Most of us, at one time or another, have installed pirated software on our computers, or perhaps distributed it to others. Even in the world of business, this is a fairly common practice for small to medium companies. A recent example comes to mind.
While I'm not going to discuss whether this is right or not, an alternative to casual piracy is to use software released for public use. For instance, instead of cracking that copy of Winzip or Winrar that you downloaded, why not try 7-zip, which is free for public and commercial use? It supports all the major formats you will find on the internet today, and comes with it's own format which has very good compression.
Which brings me to the term "Open Source". Open source simply refers to software which has it's source code released. Anybody who wants to can download the code and modify it to suit their needs, or simply use it normally.
Are you just an average user? You can skip the paragraph below then.
Are you a software developer? If your code is based on open-sourced software, there is one thing to watch out for: the license. Yes, free software comes with a license too, though I'm not too sure what happens if you actually violate this license. If it comes with the General Public License, it means that any software you write using this product will become open source too. You will have to make your source code available to the public. The Lesser General Public License means you don't have to release your code. It's as simple as that.
I hope to cover some useful open source programs soon, together with a short guide on how to get them up and running. The biggest source of open software on the web is SourceForge.
One of my fantasies is to start a software company based on free software, because I'm an incredible cheapskate.