Geeks Find New Way to Recession-Proof Software Budget

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Getting good software applications for PC users doesn't need to break the bank. Clay Cavanaugh's "The FreeLoader Directory", tells readers what the best programs are and where to find them without spending a lot of time hunting all over the Web.

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The recession is hitting almost everyone in one way or another, but for computer users, "There's never been a better time to be a cheapskate." At least so says Clay Cavanaugh, the writer behind a new book called "The FreeLoader Directory" that profiles a mix of free and open source software applications.

While it's clear that household belt-tightening can put a crimp in the computer budget, it doesn't mean that users have to starve for great software. "There are a lot more free programs than most users -- even power users -- know about," says Cavanaugh. Popular open source software like OpenOffice.org and GIMP have long been known in power user circles as first-class, free alternatives to their biggest commercial counterparts (Microsoft's Office Suite and Adobe's Photoshop, respectively). But Cavanaugh stresses that there are many more retail programs that can be replaced by free substitutes, and that there is even free software offering handy functions that no commercial software ever has.

The tricky part is getting word out to users that free, alternative software does exist. As a freeware or open source developer, scraping together a marketing budget and taking the time to run a campaign ranks low on the priority list. When users hunt for software, putting the magic combination of keywords into a search engine that will help them find the free program they need is a stab in the dark at best. Cavanaugh's "FreeLoader Directory" sets out to bridge that gap between developers and users.

Cavanaugh says he's dug through more programs than he can count, and has trimmed his list of safe and truly useful software down to about 170. "When you do a search for free software, you usually end up with one of two extremes. You either get nothing, or you get overwhelmed with a lot of shady-looking choices," Cavanaugh says. A Google search for "make a PDF" seems to confirm that statement. It's hard to know which of the many choices are legitimate and which are simply a way to infect users' computers with malicious software or spyware. Cavanaugh says that's what really spurred him on to dive in and make "The FreeLoader Directory". "I thought that giving users a resource that's already weeded out the nasties could really help them just get in, get what they need, and get down to business."

When asked to share his own favorite freebies, Cavanaugh laughed, saying, "It really changes each week depending on what I'm working on. But I guess one of my overall favorites would be KeePass, which is a really cool program for managing the mishmash of usernames and passwords we all collect. Another would be Anki. It's a flash card program that's got a ton of built-in features. I use it every day to study Japanese and other stuff I'm interested in."

As computer users navigate tough times, it's heartening to see how many more high-quality, free options there are now than ever before. With so many great developers cranking out their zero-cost wares and advocates like Cavanaugh singing their praises to the masses, it's a good time to be a frugal geek.

"The FreeLoader Directory" is available now at BarnesandNoble.com and Amazon.com. For more information on the book or to contact Clay Cavanaugh, please visit http://www.FreeLoaderDirectory.com.

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