All four of the sites reviewed this week supported or promoted free software, that is, software that is “freely-modified and redistributable” – not necessarily “free” as in “free beer” as classmate Brian Auriti so eloquently described, although much of the software was also free in that respect as well.
Google Pack is a collection of freeware software or tools from Google or associated with Google, assembled in one place.The design is very simplified and easy to understand, encompassed in one single page. The page does most of the work for you: the page already “knows” which operating system you are using and which of the tools you already have loaded and which software you may want to load. Changes can be made easily by checking or unchecking selections. I would love to see if this is is the same thing that users with another version of Windows or a Mac see as well. For Windows 7, it certainly couldn’t be easier to fill in any gaps.
Below the user interface, the page also includes a quick glossary of all the tools available through Google Pack in case the user is unfamiliar with that specific tool. Users can click on text link to learn even more about the individual tools.
The page itself is little more than app enabling users to update and download freeware from Google. As such, there is no need for search tools. Labeling is straightforward and the site’s design reflects the Google ethos – clean, clear, and free.
Free Software Foundation
The Free Software Foundation is an organization that promotes the use of free software, as in software that is neither proprietary nor restrictive. Additionally, they campaign against “threats to computer user freedom like Digital Restrictions Management (DRM) and software patents” (FSF website). The site is geared toward explaining free software for new users, as well as enlisting seasoned veterans of free software into the campaign.
The website was structured in a clean and uncomplicated design. The site’s main sections are included in the global nav bar along the top of the page (consistent noun-based labeling) and the content is sectioned into several blocks of primarily text (see below). Resources and the “new to software” section were both very helpful for someone new to the free software concept, even helping people find software comparable to the tools they currently used (in contrast to the next site reviewed).
Freeware Files contains huge quantities of apps, organized in a hierarchy by category. Certain applications are highlighted on the homepage but other that that they seem to assume you will browse to the category of app of you are searching for. There were also quite a few ads on the page, a necessary evil, perhaps, but distracting and somewhat difficult to differentiate in places from the site content.
A global nav bar allows users to select free software by category (along the left side of the page – at least for most pages) and by other useful groupings, such as “Top 100” and “New,” along the top. The top nav also includes a way to set up an RSS feed, free tech offers (not a very clear label for a site with all free software…it turned out to be magazines and technical documents), and a search box that spans the page allowing for some tailoring of a search query (exact phrase, categories). There is also a bar with “hot downloads” of the top five most popular downloads.
Each selection provides a one-sentence description of the software, although if you are looking at a specific category, it’s difficult to distinguish between the advantages of one app over another in that description. More useful is the inclusion of the date created/updated and the star ratings (possible five). Some categories had subsections as needed (graphics/designs & games for example).
The site assumes (perhaps accurately) its users are very comfortable with the software app lingo. I spent some time looking for tools for website design. A search for “website design” returned one app; “web design” didn’t do much better, expanding the pool to sixteen. I finally was able to find the tools I was looking for under “Developer Tools” in a category titled “Website Authoring” through trial-and-error. (There were 94 apps under the category.) It seemed to me that simply adding in a (more robust) synonym ring would have made my experience much easier.
Free-Soft.org reminded me of many of the websites found on the web in the 1990s. There is no global navigation. Navigating to another area of the site involved returning to the homepage and beginning again. The site is very shallow so this was too difficult to accomplish, just would have made things slightly easier. The homepage gives a wikipedia-like overview of the topic, key players, and well-known examples of free software. Along the left are links to articles on the topic of free software, the Free Software Magazine , and histories of the GNU General Public License and the free software movement.
The site is also heavily text-based. Some simple graphics but mostly a lot of content. No search. No tagging.