I took you on a stroll down memory lane in my February
2001 Web Master Wanderings article (http://www.scpcug.com/wmwand24.html)
describing some of my experiences with the Commodore 64 and 128
computers back in the 1980s. Those Commodore days almost required
one to belong to a User Group just for the availability of free
software. The same was true for PC users back then. The User
Groups of that era, by their exchange of information and knowledge,
knew where to go to acquire free software or relatively inexpensive
software (shareware). They were the computer user's lifeline.
Today, with the Internet, plenty of free software is readily
available for download. Just look at the SCPCUG Software Links
on our web site. Rather than listing individual programs, I have
listed links to sites that feature many programs and so the links
are categorized under Software Collections. Some
of this Freeware is very good and rivals the Commercial software
available at the retail stores. One of my favorite graphics programs,
comes to mind but there are many others. If you look at the Web
Master Wanderings Index for this column (http://www.scpcug.com/wmwand.html)
you will find a number of Freeware programs I have reviewed.
Some have fallen by the wayside. Others (like IrfanView) continue
to flourish and improve with each new version.
Unlike the days of old, much Commercial software is now easily
obtainable via direct download from the Internet. It is usually
at a slightly reduced price because you do not get the fancy
colored box and printed manual. However, depending on the program
size, downloading could take quite awhile if you do not have
a broadband connection.
Commercial software may be marketed in many different ways.
Anyone new to computing should be careful when purchasing new
software. My first impulse when I got my first PC back in 1995
was to start buying all kinds of software on CD-ROM. If you have
a lot of money to waste I suppose you could do that. However,
time is on the side of those who wait and do not give in to impulse.
Watching the Sunday newspaper ads for Commercial software with
rebate sales from stores
like Best Buy, CompUSA, Circuit City, OfficeDepot, OfficeMax,
Staples, etc. can save you a lot of money in the long run. There
are usually several programs they offer that become essentially
free (or nearly free) after rebate. The catch is you have to
watch each week as the ads and therefore the programs offered
keep changing. A link that will help you do this is in the Reference
section on the SCPCUG General Information Links page (http://www.scpcug.com/infolink.html).
compares retail store sale prices on electronics, computer hardware
& software, etc. so you don't have to. This saves you time
in having to wade through all the sales flyers each week when
trying to make a purchase at the best price.
In addition to finding rebates in the Sunday newspaper ads,
check three other web sites listed on our SCPCUG General Information
Links page under the Investing & Finance
section. They are DealNews (http://dealnews.com/),
and TechBargains (http://Techbargains.com/).
In buying any software it also pays to do a bit of research
first. For example, over a year ago I decided to buy MGI Software's
PhotoSuite 4 which was featured in ads by several stores. CompUSA
had offered PhotoSuite 4 Standard Edition with a price of $29.99
minus instant savings of $20 and minus a $10 mail-in rebate so
it was essentially free (I pay the tax and the postage to send
in the rebate form and documentation). Best Buy offered Photo
Suite 4 Platinum Edition for $25 minus a $25 mail-in rebate so
again the software was essentially free. OfficeMax was selling
the PhotoSuite 4 Platinum Edition for $49.99 or you could buy
the PhotoSuite 4 Standard Edition for $29.99 minus a $10 mail-in
rebate and they would instantly toss in another program called
PhotoVista (supposedly a $29.99 value) free. Meanwhile, Staples
was offering PhotoSuite 4 Platinum Edition for $40 with an instant
rebate of $20 and a mail-in rebate of $20 so the program was
basically free. Which was the best value? What was the real
normal selling price of either edition? What was the difference
between the Standard and Platinum Editions? The MGI Software
web site http://www.mgisoft.com/
did not even list the Standard Edition. (Note that MGI has recently
been acquired by Roxio, makers of the popular Easy CD Creator
CD burning software.) It all was quite confusing and I wonder
sometimes if this so called marketing is not done
on purpose just so the consumer cannot make an accurate comparison.
My best advice is to do as much research as you can and then
get to the store with the best sale as early as possible. Sometimes
the item may be limited to just the amount in stock and sometimes
you may be able to get a raincheck if they have already sold
out. By the way I did go for the Staples deal for the PhotoSuite
4 Platinum Edition as it had more features than the Standard
Edition and the Staples deal required me to have the least amount
of money outstanding. Some rebate deals, although they sound
good on the surface, may require you to have a large amount of
money outstanding and waiting to be rebated. I try to keep my
exposure to a minimum.
Although I have only mentioned software, the same advice applies
to purchasing computer hardware. Many of the Sunday newspaper
ads feature hardware rebates. I purchase all my blank CD-R media
(for burning audio and data CDs) on 50 pack spindles via this
rebate route. Rebates are offered on one brand or another every
week. From time to time the CD jewel cases can also be found
offered in ten packs via rebate for free. Other items I have
obtained via the rebate route include my desktop webcam, underdesk
keyboard drawer, surge protector, and network interface card.
If you do purchase an item with a rebate, be prepared to wait
at least three months and possibly longer to get your money back.
It has been my experience that although they may say 6-8 weeks
for processing of your rebate check, in reality that rarely happens.
The longest I have had to wait for a rebate was nine months but
in the end the software company honored its promise. The fastest
rebate I have received happened just recently. I was in need
of another cordless telephone but was looking for one specifically
with a headset jack as I already owned two of the around-the-ear
hands free phone headsets. In February Best Buy was offering
a Northwestern Bell 900 MHz phone (model 39205-1) for $20 with
a $10 rebate. Such a deal! If you have priced the rechargeable
telephone batteries recently you know the price can vary from
$12-$20 depending on the model and the store. So a cordless telephone
for a net cost of $10 with all the features I wanted plus the
battery was a great deal. The most shocking part of the whole
deal (and happily so) was I had the rebate check in my hands
three weeks later. That really impressed me!
Now, if Best Buy can do it, why do some of the other companies
hang on to your rebate money seemingly forever? I think a lot
has to do with the companies that are sometimes contracted with
and act as clearing houses for rebates. Things are improving
however. Some of the stores offering rebates now print a duplicate
sales receipt (for the rebate submittal) at the checkout counter.
They also print the rebate form with the sales receipt so I don't
have to go hunting in some rack on the store wall for the proper
form. I still, however, as a matter of course use my scanner
to make a copy of my completed rebate form, the UPC (Universal
Product Code) I cut from the product packaging, and the rebate
sales receipt. I save this on my hard drive as a backup in case
there is any problem in obtaining the rebate.
In the past many rebate forms have listed toll free phone
numbers to call if you have questions or for checking status.
Sometimes these numbers were constantly busy or were an automated
response that did not allow you to talk to a real
person. You might be able to leave a message but then no one
ever called you back. My experience is things are getting better.
I can now usually find a real person to talk to.
And if I cannot, I call the store where I purchased the item.
They usually have phone numbers I can call. The bottom line is
the stores want happy customers.
When I did not receive one of my rebates in the allotted time,
I called the listed toll free number and found they had no record
of my rebate submittal. Rather then me resubmitting copies from
my backup data, they suggested I contact the Circuit City store
where I purchased the item and have the store fax a copy of my
sales receipt to the Rebate Center. The Rebate Center opened
a special folder for my case and gave me the fax phone number
and name of the person to contact. I called the Merritt Island
Circuit City store and gave my sales order number and the fax
information to a most courteous Customer Service representative.
She said she would call the Rebate Center and immediately fax
the information to them. I got a call several minutes later from
the Circuit City Customer Service rep saying the Rebate Center
had closed for the day so she did not get a chance to talk to
them but would send all the information via fax that night. Needless
to say I did get my rebate, but what most impressed me was the
great customer service I got from my local Circuit City store
and the company Circuit City has processing the rebates.
Another thing that companies are now putting on rebate forms
is a web site URL where one can go to check rebate status. That
is a most welcome thing. In fact, that has been carried even
a step further. Recently SCPCUG Member Gary Roden spotted
a CompUSA ad for a 64 MB Lexar CompactFlash card for $40 minus
a $10 instant rebate and minus a $10 mail-in rebate. With the
price of memory on the rise, getting a 64 MB CompactFlash card
for a net cost of $20 was a great deal. Gary had been looking
for a CompactFlash card and knew I was also on the lookout as
I had recently purchased a 1.3 Megapixel Digital Camera. We drove
down to CompUSA one Sunday morning and stood in line a few minutes
with about ten other guys to pick up this great deal. But I digress.
The point I was getting to is that the Lexar rebate form asked
for my e-mail address as many of them do. In the past I figured
that was just a way for them to get my e-mail address for sending
sales information. This time I was pleasantly surprised to get
an e-mail message from the Rebate Center soon after my rebate
submittal thanking me for participating in their promotion, telling
me my rebate has been approved, and that I should see my rebate
check in approximately eight weeks. Now that added touch makes
this customer feel good!
I have never lost money through a rebate offer. Most big name
stores will make good on the offer even if the computer software
or hardware maker does not. This happened to me once with a rebate
through CompUSA. CompUSA actually covered the mail-in rebate
with their own check when I could get no satisfaction from the
hardware maker. So don't be afraid to go for those rebate offers.
For more information on the handling of rebates check
This page has information on the purpose of rebates, how to properly
complete and mail the rebate information, and how to track rebate
status. It has a listing of rebate status web sites and toll
free telephone numbers.
Note: Web Master Wanderings
articles contain links to external web sites. Web addresses are
constantly changing. There is no guarantee that the information
links provided in this article will remain unbroken or up-to-date
beyond the date that this article is originally published.