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How to get a "free lunch" on the internet

"There's no such thing as a free lunch". It's a well known saying, but do you know just how it applies to the internet? What IS a "free lunch" on the internet?

"Free" download

Yes, there are many great genuinely free programs and content you can download. I run a number of free alternatives to paid programs. Though I actually own a legit copy of Photoshop CS3, I have never invested the time needed to learn it, so I use a reasonable alternative called Inkscape - free download. However, a quick Google search will also give you dozens, if not hundreds, or links to sites offering full copies of Photoshop for free. So why not? Well, because it's illegal (plenty of reason on its own), but also because the download has a high probability of containing one or more viruses.

What you don't know about website add-ons/extensions

So you don't download pirated software or even visit those sites - great! But what's your website designer's integrity like? Are you getting an amazing website with loads of functionality, but it's really cheap? The first question you should ask is why it's cheap - does he really know what he's doing, and will you get any backup?

For your website's health, how come you didn't have to pay for that cool e-commerce package he/she used, or the directory extension, or the real estate component? Yep, there's free alternatives in most cases, but the chances are, on bigger, more complex extensions, they'll be paid extensions. And you didn't pay... any alarms ringing? Maybe they're multi-site extensions so the designer has the right to use on multiple sites. That can be true. So where am I going with this then?

Extra add-ons to your "free" extension

A recent post (thanks Yves) highlights the very real dangers of using sources other than legitimate sites to download software (and extensions for websites are just software). Just like regular pirated programs, pirated website extensions can arrive with "unwelcome guests" which can, at best, get you banned for spamming. At worst, destroy your site. The most expensive extension I've yet to buy was a real estate system that was around $200. Not big money, and a much better bet, in my opinion, that risking your site's health.

But, if you want a bunch of free Joomla extensions, ones you'd normally pay lots of money for, you can go here and download to your heart's content. If you'd rather do it the right, and honest way, make sure your designer does too.

60% of small business websites have been hacked
The pot and the kettle

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