for this Avast AV sponsored post since there were so many comments. I thought it funny since they have an article bashing the product in 2019.

      What do I see when I go to the comments? Ghacks pulled an “Amazon” and replaced an article on Excel SUM functions with a sponsored post to make it look like a good article.

      Anyone and everyone who even has a clue about tech knows that Avast is utter garbage and focuses on spying on you and spamming you with ads these days. Just check out the bad article from 2019 on this very site! If you run Windows 10/11, you already have better antivirus than Avast built-in to Windows.

  12. awf said on August 26, 2023 at 7:33 am

    surely more importantly is why an ad for dodgy anti-virus has the whole thread on office suites instead.. something in the db is messed up.

  13. Kirk said on September 1, 2023 at 5:33 am

    On a slight tangent, does foobar2000 have a built in lyrics plug in? I mostly used Linux and Deadbeef, the closest alternative to Foobar there has a very old(and kinda broke) plug in.

  14. News filter said on September 1, 2023 at 4:04 pm

    If you want news then add this line in uBlock Origin:

    ghacks.net##.hentry,.home-posts,.home-category-post:not(:has-text(/Martin Brinkmann|Mike Turcotte|Ashwin/))

    1. owl said on September 2, 2023 at 1:27 am

      @News filter,
      > ghacks.net##.hentry,.home-posts,.home-category-post:not(:has-text(/Martin Brinkmann|Mike Turcotte|Ashwin/))

      Thanks for the useful information.
      Added line to My filters in uBlock Origin.

      I was able to clean up “all articles” by other authors on the Ghacks site.

      It’s refreshing to be able to see only useful articles (instead of being buried among inferior articles) by clearing out the obtrusive articles.

  15. Anonymous said on September 4, 2023 at 1:04 pm

    Important note: changing policies through the program doesn’t save them automatically. You need to hit Ctrl+S (or go to File > Sve Policies)

  16. Zaqzyp said on September 5, 2023 at 12:56 pm

    What silly click bait article. Even the actual article is ridiculous.

    “The launch of HarmonyOS for PC could pose a serious threat to Windows.”

    Who cares what people in China use.
    Don’t do drugs before working maybe.

    What’s next? Look up the biggest Android fork in China and write pointless long article about it how it’ll take over Google’s Android.

    1. Zaqzyp said on September 5, 2023 at 1:00 pm

      HarmonyOS and Excel comments are mixed up.

  17. Anonymous said on September 5, 2023 at 1:13 pm

    HarmonyOS is not an open-source OS, only partially components.

    What is happening with these comments from other articles?

  18. awd said on September 5, 2023 at 1:14 pm

    this is funny. it looks like the same base article, comments and all has been repurposed and edited or something for 3 (or more) different articles.

    started off as something for some office suite… and then it was some antivirus thing.. and now it’s some iffy os.

    wtf is that writer doing? no one reads or comments on the ad articles and he has to reuse old ones to make it look like it’s getting traction? (though it shows up as 0 comments on the homepage, so that can’t be it?)

  19. dial said on September 5, 2023 at 2:34 pm

    “HarmonyOS does not have Google. Huawei’s HarmonyOS is a proprietary operating system..”
    “HarmonyOS is open-source, which means that it can be customized by developers and manufacturers.”

    Both are quotes from the article. So which one is it, open source or proprietary?

  20. Winnie said on September 5, 2023 at 4:01 pm

    Without windows-based videogames able to run, it’ll stay niche.

    Huawei better put serious money into a harmonyOS port of Wine, DXVK or Proton if it wants its machine being more than web browsing thin clients.

  21. John G. said on September 5, 2023 at 4:14 pm

    I won’t trust a foreign OS.

    1. John G. said on September 5, 2023 at 4:16 pm

      Deeply foreign, I meant. In so many ways.

    2. Anonymous said on September 18, 2023 at 2:00 pm

      “I won’t trust a foreign OS.”

      You trust Microsoft Windows, Google Android and Apple operating systems just because they are from businesses in your country ? Talk about blind nationalism.

      Do not forget also that there is a world outside of USA and that for most of human beings, your favorite operating systems are also of a foreign origin, and as hostile towards them as they are towards yourself.

  22. wibble said on September 5, 2023 at 5:07 pm

    HAHAHAHA – did you really say “it could pose a serious threat to Microsoft’s Windows operating system”?

  23. Anonymous said on September 5, 2023 at 5:21 pm

    It won’t run programs or real games, so it will be useless.
    I mean, there are some people who apparently love using tablets and phones for everything, but mostly are people who will barely do anything with their brain in life.

    I mean, even if Photoshop, and others are available for iPad, do people think iPad is a threat for windows? not really, maybe for useless consumers who will just, like with a phone, be happy and move on, but not for professional industries which are the ones who matter the most, because are the ones who generate more revenue, since they buy the most expensive hardware and software.
    Nothing consumer computing related really makes much money, unless it is data from users that get sold for AI or Ads.

  24. vanp said on September 6, 2023 at 6:10 am

    Who knows where this comment is going to wind up. It’s in response to the article about Huawei’s HarmonyOS (HOS) operating system.

    Two places in the article it says HOS is open-source. One place the article says HOS is proprietary. Uh, I’m pretty sure it can’t be both. Which is it? If there’s some fine distinction, somebody needs to explain it.

    1. Jody Thornton said on September 7, 2023 at 1:52 am

      After all of these issues with Ghacks articles and misplaced postings, I’m reminded of this


    2. owl said on September 7, 2023 at 8:22 am


      Note: I replied to you on September 6, 2023 at Around 2:20 pm, but it was still remain blocked after more than half a day, so I replaced the quoted URI scheme: https:// with “>>” and reposted.

      The current ghacks.net is owned by “Softonic International S.A.” (sold by Martin in October 2019), and due to the fate of M&A, ghacks.net has changed in quality.
      >> ghacks.net/2023/09/02/microsoft-is-removing-wordpad-from-windows/#comment-4573130
      Many Authors of bloggers and advertisers certified by Softonic have joined the site, and the site is full of articles aimed at advertising and clickbait.
      >> ghacks.net/2023/08/31/in-windows-11-the-line-between-legitimate-and-adware-becomes-increasingly-blurred/#comment-4573117
      As it stands, except for articles by Martin Brinkmann and Ashwin, they are low quality, unhelpful, and even vicious. It is better not to read those articles.
      >> ghacks.net/2023/09/01/windows-11-development-overview-of-the-august-2023-changes/#comment-4573033

      By the way, if you use an RSS reader, you can track exactly where your comments are (I’m an iPad user, so I use “Feedly Classic”, but for Windows I prefer the desktop app “RSS Guard”).
      RSS Guard: Feed reader which supports RSS/ATOM/JSON and many web-based feed services.
      >> github.com/martinrotter/rssguard#readme

      Regarding “Huawei’s HarmonyOS” you asked about, the developer has stated that it is planning to open source, however the actual situation has been shelved (no such movement).
      HarmonyOS – Wikipedia
      >> en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HarmonyOS
      Therefore, it is “proprietary software”.
      Moreover, both the company and its production base are in China. China, Russia, Israel, etc. are “Authoritarian state” and products and companies based in those countries are under state control, and privacy policies can become “famous and innocent.” Those products should be avoided.

      1. owl said on September 7, 2023 at 9:20 am

        Correction of sentence
        Before correction: “famous and innocent.”
        After correction: “nominal name only titular.”

      2. vanp said on September 8, 2023 at 5:29 am

        owl, thanks again for the great info.

  25. Dennis Faucher said on September 8, 2023 at 4:12 am

    HarmonyOS doesn’t run Windows apps. It is no threat to Windows.

    1. Glyde said on September 8, 2023 at 8:06 pm

      I agree.. i bet it cant even run wallpaper engine, it probably has the worst compatibility with software.

  26. hira said on September 9, 2023 at 9:24 am

    iam vary satisfied this work

  27. yanta said on September 10, 2023 at 9:36 am

    ah, wonderful, this message/article cross-posting hasn’t been fixed.
    Ignore my comments.

  28. Peter Louwen said on October 1, 2023 at 7:15 pm

    RIGHT F***ING NOW!!!!

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