I have to say that my fundamental belief in the old adage "There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Lunch" (TANSTAAFL) gets thrashed on a regular basis when it comes to software and the Internet. Yeah, sure, I know that, technically speaking, there is a cost in time, materials, etc. for somebody when it comes to providing all that amazing freeware out there. Practically speaking though, when it comes to software, I'm dining for free on a regular basis and loving every bite of it. In fact, sometimes the free meals are vastly more tasty than the ones that cost money.

Latest case in point: I bought a Seagate 300 GB External Hard Drive to perform regular backups of the files on my laptop. The package includes a program called BounceBack Express that allows you to define, schedule, and manage the backups. Here's a screenshot of the program "running" on my laptop:

Yikes!! Dig that user interface - a self-reflective mess! Doesn't exactly instill confidence does it? Can you find the prompt "Would you like to create a backup set?" Ummm, "No thank you..." And, by the way, I'm not running some bizarre or exotic operating environment - just a very vanilla Dell laptop running Windows XP. Believe it or not, being a persistent and forgiving type, I actually navigated a few of these bizarre broken screens (all laden with obscured prompts and buttons) to define a backup set and ultimately initiate a backup. The end result: the program crashed a few seconds later with an unhandled exception. Pathetic.

So it's midnight last night, and I'm really ticked because I wanted to get this item off my ToDo list. (It's not too smart to go for very long without adopting a responsible backup regimen, and my procrastination was getting somewhat ironic/hypocritical given that I am building a service that purports to encourage responsible behavior... ;-) Not to worry - free midnight snack to the rescue. A quick browse through the Backup section (under Utilities & Drivers) on c|net's download.com turned up a nifty little program called SyncBack provided by a small software company in Singapore named 2BrightSparks. It had solid user reviews (I liked how the first one was titled Please, marry me! ;-) - obviously a satisfied user), over 56,000 downloads since its release in June of 2006 and no reports of embedded spyware. What the heck? Certainly couldn't be worse than the BounceBack experience. Indeed! A quick download, a lightweight install, and a few clicks later, I had defined a simple custom backup profile and was happily backing up my files on a nightly schedule. Task accomplished, guilt assuaged. Simple, fast, effective. And, oh yeah, completely free. Gotta love it.

Another free tasty software morsel that I have been ingesting as of late last week: Google Analytics. One little cut and paste of a few lines of javascript into the page template for my Blog (which is also hosted for free on Google's Blogger I might add) and viola: all kinds of neat reports on the traffic over time. Check out the cool dashboard which shows traffic trends, geographic origin of the traffic (note the inlaws in Texas ;-), new vs. repeat traffic, and the web source of the traffic (for example, I can see that some traffic is coming from click throughs on startupnation.com where I maintain a profile and have posted in the forums - good to know):

Um, OK, no snickering at the tiny traffic numbers - remember, I'm in "stealth mode" (that cute startup euphism for having no traction yet ;-). Besides, as Guy says, better to take the "red pill" everyday and know the whole truth (see entry #11 here).

The above are just a few small examples of how the cost structure of starting and running a responsible business has changed drammatically over the past several years. Funny, I used to scoff when Oracle temporarily adopted the tag line "The Internet Changes Everything" back in the mid 1990's. It never ceases to amaze me how true that line is on a number of (but not all mind you) fronts.

By the way, the screenshots above are courtesy of a free screen capture program that I really like called ScreenHunter from Wisdom-Soft. Also, I have been developing the FamZoo application using a free hosted development environment from Oracle called Application Express. The list goes on...

TANSTAAFL.....I don't think so!

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