Tuesday, September 14, 2010

How to Buy a Computer for the Tech Newbie: How to get Software

Today I would like to cover how to get software for your new computer. In the last article I covered how to buy a computer. I also told you to avoid basing your computer purchase decision based on what software is on the computer. Now I'm going to cover why.

Now that you have a working machine in your home you need the software to make it useful. Most of you will probably be nervous thinking about how you should have gotten Microsoft Office and Antivirus when you bought your machine. The reason I recommend buying them seperate is that the markup on installed software is absurd.  Lets break down some of the common programs that people need with their computer right off the bat.

1)  Antivirus:

Antivirus programs are too numerous to count, and truthfully there are only two I'd consider. Microsoft Security Essentials which is free from Microsoft's website and NOD 32 which is about $50 a year.
  The reason I recommend these two specific programs is that they don't continually bother you with pop up messages asking you to upgrade or buy additional services like some of their competition do.  Also since they are not the two largest antivirus programs on the block most software is not targeted to defeat them.  Much like how all Viruses are written for Windows and almost none exist for the Mac most Windows viruses are written to attack Norton and Macafee as soon as they are on your system.  Finally I've found Microsoft Security Essentials protects me as well enough from stuff floating around on the Internet that I can rely on my computer not garbaging out.

2)  Microsoft Office:

Back when I was in college I used to sell computers at two of the big box retailers.  I can't tell you how many people would come in and immediately wanted to only look at computers that have Office on them.  They wouldn't even look at a computer without Office even if it saved them hundreds of dollars.  I'm going to tell you now what I used to tell them.  Office is a program you can purchase separate from a PC.  Also you will most likely get a better bundle of office apps.  Microsoft Office consists of multiple programs that make up the suite.  These are Word, Excel, Powerpoint, Access, Project, OneNote, and a few less known apps.  Most computers that are bundled with Office only have Word and maybe Excel.  Forget Powerpoint which is actually more expensive on it's own than buying the best version of office that has it included!  While full retail pricing for Office is usually more expensive than buying it as an option on a computer, you can get Office for a reduced price or even for free legally depending on your situation!

  • Students in college, and in some cases high school are able to get the full Office Suite directly from Microsoft for about $70 (this price changes by the year).  This year it was called the 'Ultimate Steal'.  Google 'Ultimate Steal Microsoft Office' to find it.
  • Teachers can get special pricing on Office a number of ways.  Contact your school office to find out what deal your district has.  If nothing exists (this is very rare!) you can contact Microsoft directly.
  • Office workers for many companies may not be aware that Microsoft Office, and various other Microsoft products are available to them at greatly reduced costs.  Contact your HR department and or your IT department and ask them what deals you have available to you.  In my current company I can get the full version of Office for $10!  
  • Various Internet bargain sites have the Office OEM edition available for dirt cheap. and Amazon offer Office for a far reduced price than you can buy it in retail.  The Home and Student version includes Word, Excel, Powerpoint, and OneNote which are all the apps a home user is likely to need.

Now this covers most all people who are reading this blog.  If you still find you cannot get Office because you can't afford it or don't qualify for a discount then here are some very viable alternatives.

  •  This is a open source application suite developed originally by Sun Microsystems as a competitive package to Microsoft Office.  I use this on my own computer as I don't need the latest and greatest version of Office to type up a simple document or look at the occasional presentation or spreadsheet.  Now it can open Office documents (Word, Excel, and Powerpoint) with about 90% accuracy and save back to Office formats that you can send to others.  There is nothing wrong with trying this out on your new computer before you spend money on Microsoft Office.  Try it out.  If it fulfills your needs then don't spend the extra money.  If not then grab office.
  • Google Docs:  If you have a gmail email account you might have noticed the 'Documents' link in the upper left.  Google has their own online only office suite that can do most basic tasks of Word, Excel, and Powerpoint.  Documents are stored on your google account so even if you have your computer die in front of you your data is still out there and can be accessed anywhere.  Just be careful not to give out your user name and password!  You can export Microsoft Office docs to email for work or friends straight out of Google.
3)  Money Management Software (Quicken)

This is one of those fluff packages that was included with PC's when I was selling them.  You either had Quicken or MS Money.  Truth be told these are both more or less dead despite Quicken doing a good business still.  For managing home finances I recommend a web based service called  It's been purchased by Quicken because they were loosing business to Mint.  The UI is very clean, easy to use, and friendly.  It's available from your computer and it will even run on your smart phone!  All for the low cost of free!

4)  Various other utilities

There are a ton of other programs available to you.  PC manufacturers would load up various junk programs that were either free or ad supported and sell them as a feature.  Most of these have far better quality free alternatives available to you online.  The best place to start exploring is  When you open their site you're presented with a sorted checklist of open source / free applications with brief descriptions of what they do.  After you check what you're interested in you can download a small program to your computer.  When you run the program it starts installing all the programs you selected saving you hours of downloading and installing individual programs.  I recommend going to their site as soon as you get your PC.  You can get your Microsoft Security Essentials AV,, and many others installed this way without any effort!

All in all business software and productivity software have been done to death.  Most boxed software on the shelf have free alternatives online that are of better quality done by groups of programmers who like to share their work.  It's all free and legal.  Just use google to search for the type of software you're looking for, or use osalt to type in the name of the retail software you need to find a free alternative.

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