In my travels to client's homes and offices, I often see some common misunderstandings about software packages.
One such is that new computers come with Microsoft's flagship word processor, Microsoft Word, built-in. This is almost always not true, and in the cases where it is true, it was not a no-cost option. Microsoft Word is a very large and complex application and represents a very significant amount of revenue to the company - they would never give it away for free, especially on low-end PCs. Having purchased a PC without Word, you have two options: purchase it, or buy an alternative.
You can purchase Word as a standalone application. If you do not have a prior version to upgrade from, the cost is almost $200. If you upgrade, it is about $90. And don't think you can buy the upgrade without having the prior version - Microsoft has shut the door on that a long time ago. You can also buy Word as part of a suite of programs. If you don't need the other key Microsoft Office applications, you can purchase the Microsoft Works suite for about $90; this currently contains an older version of Word but it is probably fine for normal use.
You can also purchase the full Microsoft Office suite in various flavors. Just make sure that the suite you pick contains the applications you need. But Word is something you need to buy - you are not going to find it bundled with your PC purchase.
There are also alternatives to Word - you can get the Corel Word Perfect Office suite, or there are other packages around that claim a certain amount of Word compatibility. Most of these packages probably work well, but if you were trained on Word or if you need 100% Word compatibility, then Word itself is probably what you need.
Another common software misunderstanding is that once you purchase a software package you can install it on any of your PCs. That is not true of most commercial software these days. To find out, you have to read the fine print on the license agreement that comes with it. The major software vendors have employed very effective means of illegal copy protection. For example: the Norton Anti-Virus installation requires you to enter a complex code that is printed on the CD jacket. That code is then associated with your specific PC. If you try to use that same code on a second PC, the program will install but you can't get any virus updates. I know this for a fact - I have seen it happen. Some license agreements will allow you to make copies on more than one PC, but the most do not. Some software ships with more than one key number, allowing you two or three installations but these are rare.
Speaking of Norton Anti-Virus, another common misunderstanding is that by renewing your subscription online at the end of your first year of service, that you are also upgrading the program to the newest version. This is not true. You can easily see it - if you have Norton 2004, it expires, and you renew online, your software still says Norton 2004 on the screens. If you want to get the latest version of this software, you have to purchase it, either online or by buying a new box. I favor the new box approach, because you have the CD in-hand to reinstall in case of a system failure or problem. Symantec offers rebates on the new box purchase, so the final upgrade cost is not too bad.
To then summarize this column: there is no such thing as a free Word, you need to read the license agreements on software you buy before installing, and finally that I recommend buying a new box of your anti-virus software each year instead of renewing the license online.
(Bob Seidel is a local computer consultant in the Southport / Oak Island area. You can visit his website at www.bobseidel.com or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org).