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July 6th, 2005

on free lunches

Downloading freeware always has that element of adventure about it. Will it be possible to actually make it run? Will it truly be freeware, or will it be merely not-quite-useful software that hints at glories to come if one would only paypal off payment for the shareware it advertises. I buy a modest amount of shareware, and like the way that shareware is often designed to do some little cool thing the commercial packages don't do, but I think that if one is to release a "free" version of something, it should "freely" do something, and not just almost do something and then put up a message saying "would'nt it be cool if it did this? Only 29.99!".

Then, in the (not universal) times in which it downloads into something actually possible to run (as opposed to those times when it merely adds cool icons to the old file list, and then fails to actually .exe), there is always the pivotal question--can the software, even if theoretically operational, actually be run by a human being not related to the designer. I like the softwares in which a complicated, machine-like display is thrown upon the screen, as if the user's one principal goal in life is to have a control screen from the Starship Enterprise before one. I like the way, too, that words are given alternative meanings in software jargon. The "volume" knob might become the "sonic wave upward de-attenuation frequency" command. "Start over" might be rendered as "original wave default realignment", and, by contrast, "impossibly ungrammatical gobbledygook rendered in ungrokable geekese" might be named the "Help" function.

I'm a bit disappointed, really, that I live before science takes us to strange new planets. But I love the idea that, better than any patent medicine, there is a freeware for the solution of every problem. This should be kept a secret by everyone, or Tom Cruise will want to ban it. But in cyberspace, freeware is sometimes free.