Cheap and free alternatives for online tech products and services


Paul Weinberg used to pay an awful lot to have Internet access at home.

"I think the Internet access itself is costing $50 a month," said Weinberg. But today Weinberg doesn't pay anywhere near that. "Now I'm paying nothing," said Weinberg. "I have this little box from FreedomPop that provides 4G access, high-speed, it may even be faster than my DSL was."

FreedomPop is a new Los Angeles-based company that believes the Internet should be free to all people. So they offer a wireless modem router called the Burst for $89 with no contract. The user gets one gigabyte free per month. For heavier users, 10 gigabytes are available for $9.99 per month.

"You plug the device in, there are no trunk rolls, you don't have to have someone come and schedule an appointment between 8 and noon to come in and install it in your house," said Weinberg, FreedomPop CEO. "You plug it in and any device in your house connects via Wi-Fi and then the high speed comes through 4G networks."

Digital media producer Patrick Kearney has more savings for software.

"What I've got here is Open Office's Website,," said Kearney.

Kearney says there's no reason to spend $140 or more for Microsoft Office Suite when you can legally download "free" programs that look and run virtually the same as Office Suite's Excel, PowerPoint and Word applications.

And along with OpenOffice, Google Docs offers similar features, but you must have a Google or Gmail account, both of which are free.

"We're saving money not having to buy site licenses for Microsoft Office," said Kearney.

One of the most important things you can do for your computer is to install an antivirus program. Most will cost you about $40 or more. But you can get similar protection for free.

On the CNET-run website, you can download hundreds of free antivirus programs to your computer that are rated by CNET editors and users from one to five stars. But CNET's senior editor says many new personal computers already offer basic protection against viruses and spam.

"New computers come with Microsoft's built-in antivirus program called Windows Defender, and it's not the most complete package out there, but for everyday use it's completely fine," said Dan Ackerman.

Amazon's Kindles are the most popular e-book readers with prices starting at $69. If you already have a desktop computer, laptop, smartphone or tablet, you can get a Kindle app for free, and it downloads books just like the Kindle. Another bonus with the app: Amazon says you can download millions of books for free.

Backing up your computer files and documents is essential. But an external hard drive can cost about $70 or more depending on its size. You can get up to 5 gigabytes of storage for free on both Google Drive and Amazon's Cloud Drive. On Microsoft's new SkyDrive, you get 7 gigs.

Photoshop programs can cost you hundreds of dollars, but you can save some real money with free apps like Picasa and PicMonkey. Just like Photoshop, these free apps allow the user to crop, color and adjust the light on their photos. However, neither PicMonkey nor Picasa has Photoshop's file format, so you can't share files with people you know who use Photoshop.

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