Free Software – Helpful Stuff at the Right Price!

My mailbox is littered with emails regarding resources for free software. So I thought I’d pass along the information if for no other reason than to memorialize it, and clean up my inbox. The opinions expressed are those of the individuals who recommended the software packages, not mine (except for Copernic). Inclusion here is not an endorsement. Be sure to do your own due diligence. Be sure to read to the end of this post, however, before you start downloading free stuff. Because I recommend you pay for a piece of software now, to safeguard your PC environment, productivity, and sanity, before you heed the siren’s call of any freeware.

CCleaner
CCleaner is a freeware system optimization and privacy tool. It removes unused files from your system – allowing Windows to run faster and freeing up valuable hard disk space. It also cleans traces of your online activities such as your Internet history. But the best part is that it’s fast (normally taking less that a second to run) and contains NO Spyware or Adware!

Copernic Desktop Search
Easily search your entire hard drive in less than a second to pinpoint the right file, email, music or pictures. Copernic Desktop Search (CDS) brings the power of a sophisticated, yet easy-to-use search engine right to your PC and allows you instantly to search files, emails, and email attachments stored anywhere on your PC hard drive. It executes sub-second searching of Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint files, Acrobat PDFs, and all popular music, picture and video formats. CDS also conducts a desktop search of your browser history, favorites, and contacts. [I’ve been using Copernic for a long time now, and couldn’t live without it.]

FileMap
Have you ever noticed how the number of files in your windows and system directories seem to mysteriously grow over time? Or, you might have already heard from victims of hijack programs describing how phantom files had taken control of their browsers, with no idea where they came from. It’s times like that when it would be very handy to have a record of files before and after so you could determine which files do not belong. FileMap by BB lets you take control of the growing number of files on your system by making record lists of those in the Windows, the System, and the C: root directories so you can constantly check what has been added (or removed).

avast! 4 Home Edition
This slick, skinnable antivirus app looks like a high-tech media player, but it’s really a virus fighter. It scans files on demand and on access, including e-mail attachments. No scheduling—you have to pay for that—but it can send a warning on detecting malware. A boot-time scan option removes ­tenacious malware. And it’s 64-bit compatible.

AVG Anti-Virus Free Edition
This program splits its user interface between Control Center and Test Center, which can be a bit confusing. But it does what an antivirus app should: It scans files on access, on demand, and on schedule. It also scans e-mail, both incoming and outgoing. According to Grisoft, it’s totally Vista-ready.

Comodo Firewall
The new choice for free firewall protection, Comodo Firewall keeps hackers out and keeps ­unauthorized programs from accessing the Internet, even tricky ones that sneak around normal ­program control. And it resists being forcibly terminated. It works as well as all but the very best for-pay firewalls.

SpyCatcher Express
Tenebril’s SpyCatcher does very well both at cleaning out spyware and at preventing further infestation. The free SpyCatcher Express edition has almost all the features found in the paid version. It lacks antiphishing and a few high-end tools, and you have to check for updates manually, but it does the job.

StartupMonitor
StartupMonitor alerts you to programs that try to install themselves whenever you boot up Windows. Unlike most similar utilities, this one is unobtrusive and won’t interfere with program installations that reboot automatically.

SuperStorm Freeware
SuperStorm Freeware protects a sensitive file (up to 200KB) by encrypting it and hiding it inside a JPEG image, and then securely deleting the original. A for-pay Pro edition has no size limit and can encrypt with a user-defined password. SuperStorm can extract anything hidden by the Pro edition, and it uses a simple drag-and-drop interface.

Windows Defender
Microsoft bought Windows Defender’s technology about two years ago, but the software colossus doesn’t seem to have done much with it. The product’s ability to remove entrenched spyware is mediocre, and it’s not a lot better at keeping spyware out of a clean system. But it’s free and built into OneCare and Vista, so use its on-demand scanner for a “second opinion.”

OpenOffice.org
If you’re looking for an alternative to Microsoft Office, try OpenOffice.org. Though not as full-­featured as the offering out of Redmond, the suite includes a very capable word processor and spreadsheet that are compatible with MS Office files. There’s also a presentation app, a diagramming tool, and a database. OpenOffice.org may be all the suite you need.

WordPress
Ready to start blogging? WordPress is among the most powerful of the many free personal blogging tools around. You can host WordPress on your own server or get a free blog at wordpress.com. Unlike most other free hosted blogs, you can have multiple contributors, customize the looks, and get the word out via RSS. [Law Practice Management Blog is powered by WordPress.]

eCleaner
Ever need to extract text from an e-mail message or Web discussion, but the message is full of angle brackets (>) or other symbols? Or maybe it’s got little bits of HTML strewn about. eCleaner quickly goes through these files and strips out the detritus. It’s not fancy, but it works.

Foxit Reader
Adobe Acrobat, the gold standard software for PDF viewing, can slow older systems to a crawl—or even crash them. Foxit Reader lets you get your PDF goodness without the Adobe bloat. It runs small and swift, either as a standalone app or from within your browser.

Audacity
This is a powerful audio editing/recording software package that doesn’t require much training. It works on Linux, Mac, and Windows, and it handles many file types, including OGG, MP3, AIFF, AU, and WAV (but not WMA or AAC). Its features include 32-bit/96-KHz recording and editing (up to 16 channels), independent speed and pitch control, noise removal, a spectrogram mode, and tons of built-in effects. But it’s also perfect for quick ­recordings and editing long files.

Media Monkey
A robust digital music player for organizing, ripping, burning, converting, and playing your tunes, Media Monkey also has smart tagging, Auto DJ, and a Party Mode that lets you make requests without modifying the library. The free standard version gives you most features but limits MP3 ­encoding and slows the burn rate. The Gold version is $19.95.

Many of the software packages above were excerpted from PC Magazine’s list of free software. Click the link to check them all out.

Looking for more? Check out Gizmo’s Top Picks: the 46 Best-Ever Freeware Software Utilities

Ok, how many times have you done something on/to your computer that made you say, “oops” or other expletives I can’t put on this blog? And after spending hours undoing the damage, don’t you sometimes wish there was a magic time machine to return you instantly to the moment before you hosed your system? Well, there is! It isn’t free like the other software packages. But it’s the best investment you can make before you try the free stuff! Check out these two packages. Pick one. You will never regret it. It will be the best software dollars you’ve ever spent!

Symantec’s Norton GoBack
Reverses system crashes, failed software installations, user errors, and more. Rolls PCs back minutes, hours, or even days before onset of a problem. Lets you try software safely, with a fast uninstall if you don’t like it. Recovers accidentally deleted or modified files. This one isn’t free. Price: $49.95.

Roxio’s BackOnTrack Home
With BackOnTrack Home, a single click will clear away viruses, bad installations and software that have caused your computer to malfunction.
* Restore your computer with a single click.
* Restore even if Windows fails to start.
* All personal digital media automatically protected
* Recover old versions or deleted documents.
Price: $39.99.

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