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by Bob Ellis

Q. How can I find out more about a software program before I buy it?

A. There is just so much you can learn from a website or magazine reviews before you buy. Another good resource is a user forum. Most software programs have a web accessible forum for users to ask questions and make comments.

Sometimes these are provided on the vendor's website and sometimes they are on another site, such as Yahoo. Sometimes they are moderated (someone looks at the postings before they a re put on the forum) and sometimes not.

Many forums let you read the postings without “joining” the forum but you usually have to join before you can post a message.

The postings give you a good idea of what the users think of the software program. You will learn how difficult the program is to use, whether it's worth the price and how problem free it is. You can usually tell if the program is actively maintained and whether there are timely updates with new features frequently added.

Most useful are forums where the developers are actively posting replies and news items. In fact the lack of a developer (or developer's representatives) presence is usually a good indication that there might be problems. But developer presence or not, spending some time reviewing a user forum is a wise investment before buying a piece of software.

Published: Courier 5/1/11 - Page 5C