FreewareHome is Mill Village

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Last week, The Globe and Mail needed an expert for an information technology article on freeware, which is computer software offered by programmers at no cost.

Of course, the journalist, Dave McGinn ended up in Mill Village, Queens Co. He utilized a Nova Scotia-based company with millions of page views, The co-owner and content director of the popular listing service, Dee Hughes works from her home in the outskirts of Mill Village surrounded by woods, husband Brian Hughes and their dogs.

Her partner is Eugene Vassiltsov, a programmer who founded the site. He works in New York.

Hughes says they immigrated to Canada from England via the Canary Islands in 1984 because most of her husband’s family lives here. They ran a holiday business that included cottage rentals on Lake Erie, Ont. until 2000, when they decided to follow her husband’s parents to Nova Scotia, who fell in love with the province during vacations.

At that point, having worked from her home for about 20 years, she needed to find something to do to earn money at home. “It’s become a habit. It’s where I like to be. I’m way past going into the workforce. I want to be at home with our four legged kids.”

She ended up chatting with Vassiltsov, who wanted help with the web site. “I’ve been playing around with building web sites, html and stuff like that. Eugene asked if I wanted to give it a try, which I did.”

She continues. “He does all of the programming and back end stuff and I do all of the daily updating, answering emails and monitoring forums and putting up new content that is linked to freeware.” is an indexed listing service that provides links to freeware Hughes finds and researches. This includes open source software and shareware that is free for personal use in addition to freeware. The categories are varied and thousands of links have been established. “I spend the majority of my time finding and researching the new stuff,” Hughes says. “We make sure as well as we can the program is free. Beyond that, all we do is link to the freeware’s web site and sometimes the author’s download.”

She says she also checks for viruses and spyware but recommends that all users do a check of their own. She admits authors will sometimes change the program or put a price tag on it after the listing is out.

However, she says with a laugh, “We have a strong user base who are very quick to email me and say ‘Dee, you got it wrong.’ If something goes wrong I get to find out.”

She estimates this base at slightly under 1-million people. On average, the site receives two to three million page views per month.

The revenue comes from agency advertising, including Google AdSense, their primary source of revenue.

With the growth of the site, they managed to go from renting to buying a house, she says. “Google helped a lot. That turned things around to the point where we got our own home. We rented for five years and now next year the mortgage will be paid.”

She says the only “bad patch” was in 2001, during the dot-com crash. Another highlight, she adds, was getting broadband last year.

The road to Mill Village started in the early days of computing. In the 1970s, they both worked for a vehicle insurance company in England that did a lot of pioneering work in business computer use. “We had a huge main frame, and the room it was in was probably something like 20 by 20. The mainframe only had 64 megabytes of memory and that was huge in those days. We started out with punch card operators.”

But they were already hooked on computers. They headed to the Canary Islands to set up a service to introduce business owners to computers, but it didn’t work out and they then moved to Canada. Brian is retired now although he helps her from time to time.

Hughes says, “Freewarehome is my full time job. I can choose my hours but it is a 24/7 job. I spend a fair amount of time each day sorting what I will list tomorrow. Actually researching what is going to be put up is quite time consuming. From Monday to Friday I put up five new programs each day.”

Also important is ensuring their web site is at the top of Google freeware searches. She says her partner has enabled this. “A good search engine result is something money can’t buy. You have to earn it by making sure the pages are optimized for the search engine.” A quick search on Google demonstrates their success. The site was on top.

The aforementioned Globe and Mail article entitled “Not all freebies will melt your keyboard” discussed the numerous freeware and open source programs that are available to people and that many, like are excellent to use. Hughes says she immediately looked for freeware when she first got internet access but that this isn’t common. The problem is distrust and a lack of knowledge; something her home-based business in tiny Mill Village has changed for millions of global users over the years.

Organizations: Globe and Mail, Queens Co., Google

Geographic location: Mill Village, Canada, England Canary Islands New York Lake Erie Nova Scotia

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