Who would have thought it, but by day I’m a mild-mannered I.T. guy. As you can imagine, I get asked for software recommendations all the time. Free software on the internet is confusing for those who don’t constantly dabble, tinker, and have the occasional discovery of crapware that jacks their operating system.
The names of softwares give you no clue about their quality. Some of the best software is poorly named (“Spybot Search And Destroy”? “Malwarebytes Anti-malware”? Seriously?) and even the most trustworthy-sounding software can be corrupt. Anyone who shivers at the mention of “AntiVirus 2007” knows what I’m talking about. People need help determining which programs can be trusted.
Last year, I sent out an e-mail listing several free programs and services that I use often. Website services and software that I not only use and trust, but they are so good I’d consider buying the full version just to reward a job well-done. You can review the list from 2008 here, but I’ve revised the list and added some new items for the 2009 holiday season. I’ve also asked IT guru Saveau (Literally the guru’s guru) for his own wisdom in this area. With his help, I’ve compiled a list of software and services that have been tested and trusted by professionals… but most importantly, it’s all FREE.
The 2009 List of I.T. Approved FREE Website Services:
The following services require you to register a username/password. They should work for any computer that can browse the internet.
Best. E-mail. Ever.
Free online alternative to Microsoft Word/Excel/PowerPoint
Free online picture storage and sharing.
Internet radio that tailors itself to your listening. Thumbs up/down on each song helps the radio station learn your musical taste.
Consider Evernote a hard drive upgrade for your brain. Store notes, webpage clips, pictures and more. Tag, sort and lookup is a breeze.
Use delicious.com to store all your bookmarks so you’ll never lose them. Tag and sort your bookmarks. Make your bookmarks public or private. Search through others public bookmarks.
This site redirects you to download.cnet.com which is a great source for reliable free software, you’ll find many of the recommendations here can (and should) be downloaded from download.com
The 2009 List of I.T. Approved FREE Software:
Windows only. This software/service from Microsoft creates a folder on your computer that automagically synchronizes with your account on the internet. Can you say Fully Automated Backup? Can haz 5GB of storage space? Yes, you can haz. Better yet, any other computers connected to your mesh will be auto-synchronized too. Not good enough? How about this: Your data in the mesh is available on any computer running windows – just log into your online account. Still not enough? How about this: You can remote control any of your computers currently connected to your mesh. If that isn’t good enough for you, stop reading now.
Formerly known as Crap Cleaner, this program cleans junk off your hard drive that even Windows “Disk Cleanup” utility won’t. Run this before doing a virus scan or hard drive defrag.
Saveau swears by Avast! and I’ve used and recommended AVG for people who don’t want to shell out for off-the-shelf AntiVirus. I know plenty of people who use Symantec, McAffee, or ESET NOD32 AntiVirus. I don’t think it really matters so much which anti-virus program you use, but you really should have one. Only one. Do not load more than one anti-virus program unless it’s your last resort.
These three poorly named anti-spyware programs are designed to get rid of things your AntiVirus program never dreamed of. Part of my standard “tune up” is to run CCleaner then Malwarebytes AntiMalware, then the installed AntiVirus program. For more intensive cleanup download Spybot, Malwarebytes AND SuperAntiSpyware. Install and run all of them until they all come back clean. Yes, this takes a long time. Yes, I’ll be glad to do this for you. Yes, I charge by the hour.
Don’t upgrade this program. The updated version only works for a limited time unless you pay. The free version is what you want. Ashampoo is easy to use, burns anything to anything, and it isn’t a background hog or “notice whore” like Nero and Roxio.
Windows XP only (Vista and Mac already have this). Rocketdock adds the lovely “dock” to your desktop that Mac made famous.
For Windows XP. Significantly improves the usefulness of the Windows XP clock. Change the color and font of the clock. Change to 24-hour time. Micro-tweak position of the digits. Add in the day of the week. Click on the clock and a calendar pops up. Imagine that! (Microsoft didn’t.)
K-Lite allows your computer to play back every form of non-mechanical media known to have been in use in this sector of the galaxy. Ever. It will integrate with Windows Media Player, or use the included Media Player Classic, or both, and runs without issue on XP, Vista, and Windows 7. It can even allow older, slower computers to play back some modern HD content. If you run into a media file that Windows won’t play or you get a “missing codec” error, you need this program.
I’ve never used TeamViewer but I’m going to start, because it sounds like a useful utility and Saveau gives it his blessing. TeamViewer allows you to set up a remote session on any other PC with an internet connection by simply having them read off the session ID and password when they launch TeamViewer on their end. Makes it simple to help people with computer problems from remote.
Partition Master is made by Easeus, a company which makes some fine products according to Saveau. Partition Master stands in quite nicely for the more well-known commercial product, Partition Magic.
Disc Copy and Clonezilla
Disc Copy is another Easeus product endorsed by Saveau, and I can vouch for Clonezilla. Both programs are free knockoffs of the popular Norton Ghost and Acronis True Image – They allow the user to make a complete duplicate of their hard drive. Operating system, installed programs and all. Disc Copy has a limitation of copying only to a drive of equal or greater size – but since most people will be doing precisely this, it shouldn’t pose a problem. Clonezilla is a linux based copy program using a command line interface and is awkward to use but very flexible, allowing you to clone to and from pretty much anything. Clonezilla is the only disc cloning utility I’ve found that will clone drives with a bootable Linux OS installed.
Feel free to pass this list on to others.