I recently stumbled onto a great forum post on bleepingcomputer.com/ that gives a very comprehensive list of freeware replacements for common commercial applications. These commercial products are some of the biggest names in software, but the challenge of coming up with great freeware that will meet most the same needs was met quite well. It was truly a beneficial topic for everyone, which brings up the point I want to make. I have learned more from the various online tech forums in the past year than from almost any other type of computer training.
These forums are seemingly everywhere, but they generate the kind of wonderful exchange of experience and ideas that we need in the technology field. For instance, if you had a strange computer problem (like a cryptic Windows error message) that you could not fix yourself. It used to be (before online forums) that you would ask the person sitting next to you, or a friend, or one of the computer tech people you might work with. It would probably take them a while to get back to you. Or you might submit a support request and wait for an answer that may never come. But now, things are different. Tech forums to the rescue!
In my March 25th post on the best sites for Windows Tips, Tricks and Tweaks, I mentioned a list compiled by Ian "Gizmo" Richards, on his TechSupportAlert.com site, of the best free tips, tricks and tweaking sites. Well, since I am now mentioning the magic of tech forums, how about returning to TechSupportAlert.com for another great list of sites. This time, it's a list of the best free technical support sites, most of which are forum-related, or they contain some type of forum to help you gather the solutions to your most irritating computer problems. Up first on this impressive list is the outstanding TechSupportGuy site (http://www.techguy.org/), one of my personal favorites for finding answers to computer repair issues. If you type "Tech Forums" or "Best Tech Forums" into Google, Tech Support Guy will definitely be one of the top results.
I won't go over the list of "best replacements for common commercial software," or the "best individual free tech sites." I will leave that up to you, if you're interested. Just know that these are impressive lists which both involve the research generated from (and about) tech forums, and they celebrate the incredible usefulness of forums in general on the Web today.
Forums have helped to increase the speed in which we find things and compare the findings of various different points of view, without having to engage in an actual conversation via phone or e-mail. Just type in what you're looking for into a search engine, and you will probably find others who have a similar problem, sharing ideas in one of the aforementioned tech forums. One such topic that I looked for was "Freeware Replacements for Common Commercial Apps," and if you look at the Web link at the top of this post, you will see what kinds of great responses were generated on that topic. Imagine if all of the world's problems could be solved this way. Maybe they can.