A Thanksgiving Tradition Updated: Paying for Freeware

Four years ago on Thanksgiving, I decided to start paying for, or contributing to, the freeware I was using. This post reviews that project and commences an updated version thereof.

The original concept was simple enough. It was Thanksgiving; I should do something to express thanks. Unfortunately, as often happens, the implementation proved more complex. The 2011 writeup identified a lot of issues. There were actual freeware programs, but there were also freeware add-ons to Firefox and other programs; there were some I used often and some I didn’t even remember; there were new ones that did not appear on the list; and so forth.

There was also a problem of how much to pay. When I was pinched for money, I would pay little or nothing. When I had a steady income, I would pay more. There was a problem of whom to pay: some websites had PayPal links for contributions; others didn’t. There was a problem of when to pay. I didn’t have the patience or the money to sit down and pay everyone all at once, so I had a batch file to open the spreadsheet on a regular basis (usually weekly or monthly, depending on my funds), but then I was busy too, so I would contribute something for maybe just one program at a time. There was a problem of what to pay for: it had been time-consuming to go through my system and identify the various pieces of freeware that I might be using. Maybe I should have been happy to invest more time to keep that list updated, but in fact I never did.

These experiences led me to think that I should try a different approach. For one thing, it seemed it might simplify things to buy premium versions rather than freeware, at least when I got to the point of knowing that I was using a program often enough to make it worth supporting. The premium versions of programs would typically come with more features. I would have my downloaded premium installer, and would keep it and back it up, so as to be ready to reinstall it if I had to reinstall Windows. There was a drawback to this approach: premium versions tended to cost a bunch, thus taking money that I might otherwise have put towards some other program. For instance, depending on which version you buy, you might pay $30 or more for Malwarebytes Anti-Malware Pro, whereas I might have contributed half that and given someone else the other $15.

I also found that it was cumbersome to develop and maintain a spreadsheet listing the pieces of freeware that I had found in my system. Unfortunately, I had not yet seen a program that would produce an editable list of programs in use, ideally with links to homepages and with spaces for recordkeeping. Instead, I thought it might be more workable, going forward, to try a different approach. The one that came to mind was to try to synchronize my contributions to my user reviews. But here, again, I found a roadblock. Among the various freeware download sites, I preferred Softpedia. But it appeared that neither they nor MajorGeeks offered the kind of feature available elsewhere (e.g., Amazon, Goodreads) where I could rate a program quickly and then later retrieve a list of which programs I had rated. The general idea, though, was that I would contribute to programs at the same time as my rating, and would have that list to tell me what I had left undone.

There were other possible approaches. One, requiring no recordkeeping, would be to contribute a small amount each month to a limited number of programs that seemed most useful. For example, once a month, I could award $2 donations to each of my top 10 freeware programs of the day. Right now, I suppose that list would include Opera, some Firefox extensions, and Thunderbird. I wouldn’t have to log it; I would just have to do it. This approach would probably tend to leave out the freeware tools that I used occasionally but found valuable when I did use them. A variation on this theme would be to award $2 once a week to the first five programs that catch my attention each Saturday.

At this writing, I did not have time to work up a new system. Instead, I sent some suggestions to Softpedia and resolved to revisit this matter at some later date.

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