More Insider Secrets
The best software is free software
|You don't need to drop a bundle on good work and communication software. You can find free and sometimes better alternatives. |
- OpenOffice.org does a ridiculously good job imitating the world's most popular set of office tools. Not every feature works exactly the same, but I've yet to receive any complaints from Microsoft Excel or Word users about documents I've sent.
- Microsoft Office Student and Teacher Edition 2003 costs about $150 for the same programs as the regular edition. No students or teachers in the house? Consider a "gray market" OEM version of office. It's supposed to be sold with a new PC, but beyond that, it's legal if it has all the spiffy Microsoft holograms.
- The GIMP (a.k.a. GNU Image Manipulation Program) is your very own free and legal Photoshop substitute. You'll need to download the GTK+ Runtime Environment for the GIMP to work, but complete instructions are here.
- Mozilla Firefox is a fast and secure browser with cool perks such as live bookmarks and my personal favorite, tabbed browsing.
- Thunderbird is Firefox's companion e-mail tool.
- Sunbird is a beta calendaring system for Firefox. Beta, by the way, means not finished, so don't blame me if it crashes.
- Gaim is a free instant messenger compatible with AIM, ICQ, MSN Messenger, Yahoo, IRC, Jabber, Gadu-Gadu, and Zephyr networks.
Free software downloads for playing MP3s are old news. Free software to rip MP3s is almost as old. But free software that makes MP3s and isn't crippled so that it forces you to upgrade? That's fairly new.
- iTunes does high-quality, high-speed MP3 and AAC encoding for nothing. It's so good for playing MP3s, it's replaced Winamp as my most used audio player.
- Illustrate.com's dBpowerAmp Music Converter came into my life when the company that made my MP3 player went down in flames. To see if your player is supported, click here. A quick trip to Codec Central yields plug-ins for just about any audio format you might ever want to play: MP3, MP4, Windows Media Audio (WMA), OGG Vorbis, AAC, Monkey's Audio, FLAC, and more.
The terrible thing about security software is that some of it doesn't protect you well, and worse yet, it can cost a bundle. Security should be universal--and it can be.
- Ad-Aware SE Personal Edition and Spybot Search and Destroy both run on my system because there's so much spyware out there, one of them will often catch stuff the other doesn't.
- ZoneAlarm is one of the best free firewalls out there. You'll have to spend some time training it, but once you do, it's pretty bomb-proof.
- Some other notables:
Don't want to download anything onto your system? Try Panda ActiveScan
, which is a Web-based virus detector.
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Former tech-help show host
|Patrick Norton has written more than 500 product reviews for print and online. For fun, he loves to sit in hot corners of the desert waiting to fuel and repair off-road race trucks. He's best known for answering tough tech questions, helping folks avoid awful products, and smashing dead PCs with a sledgehammer during a four-year stretch cohosting TechTV's The Screen Savers. |