Rip-Off Software You Must Never Use

Rip-Off Software You Must Never Use
Don’t assume that expensive software is worth the investment. Jonathan Parkyn exposes the 15 programs you should never pay for – and reveals the free alternatives that are just as good
Owning a computer can be an expensive business. Beyond the initial cost of the PC itself, there’s the never-ending outlay on broadband fees, printer ink, photo paper and other expenses. It all stacks up.
You can add paid-for programs to that list – but are they really worth the outlay? Not always, so it’s vital you know which software is worth investing in and which isn’t.It’s all too easy to fall into the trap of paying for unnecessary software. Perhaps you’ve been tempted by claims that a program can fix your PC’s faults or speed it up. Maybe familiarity with or trust in a particular brand persuades you to pay over the odds. Or perhaps there’s a specific task you need to carry out and a costly program seems to be the only option.But many just aren’t very effective, others are overpriced, and the worst are full of unwanted or even dangerous junk. Avoiding software like this will not only save you loads of money, but can also help to keep your PC healthy and running more smoothly.

Here we reveal which pricey programs you’d be best off avoiding and why. We’ll also recommend some great free software you can use instead and single out a few programs and tools that are genuinely worth their asking price.

OVERPRICED PROGRAMS YOU DON’T NEED

1 Nero 2016 Platinum

What is it?A somewhat ungainly, overstuffed suite of disc-burning and media-creation applications that includes tools for ripping, converting, editing and playing music and films, as well as burning pretty much anything to blank CDs, DVDs and Blu-rays.

Why you shouldn’t buy it

Homemade CDs and DVDs haven’t quite gone the way of the floppy disc yet, but obsolescence isn’t far off as more and more devices gain the ability to play music and videos via a Wi-Fi connection or a USB stick. As discs lose their relevance, Nero 2016’s core features will also become redundant.

There are plenty of non-disc-based features on offer, but you probably won’t use even half of the tools included in this package – such as the Nero Media Home player and media manager – while most of its more useful capabilities can be found elsewhere for no cost at all. Nero doesn’t help matters by including a brightly colored ‘launcher’ screen that’s uncomfortably reminiscent of Windows 8’s widely disliked Start screen.

What to use instead

All current versions of Windows include basic built-in disc-burning abilities, but if you need extra features, including Blu-ray support and disc spanning, try CDBurnerXP (free from https://cdburnerxp.se).
Windows Media Player, meanwhile, supports music ripping and media streaming.

2 WinZip 20

What is it?

WinZip is an archive tool used to compress files and folders. It supports many compressed file formats besides the well-known ZIP format (including RAR, 7Z and ISO). It can also encrypt your files so they are only accessible to someone with the password. The latest version includes a selection of file-management features, with a ribbon-like toolbar of options for moving and copying files.

Why you shouldn’t buy it

WinZip isn’t a bad program at all but it offers little to justify its asking price. Other free compression tools are just as good as WinZip, if not better. Besides, Windows already has you covered as far as day-to-day zipping and unzipping is concerned with its built-in compression tool. Simply right-click any Zip file and select ‘Extract all’. If you want to create a Zip file, right-click the files or folders you want to compress and choose ‘Send to’, then ‘Compressed (zipped) folder’.

What to use instead

Windows support is limited to Zip files, but if you need to compress other formats, we’d recommend saving your cash and downloading the brilliant PeaZip (www.peazip.org) instead. PeaZip can compress or uncompress almost any format and – like WinZip – it supports encryption, right-click menus and more.

3 MyCleanPC

What is it?It’s a tool that claims to clean junk files and solve problems that may be slowing down your computer to help boost your PC’s performance.

Why you shouldn’t buy it

When you download the ‘free’ tool, it will scan your PC and present you with a suspiciously high number of ‘Issues found’. It managed to uncover a whopping 2,350 so-called issues on our test PC, despite the fact that the only thing installed on it was a completely clean copy of Windows 7. In order to actually fix these alleged problems, you’ll be taken to a web page and told you need to cough up $19.99 (around £14) to unlock the full version of MyCleanPC. It’s not far removed from an online scam.

What to use instead

Our favourite CCleaner can get rid of junk, temporary files and more besides – and it won’t try to terrify you into upgrading to the Pro version that unlocks even more features.

4 AnyMP4 4K Converter

What is it?It’s a file converter that converts video files to 4K. It can also convert 4K videos to MP4, MOV, WMV and high-definition (HD) formats.

Why you shouldn’t buy it4K (also known as ultra-high definition or UHD) is the latest video format. But, unless you have one of the very latest smartphones or a high-end digital camera, it’s unlikely you’ll even have any 4K files to convert. Meanwhile, converting a lower-resolution video file to 4K to play on a 4K-ready TV is a complete waste of time. Doing this won’t improve the image quality and almost all 4K TVs can play standard and high-definition files without the need to convert, anyway.

What to use instead

If you do have 4K clips you’d like to play on a non-4K device (and for any other video file-conversion tasks), download Handbrake (www.snipca.com/20358). It’s free, supports loads of formats and comes with a selection of handy pre-set outputs for popular devices, such as iPhones, iPads and Android phones and tablets.

5 Laplink PCmover Express 10

What is it?If you’ve bought a new PC, or need to upgrade to a new operating system, use PCmover Express to move your files, settings, user profiles and more.

Why you shouldn’t buy it

We’ve got nothing against PCmover Express 10. In fact, quite the opposite; it’s an excellent tool that can ease the transition between computers or operating systems, and it’s even better now that it supports Windows 10. The only reason we’d advise against paying for PCmover Express 10 is that, currently, you can get the full program for free from Microsoft. As long as you’re moving to a Windows 8.1 or 10 PC, you can download PCmover Express 10 from www.snipca.com/20360 for absolutely nothing. The offer runs out on 31 August 2016, though, so you’ll need to get it quick.

What to use instead

PCmover Express 10’s one drawback is that it won’t transfer programs or apps and you’ll have to pay £27.95 for PCmover Home if you want this capability. We suggest you use PCmover Express, then manually reinstall the programs and tools you need once the transfer is complete. Just be sure to make a list of the programs you use on your current system before moving to the new one.

6 Adobe Photoshop CC (From £17.15 per month)

What is it?

It’s a powerful image-editing program, available either as a standalone product or bundled with a suite of other Adobe tools – including Lightroom (a photo processing and organising tool), Illustrator (a graphics program) and Premiere Pro (a video-editing tool) – via an Adobe Creative Cloud subscription.

Why you shouldn’t buy it

Photoshop is one of the best image editors around, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the best one for you. Many of the program’s capabilities (such as adjusting camera angles and lighting on 3D models) are designed specifically for industry professionals. And this is reflected in the high ongoing costs involved: it costs more than £45 per month for the full Creative Cloud package.

What to use instead

Your choice of alternative depends on your level of experience and your requirements. If you need a simple, reliable photo-management tool with a few easy tools for manipulating, correcting and improving your images, then Flickr (free at www.flickr.com) is a good choice, and has the added benefit of backing up your photos online. For more complex image-editing tasks, try Paint. net (www.getpaint.net), Gimp (www.gimp.org) or Pixlr Editor (https://pixlr.com/editor), all of which are excellent and free.

7 Audials Tunebite 2016 Platinum

What is it?A media recording and converting tool that lets you save copies of music and films from online streaming services, including Netflix and Spotify, as well as rip DVDs and make DRM-free versions of protected files. Audials Tune bite gets around digital copy protection using something known as the ‘analog hole’ – basically it makes live recordings of music and video as they play back in real time.

Why you shouldn’t buy it

The Audials website makes a big deal about the fact that recording streams for private use isn’t illegal, but UK copyright law is very different to the US laws quoted on the site. In this country it’s still technically illegal to make copies of any protected films and music, even if it’s just for your own private use. By using Tunebite Platinum to record from Spotify, Netflix and others in the UK, you’ll be violating the services’ terms of use. Quite apart from that, Tunebite 2016 Platinum doesn’t actually work very well, often resulting in poor-quality video with delayed audio syncing, while its constant notifications are a pain.

What to use instead

There are many perfectly legal reasons why you’d want to use screen-capture tools, such as for making your own ‘how-to’ videos to share online. Instead of Tunebite try Screencast-O-Matic (screencast-o-matic.com), which is free to use, though a small fee (£10) removes the otherwise mandatory watermark and unlocks useful features, such as the ability to record Windows’ audio. If you only want to record audio, then try Audacity (www.audacityteam.org), which can capture any sounds playing on your PC.

8 Ashampoo UnInstaller 6

What is it?As the name suggests, it’s a tool for uninstalling software from your PC. It can detect and remove toolbars and other unwanted software and includes real-time monitoring that analyses any new installations. There’s also a tool for taking snapshots of your system, and a handful of tune-up tools.

Why you shouldn’t buy it

By using a combination of Windows’ built-in ‘Programs and Features’ tool (in the Control Panel) and System Restore (which takes snapshots of your PC’s system files prior to any installation), you should be able to safely remove any program. If you do want the extra cleaning abilities offered by a standalone uninstaller, there are free tools that are just as good as those offered by Ashampoo.

What to use instead

IObit Uninstaller 5.3 (www.snipca.com/20365) can remove programs, toolbars and add-ons for free. It can also root out and remove junk files that sometimes get left behind during a standard Windows uninstallation. Just make sure you untick any boxes during installation, because IObit has a reputation for adding its own junk. For  even more protection when installing new software, you could consider using a sandbox tool, such as Sandboxie (www.sandboxie.com), which lets you try new programs in a safe, cordoned-off area of your PC. Sandboxie is free for personal use (although you’ll have to put up with a nag screen after 30 days unless you pay £15).

9 AVS Video Editor 7.2

What is it?It’s a program that lets you import video footage and put together your own home movies. It supports most common video and HD formats and lets you burn your finished film to DVD.

Why you shouldn’t buy it

A few years ago, video-editing tools used to cost a fortune, but now you can get brilliant, simple movie-making suites for nothing. The truth is that AVS Video Editor doesn’t offer any significant features that you can’t get from a free alternative, such as those we’ve listed below. Another reason to avoid it is that there’s no obvious way to buy AVS Video Editor on its own without subscribing to the entire AVS4YOU package, which fills your hard drive with unnecessary tools, such as a word processor (AVS Document Editor) and a registry cleaner (AVS Registry Cleaner 3.0).

What to use instead

It’s getting a bit long in the tooth now but Windows Movie Maker is still one of the best, basic video-editing programs out there. It’s free as part of Windows Essentials (www.snipca.com/20367) and even works in Windows 10 (although Microsoft has stopped supporting it). If you want something a bit more comprehensive, HitFilm 3 Express (www.snipca.com/20368) and Blender (www.blender.org) both offer highly advanced (though somewhat complex) movie-editing tools for free.

10 FileCenter
What is it?An all-in-one optical character recognition (OCR), PDF creation and file-management tool designed to help you organise your files into what it calls digital ‘cabinets’.

Why you shouldn’t buy it

The idea behind this program isn’t a bad one, but we’re not convinced that the tool’s ‘cabinets’ are any better than the standard folders used by Windows File Explorer. Optical character recognition is useful as a way of scanning paper documents so that they are turned into editable, searchable PDF files. But this requires a scanner – and if you have one, it almost certainly has its own OCR software. If not, there are free tools that do the same thing.

What to use instead

Google Docs has OCR capabilities you can use to convert paper files into editable documents for free. Just scan your paper document as an image file (JPEG) or even take a photo of it on your phone. Make sure it’s the right way up, then upload it to Google Drive via your web browser (https://drive.google.com). Right-click the file in Google Drive and select ‘Open with’, followed by Google Docs. Any text in the document will be recognised automatically, though you may need to check and tidy up the document a little. You can also convert to PDF from here. Click File, ‘Download as’, then ‘PDF document’.

11 CrazyTalk 8

What is it?

Software that lets you design and create 2D and 3D animated human heads that can ‘talk’ by lip-syncing to recorded speech files. The Pro version lets you convert photos of real people’s faces into animated 3D head sculptures.

Why you shouldn’t buy it

We might live in an age dominated by selfie sticks and face-swapping apps, but for most normal human beings, CrazyTalk 8 goes one stage beyond unnecessary – even if you have kids or grandkids to entertain.

What to use instead

If you really must convert yourself into a cartoon or animate someone’s face, there are plenty of novelty apps available for both Apple and Android devices, or you could try the free online cartoon filter and face-morphing tools available at cartoon.pho.to.

DON’T UPGRADE – KEEP USING THE FREE VERSION

12 Avast Pro Antivirus

Avast Free Antivirus is one of our favourite free security tools. Paying for the Pro version of Avast adds a few features, the most useful of which is a sandbox tool that lets you test new software in a safe zone on your PC without fear of malware infection. But there’s already a great free tool for doing this called Sandboxie. On top of this, Avast Pro Antivirus lacks some of the extended features, such as parental controls, offered by other similarly priced security products.

But, when it comes to basic virus protection for your PC, Avast Free Antivirus is a great choice. It protects against malware in real time and includes a number of features often missing from other free antivirus programs, namely a password manager, email scanner and home-network protection.

13 LastPass Premium

When LogMeIn bought LastPass in 2015, there was concern that the new owners would lock the password manager’s best features behind a paywall, but thankfully that hasn’t happened (at least, not yet). All of the program’s core features are included in the free edition, including the secure storage of encrypted passwords, auto-filling of online logins, and password creation. It’s also possible to nominate a trusted Emergency Access user who can get into your account should circumstances ever require it.

The one major limitation of the free version is that you can’t sync passwords across different types of device. So, if you’re using LastPass on your PC, you can sync it with your account on other PCs, but not on your phone or tablet unless you upgrade to the Premium edition. If you can live with that particular restriction, there’s no compelling reason to pay for the annual subscription fee.

14 CCleaner Professional

There are only a handful of programs we would class as essential, but CCleaner is one of them. The free version is packed with great tools for analysing Windows, your browser and your programs, and also removes junk while streamlining your system. Under the Tools menu, you’ll even find an uninstaller, duplicatefile finder and other handy extras, but the Professional version adds surprisingly little.

The chief benefits of paying £20 include the ability to allow CCleaner to update itself, along with options that let you run CCleaner on a schedule or set it to continuously monitor your PC in the background (tick ‘Enable system monitoring’) – none of which are particularly persuasive reasons to upgrade.

15 Spreeder Pro

Speed reading is supposed to boost your productivity and expand your horizons, but is a PC-based e-reader that helps you to read three times faster than normal worth £37? We don’t think so, mostly because the developer provides a web app (www.snipca.com/20375) that uses the same tech to let you speed read for free.

Paying for Spreeder Pro might unlock a few more features, such as an online library, the ability to import documents and six hours of training from speedreading ‘experts’. But the free version has the benefit of being very easy to use – just paste the text you want to read over the instructions in the box and click the Play button. It offers a surprising amount of customisability, including control over the word rate, font size, and alignment.

SOFTWARE THAT REALLY IS WORTH PAYING FOR

Kaspersky Internet Security 2016

£20 per year is a relatively small price to pay for peace of mind, and if you want the safest security software around, then Kaspersky Internet Security is it.

The suite, which includes protection for online purchases and banking, as well as parental controls, complete malware protection and more, has won our past seven Dennis Labs Anti-Virus Protection and Performance tests, protecting against 100 per cent of the virus and malware threats we subjected it to. It’s easy to use and has a significantly lower impact on system performance, compared to many other security tools.

Dropbox Pro

If you already use the free version of Dropbox, you’ll know how great it is. Across its desktop program, web interface and mobile apps, Dropbox is simple to use, reliable and secure. You can sync and share large files easily, collaborate on documents and restore earlier versions of files.

Free accounts are limited to 2GB by default, and though you can boost this to around 20GB by earning ‘rewards’ for certain activities, such as referring friends (see www.dropbox.com/getspace), you’ll need to pay for more space.
Whether upgrading to the paid-for version of Dropbox is worth it depends on how much space you require, but we wouldn’t hesitate to recommend the program if you do need the extra space. Prices are comparable to rival services with a 1TB Dropbox Pro account costing £79 if you pay for 12 months. This compares to £5.99 a month for 1TB of Microsoft OneDrive space and $9.99 (around £6.90) for a 1TB Google Drive plan.

Teracopy

Weirdly, one of the things that Windows has never been terribly good at is copying files. For starters, it’s slow and often fails altogether if it encounters even the smallest anomaly. Teracopy fixes this.

Not only can it copy files faster (up to 50 per cent quicker than Windows Explorer in our tests), but it will keep retrying if it encounters a problem. And, if you’re copying multiple files and Teracopy finds one it really can’t move, it will simply skip the troublesome file and continue to copy the others. Once the copying task has completed it will present you with a summary of any files that failed to transfer so you can investigate the problem.

CrashPlan

We all know that backing up to an external hard drive that’s plugged into a PC is not the best solution. In the event of fire, flood or theft you can easily end up losing both the original files and the backups. You could back up to an online service, but that can be expensive.

CrashPlan bucks the trend by combining cheap storage with some very useful features. For example, you can use it to back up your data over the internet to a friend or family member’s PC for free, or pay for unlimited storage on CrashPlan’s own servers. Backing up a single PC costs just $6 a month (or $60 – around £41 – for a year). You also get access to mobile and web apps, and backups take place in the background. It’s free for the first month if you want to give it a try.

Stardock Fences

Another chink in Windows’ armour is the desktop. Sure, it’s a handy place to drop files and shortcuts but it quickly becomes cluttered, often making it hard to find items when you need them. Stardock Fences lets you group desktop icons and shortcuts into folders – a solution that will be familiar to Android and iOS users.

Apart from anything else, the shaded semi-transparent ‘fences’ make your desktop much easier on the eye. You can also organise your icons into groups – programs, documents, folders and so on – and sort them however you like within each. It’s a very simple but extremely effective addition to Windows that we think is well worth the asking price.

NEVER PAY FOR LINUX

Linux is an operating system that some people use instead of – or alongside – Windows. It’s open-source, which means it’s free for anyone to use, distribute and modify. But over the years, a number of companies have taken it upon themselves to tweak Linux slightly and sell it.

Linspire, which charged its users an annual fee, was one such ill-fated attempt. Linspire was frowned on by the open-source community, dogged by controversy and eventually discontinued in 2007. Even today, there are a handful of Linux variants that come with a price tag, including certain versions of ClearOS (www.clearos.com), which employs a subscription model and charges $36 (£25) a year for its Home edition. We suggest you don’t pay for Linux, especially as there are completely free Linux distros (fully working versions) available, such as Linux Mint (www.linuxmint.com) and Ubuntu (www.ubuntu.com).

HARDWARE YOU DON’T NEED

If you take our advice, you can save hundreds of pounds by avoiding software you don’t need. But it’s also possible to save on hardware. Here’s our list of upgrades and add-ons you don’t need to pay for.

A NEW PC

If your current PC has started to slow down, it’s easy to assume the time has come to invest in a replacement. Junk files, updates, applications and more can accumulate over time, causing an otherwise healthy PC to grind to a halt.

A good spring clean can often restore your computer to its former glory. Try using tools like CCleaner to clear out clutter. Better still, consider reinstalling Windows from scratch and limiting the programs you reinstall afterwards, remembering to back up your documents, music, photos and videos first.

A BIGGER HARD DRIVE

When your PC’s storage begins filling up, you may think it’s time to buy a larger hard drive. Alternatively, you could spend some time organising the contents of your existing hard drive, removing junk (again with CCleaner), uninstalling programs you never use and moving large files to an external drive. Doing this will not only free up space but can also help to speed up your computer.

A NEW KEYBOARD OR MOUSE

There are few things more infuriating than a keyboard with keys that don’t work properly or a mouse that gets stuck. And, while replacing either device will solve the problem, you may also be able to fix your current keyboard or mouse by giving them a good clean.

Unplug your keyboard, and take a hoover to it to suck up the gunk, then use antibacterial wipes or rubbing alcohol to clean the keys. In some cases you may need to use a putty knife to pop the keys out and clean underneath. Cleaning the dust build-up on the underside of your mouse can make it glide across surfaces easier too.

A 4K MONITOR

4K (or UHD) is the latest trend in TV and computer screens, but we wouldn’t recommend upgrading to a 4K monitor just yet. They’re currently very expensive and, to get the full benefit of the increased resolution (3840 × 2160 pixels), you’ll probably need to upgrade your computer’s graphics card too, which will cost you even more.

MORE MEMORY

It’s a common misconception that adding more memory (RAM) will instantly speed up your PC. It’s true that extra system memory can improve performance when you’re running lots of programs at once, but it will offer hardly any improvement to startup times and day-to-day use. These days, if you’re looking for a significant overall speed boost, the better option is to buy a solid-state drive (SSD) and use it as the hard drive your computer boots from.

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