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Brier Dudley offers a critical look at technology and business issues affecting the Northwest.

December 8, 2014 at 1:31 PM

Free music, free shipping and more holiday gifts from tech giants

Don’t fret if you missed the sales on Black Friday, Cyber Monday and the rest of last month’s retail frenzy.

Even better deals are still available from tech companies, particularly the big hungry ones in Seattle.

They’re offering a surprising amount of freebies this holiday season and handing out stuff that might otherwise cost hundreds of dollars.

The giveaways reflect a peak period for these tech giants.

They’re upbeat about the rebounding economy and confident that they’ll keep growing in the new era of cloud computing. They’re also willing to spend billions to win more customers and get further ahead.

Don’t confuse them with Santa, though. As I’ve said before, they’re really trying to hook you into subscription services, in part by selling cloud-connected gadgets for low prices.

Outright gifts are the next step — and a nice opportunity for shrewd mouse-clickers and screen tappers.

If you’re determined, you can end up paying nothing for a variety of software, albums and other goodies that might help sweeten your holiday and stuff your gadgets.

Here are a few of these gifts from the tech industry:

Free albums from Microsoft. If you have a Windows 8 phone or PC, Microsoft is giving away dozens and dozens of albums, with no strings attached.

They’re available to download in MP3 format from the “Music Deals” app the company released in October. The app has a rotating selection of 50 albums from major artists in different genres, from 50 Cent to Justin Bieber.

Perhaps this is to make up for the demise of free streaming music through the Xbox Music app. Microsoft cut the Pandora-like, ad-supported streaming service Dec. 1.

The Music Deal app is a little glitchy. I’ve found it hard to access at times from mobile devices, and it pivots to the Xbox Music App to complete transactions, but you can’t beat the price.

Screenshot of Music Deals app.

Screenshot of Music Deals app.

Free virus and malware removal and PC tuneup. Microsoft is attempting to match the customer service offered at Apple stores and improve the overall experience of using a Windows PC or device.

At Microsoft Stores, you can bring a PC in for a free tuneup and removal of viruses or malware on the system. They’ll also provide free software repairs and support, whether or not you bought the PC from Microsoft.

This is a great deal. Other stores may charge $100 or more to remove viruses and tune a PC. It’s also a far better option than the deceptive PC tuneup and virus-removal offers (scams!) that come from telemarkers and spam email.

Beware of upselling, though. Additional services at Microsoft Stores’ “Answer Desk” are $49. They may or may not be a deal, depending on how comfortable you are with things like adding memory, setting up online storage or upgrading the operating system.

As with Apple’s “Genius Bars,” consultation at Answer Bars is free but you’ll need to schedule ahead of time.

Free Microsoft Office on mobile devices. In a bid to stay relevant with a generation that expects software to be free and available on any device, Microsoft last month began giving away some of its crown jewels: Word, Excel, PowerPoint.

They’re now available on iPhones and iPads and will be available on Android devices early next year.

You’ll still need to pony up for a full version for business use, or if you want advanced features of the software. Productivity is also limited when you’re working on a mobile, touch-screen device.

You’ll also have to set up a (free) Microsoft account to do more than view Office files.

Still, it’s remarkable to suddenly have free access to key programs developed by thousands of people in Redmond at unfathomable cost over the past 25 years.

Microsoft image of free version of Excel on iPhone.

Microsoft image of free version of Excel on iPhone.

Free Amazon Prime. Hands down, the best deal at Amazon.com is the free, 30-day trial of Amazon Prime service — especially if you’re planning to shop there during the holidays and don’t already subscribe.

During that 30-day trial, you’ll get free two-day shipping on some 20 million items, plus free access to big libraries of online movies, TV shows, music and books. I found refrigerators that qualify for expedited Prime shipping, though they may take up to five days to arrive.

If you think about it, you’re getting free use of Amazon’s army of robots and warehouse workers and the fleets of trucks, planes and ships used by its delivery partners.

Free Prime trials will presumably be available until Amazon either goes broke or vanquishes Target, Wal-Mart, Costco, eBay and Main Street USA.

There’s no obligation with a trial Prime membership, though you’ve got to be sure to cancel at the end of the month or Amazon will automatically start charging you $99 per year.

The first hit is free, but it’s a good one.

Image of Amazon shipping center via Business Wire.

Image of Amazon shipping center via Business Wire.

Comments | Topics: Amazon.com, Apple, deals

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