The Internet is an astounding treasure chest of information. You can read breaking news stories, try out hot new software or listen to sound clips from your favorite recording artists. Even better, if you like what you see or hear, it's a snap to store all of this digital information on your home computer where it's easy to access. But before you start raiding the jewels of the Internet, you should know about some download issues that could cause trouble for you or your computer system.
Three flavors of software
The same rules for redistribution of off-line material apply to online material as well: Although you may clip an article from The New York Times to send to a friend, you aren't legally allowed to take that article and run it in your own local newsletter without permission. It's also illegal to download a copyrighted article and place it on a bulletin board, FTP site or other public forum without the publisher's permission. Sound files are similarly protected.
Copyrighted software found online generally falls under three main categories: "freeware," "shareware" or "demoware." You may download freeware and use it without paying a fee, but these programs are almost always copyrighted; it's still illegal to modify them without permission.
Demoware is also free to download and use, but it is a demonstration of a commercial product, and some features are almost always disabled. Often demoware will "expire," or cease to function, after a pre-set date.
Beware of viruses
Once you've downloaded a file, it's always a good idea to check it for computer viruses before you run it or open it with an application. A virus is a piece of invasive code that copies itself in an attempt to infect as many computer systems and pieces of software as possible. Not all viruses are harmful: Some just cause a message to pop up on your screen. However, many are destructive and can cause all sorts of hassles, from making your computer crash to destroying data on your hard disk.
Fortunately, most viruses won't wake up until you activate -- or "execute" -- the piece of software in which they're buried. This means that as long as you scan a downloaded piece of software before you run it, you should be OK.
There are many types of virus detection software available both "on the shelf" and in shareware and FTP sites on the Internet. Find a virus checker and start using it today.
..and now for the really important stuff
If you have ever heard the saying, "If you get something for free, you got what you paid for" then you know where I am heading. First off, don't bombard me with e-mail telling me about all the great software you found on the internet. Yes, there is some really cool stuff; however, there is a lot of software out there that has problems and those problems can cause you more headaches than the software is worth. Does this mean that if you pay for software, that it is "bug free." Yea right! Not hardly. My warning here, BE CAREFUL!
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