Murphy's Law: Separating the Power-Downloaders from the Newbs


I'm often surprised by what people find popular in the world of freeware and open-source applications, let alone Web apps. It's tough to use the comments on Maximum PC's website as an official barometer, as they don't take page views, click-throughs, or raw downloads of whatever apps I/we recommend into account. Nevertheless, judging by the wrath, boundless joy, and heavy presence of spam-filter-nose-thumbing-signatures attached to the various weekly software articles, I can sometimes get a general vibe for what's appreciated... and what's not.

But I'm not about to dedicate the next 700 words or so towards tooting my own horn--not unless there's an app for that. I do find it interesting, and a little bit funny, that a relatively innocuous application like last week's " Instant Elevator Music " received such an exuberant amount of interest via the blog comments. Of course, that's after weeks can go by with nothing but tumbleweeds greeting other applications that, honestly, I find much more useful.

I'm a power-downloader by force, not by choice. But even though I frequently install app, after app, after freeware app in a valiant effort to bring you interesting, tested choices to check out, I'd much prefer to keep the installed software on my computer to a dull roar, if possible. I'm just one of those people that can't stand a cluttered PC, which is why even seemingly awesome applications like Instant Elevator Music don't last long on my system--the second something more useful comes along, the rotating door hits less practical applications square on the bum.

But wait, you ask!  This is Maximum PC!  Surely there's some awesome trick for ditching old or unwanted programs--that or, really, clutter shouldn't matter. We're all rocking eight-core systems with 16GB of RAM apiece, right?  A few freeware apps, or twenty, should be nothing but a speck on the platters of our two-terabyte hard drives.

I exaggerate, of course, but the point still remains. Indeed, I'm more concerned about keeping a clean and sleek system when I'm rocking my tiny netbook instead of my kinda-powerhouse desktop PC. And Revo Uninstaller is the de facto program of choice for eliminating any and all traces of unwanted applications. But here's the deal--it's all a mental thing.

This concept is the big elephant in the room for all the freeware applications I recommend and/or write about. For no matter how awesome an application might be, it's utterly worthless to you if you mentally bookmark it for a later download... and forget. The same holds true for de-cluttering a system: No application in the world can solve user sloth. And I'm a prime candidate for this one. While I might be fairly diligent at keeping errant or unwanted applications off my system, I have folders and folders of files copied from previous backups of my drive's many states that have yet to be organized into some clear, useful fashion. It's a great way to go down memory lane, I suppose, but that's about it.

I think this is one of the larger issues that common folk have against freeware and open-source programs: Not that these applications aren't, themselves, useful in some capacity. But installing a new application and learning its nuances, even for the simplest of apps, is enough of a process to deter one from clicking the download link to begin with. Apathy conquers all. Or, better put, why investigate another solution if what you're already using works fine enough?

This is perhaps why applications like Instant Elevator Music achieve more of a verbal vote than roundups of security software or Windows tweaks. Gimmicky as it may be, the muzak-playing application is unique enough to deliver an experience that you simply can't get any other way. Security software?  I could tell you that X program is better than your Y virus-scanning application, but if you're happy with what you have, that might not be enough to force you out of your comfort zone. And if you don't even know the very basics of what constitutes a successful virus-scanning app, why would you jump into confusion when you can remain cradled in the arms of Windows' default security solutions?

The best part of my job is that it's based on limitless material--there are always newer, better, funkier applications to check out and showcase for those that might never hear about them otherwise. But what compels you to click?  To install?  To uninstall?  I wish I had an application that told me that every week.

David Murphy (@ Acererak) is a technology journalist and former Maximum PC editor. He writes weekly columns about the wide world of open-source as well as weekly roundups of awesome, freebie software.

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