There's a free-for-all on the Web right now, and you don't need a Ph.D. in computing to figure out how to tap into it. Simplified alternatives to many popular applications that you once had to buy are freely available online, thanks to new ad-supported programs that run right on your browser.
So what's the catch? While many of the free word processors, photo-editing programs and games lack the rich features of their retail counterparts--the word processor in Google Docs, for example, has just 11 fonts vs. the dozens in Microsoft Word--chances are you won't miss what's missing. After all, most people use only a small fraction of the features available. "Software went through a period where it got way too complex. We have a concept that focuses on simplicity," says Dave Girouard, vice president and general manager of Google's free Web applications.
Below you'll find some of the best free Web apps compared with similar retail products. With new programs popping up every week--some of which are available only through social-networking sites like Facebook--it pays to check out the freebies before spending a dime. And you can keep the change.
To Pay or Not to Pay.
Click here to see the pros and cons for both sides.