But! Be careful. Not all, "free" software is a good thing. Be sure you learn a bit about spyware before you get too adventurous with trying things from the internet. (Elsewhere, I've put together a little introduction to spyware avoidance for you.) Please note: The material on this page may be somewhat dated, at 3/19.
I would recommend that you use your browser's "Find" tool to search for what you want in this page. For other ideas for more effective internet use, see my power browsing hints.
N.B.: The search engine just looks through the web site for the words you enter. It cannot answer "Which program is fastest?"
Most of the programs in the main body of this page I "know and love", having used them for many years. A few are merely recommendations passed on from sources I have found to be reliable. (Not least the UK magazines https://www.computershopper.co.uk (That's mere text, not a link, because it drives you to a "subscribe!" page, and I don't do links for marketers) and the once great, now deceased, Personal Computer World.) Most of those are identified as such. All links are checked from time to time. (I have a note about a link checking service in my page about online services.)
This page has grown over the years. While I won't list something here without having a reason, I fear that the programs I find particularly worthwhile may have become buried in the heap of good stuff. So here's a list of the especially good programs that I use frequently. Some shareware products have crept into the list... sorry... several used to offer freeware lite versions, and another is so good that I hope you will indulge me.)
Most of the "still use" comments below could have had "Used since at least 2013, at least" added to them.
And, just before we turn to the full list of good free software....
Featured Niche Product!!... if you remember "the BBC Micro", you may well be much amused by the offerings of http://www.bbcmicrogames.com/... which includes Elite! (Although I haven't tried THAT yet, I've tried others. BBCMicroGames talks about various emulators which are out there, but recommends the one from http://mkw.me.uk/beebem/, which is SUPERB! If you want to experience, or give others the experience of home computing in the 1980s, that is well worth a visit. Amazingly accurate... font the same, the slight delay as letters appear, even the NOISES faithfully reproduced! Backing store is emulated with virtual disks on your modern hard drive. Many classic BBC games available already converted for modern backing store. A tremendous achievement by all of those concerned... AND FREE! They don't even clutter their pages with ads, (like my Google Ads bar... but I hope I may claim to be restrained in this area!)
My thanks to https://www.computershopper.co.uk magazine (That's mere text, not a link, because it drives you to a "subscribe!" page, and I don't do links for marketers) for bringing the above to my attention, July 2012. While I continue my subscription (3/19, and counting) at least looking at every page, every issue. The web is great for many things, but you can't beat a team of editors scouring the web for things that are worth your time... and tested for safety.
In other news... Updated 3/19
This used to say "Forgive me: I'm about to try to rain on someone's parade". That was when the Raspberry Pi. I said I'd worked for years with various similar devices. I worked in schools for years. I would love to see the Pi be a success, and admire the work which has been done. That much remains true, March 2019
Years before 3/19, I said that I saw the Pi as a distraction. I think the people who think that the Pi is a wonderful new way forward should take a long look at the Arduino. The Pi is not well established, a serious player.... but a serious player in a different market segment that that in which the Arduino operates. (You can visit the old version of this page, if you are curious about my 2013 views! That link will open in a new window or tab. Just close it to return here.)
For schools, something like the BBC Basic of which I just spoke may be worth considering. Or there are the more "fun", "interesting" alternative. All of that is another story.
Since I was discussing the early Pi vs the Arduino, the BBC micro:bit has come along, too. I offer a page dedicated page to further thoughts on Arduino/ Raspberry Pi / BBC micro:bit pros and cons.
If you want to try to kindle a new wave of enthusiasm for programming... an effort I would applaud... then accept the "need" for a PC of some sort in front of each learner. All of the ingredients of the school and hobbyist programming boom of the 1980s are still available... without the "joys" of audio tape backing store, etc, etc.
Office suite- OpenOffice: In any page about free software, pride of place must go to the WONDERFUL Open Office. (If you already know about Open Office, you can skip this section.) Before you think this is just a bit of geek-itis, note that the state of Massachusetts, for example, was, years ago, going to dump Microsoft Office; going to go over to OpenOffice. They are not the only "major league" players to have taken that decision. (I can't say that I've followed the story in recent years. It was my understanding that the decision had been taken.
Since I first wrote this, Libre Office has come alone. It is a close relative of Open Office. Me? I use Open Office. If I were starting today (3/19), I don't know which I'd go for. It might be worth some research... but Just Do one or the other. I don't think it is a big deal.
OpenOffice gives you an excellent....
database (see below).
If you work with people using Microsoft's products, you can import and export from/ to Word, Excel, etc files. (Surprise, surprise: the goal posts keep moving... some esoteric documents may not work fully, but I've encountered few obstacles to inter-working.).
Open Office has, built into it, what you need to save things in PDF, for Adobe's Acrobat Reader... including the ability to encrypt the document so that a password is needed to open it. (If you want that. Useful for protecting sensitive attachments to emails... just phone the recipient, tell them "The password is...".)
(If you want more pdf generating features that come with Open Office, or if you're not using OO, consider PDF Creator. It installs as a Windows "printer", so anything you can print to you can create PDFs with. It can export to other formats, too: png, jpeg, bmp, tiff, ps (Postscript), eps.
There is a fine relational database in the suite. (Long ago, the database element was weak. Those days were years and years ago.)
The Open Office database has answered my wants since I was using it on a Win98SE system with a Pentium II. It is the long needed alternative to Access. (Access is "user friendly"... but otherwise not a very good database.) You can talk to the Open Office database in SQL (a "lingua franca" of database work) (but you don't have to). The Open Office database can be your front end for a MySQL (or other, I presume) SQL database. Etc, etc.
Officially, it is called (somewhat unhelpfully?) "Base". It is often referred to as ooBase. I have an extensive, mature, collection of webpages designed to help people use the OO database. Base is a full relational database manager. Don't let that scare you! You CAN use it as a simple step up from putting names and telephone numbers into a spreadsheet. But it will "grow with you". As you become ready to go farther, you won't have to face changing databases. (Using a spreadsheet to manage data is, by the way, like using a hammer to drive screws. It works. Not well.)Pi
If for some reason you don't want to use "Base", consider the also-free MySQL. (MySQL website) (I used it a bit, was happy as far as I went, but I know it too superficially to be able to "recommend" it.... and now my energies will go into ooBase, as I like that.)
Open Office website (Not a small download, of course, but I did say I'd try to flag large downloads. It can be downloaded or customized for use with languages other than American.)
Below here: The full list, in alphabetical order. The links take you to sections within what follows... or you can just keep reading, or use your browser's "find" tool to look for the topic you are after....
Anti-spyware software: Protecting yourself against viruses is relatively straightforward. Anti-spyware protection is an extra "joy" we could all do without, but you need to consider it. Lavasoft and Search and Destroy are two good programs, which are also free. There's more at my (perhaps dated) spyware education page.
Dated remark/ entry. We don't, 3/19, hear much about rootkits these days. They are still a threat, but I hope that they are now routinely "fought" by general anti-malware suites Anti-rootkit software: A tedious threat. Not for novices or the faint-hearted, but if you're brave/ desperate, you may want Rootkit Revealer from Sysinternals (taken over by Microsoft in July 2006). I haven't tried this myself, but saw it in a good magazine, before the MS takeover. Sysinternals offer many useful looking tools. There's nothing wrong with Revealer (afaik), but the warning arises because the whole issue is complex. Symantec have been accused of using rootkit techniques in their system security programs, for instance... but maybe to catch a rootkit, you need to use a rootkit?
Anti-virus software: I tend to use commercial anti-virus products on my own systems. Various reputable sources have given away free anti-virus packages for years. Some even get favorable reviews. For something this critical to the well-being of your online live... and of that of the people you correspond with, are you really going to take a chance on a free product?
Whether you use free or commercial anti-malware, do not fail to have some sort of anti-virus protection on your machine.
Be sure you really understand the issues of updating that software (as distinct from the Windows update service) and of post-update full system scans.
You may also want a way to monitor programs which "auto-run" when your computer starts up. (Beyond the tools built into the operating system. Always, in every category, consider them first!) Have you ever have a machine running things you didn't want it to run? I'm not talking only about malware... just things that are "above themselves". (Of course, the monitor may help with malware, too, but that is not its main purpose.) Automatically run programs are not always started by a nice simple entry in the Startup folder, as you probably know. Following may be dated at 3/19... Sysinternals (taken over by Microsoft in July 2006) offers a free tool to work on such things. I haven't tested it myself... but was going to before Microsoft took over Sysinternals.
(See also: the items on anti-spyware and anti-rootkit programs, above, and the information on firewalls, below.)
Audacity- Open source software for recording and editing sounds. Seems to be the one that is bearing up well under the test of time. And it has been ported to Linux and the Mac, so a big community supports it. I've used it to clean up transfers from vinyl. Can also capture audio via soundcard's line-in. 3/19: Haven't used for a while. Still going strong, last time I did.
A while before 3/19, to save mp3 tracks from Audacity, you had to add Lame DLL encoder. It wasn't difficult. (As much as I agree that Amazon is taking over the world, and not for the better, I will confess to using them. Not least to buy CDs when those CDs are offered with "Auto-rip": You get a professionally done set of MP3 tracks for all of the music you bought on the disc. (Not offered for every CD.))
HQSoftproc Resampling- Reprocesses sound files. (Recommended to me long before 3/19, not tried by me.)
Out Lame- Winamp output plug-in to create MP3 files directly from Winamp. (Recommended to me long before 3/19, not tried by me.)
Stream Ripper-Lets you record streaming mp3 to your hard drive. (Recommended to me long before 3/19, not tried by me.)
(See also MP3 ripper, below. See eBook readers and documents (Project Gutenberg citation) for audio books.)
Backup: (And syncing): See Disk Backup
Books:: See eBook readers and documents.
Browser- Opera: The web browser I preferred to use for many years. I gradually migrated to Mozilla's Firefox long before 3/19.
If you use something other than Microsoft's Internet Explorer (IE), be advised that once in a long while you will encounter a site that only works with IE (or Edge)... but then again, also be advised that there have been security loopholes which allowed some viruses to "work".. but only with IE. IE was never highly rated for security. Using Firefox or Chrome is in itself a step towards greater security.
Oh dear... I'm going to stray a bit from this page's alleged subject... free Windows software. At least what follows is free. And at least the first one certainly involves software on your computer. They are Good Causes! And fun! (If you like making the world a better place.)
Cure Cancer: You can help cancer research by letting a program run in the background on your computer. Or help with many other good... and some, frankly, "anorak" projects.
All by the "magic" of distributed processing.
Forget any early experiences you may have had. At least one organizer, "BOINC", does an excellent job of making it painless for you to help others.
An early well known use of this sort of distributed processing was the SETI project. The technology is powerful and valid.... and I was pleased when it began to be used for things I feel are a little more worthwhile than looking for life beyond earth. SETI was an "okay" pursuit. Looking for cancer cures seems more valuable.
The place I would send you today is BOINC- the Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing. I've had their software in many of my machines for years... with no regrets. You can, by the way, work perfectly usefully with the "small" BOINC package, the one without the "virtual machine" feature. Making that choice does, however, limit the range of projects you can support.
BOINC is, if you like, a "dating agency". They take care of the details. Once you have the BOINC software in place, you sign up to participate in one or more BOINC facilitated projects.
I've been doing www.worldcommunitygrid.org projects for a long time.
Apart from anything else, the project is a wonderful excuse to leave your computer running all day (and night, even!)... always ready for you. No waiting though tedious boot cycles!
The Wikipedia article makes interesting reading. It says that by the "magic" of distributed processing, the grid (as of 6 November 2009) has applied 288,000 years of computing time to various problems. (This paragraph reviewed 3/19. Apologies for not updating!)
Two similar ventures, but ones where you will have to put in hours of hard work... for good causes... are worth considering. At 3/19, I haven't been back to Distributed Proofreaders for a while, but it was excellent when I was last there. The good people who "work" for Distributed Proofreaders produce the free eBooks available from Gutenberg.
And then there's Zooniverse. Zooniverse is more fun than Distributed Proofreading. If you don't like the first project you "play with", do try some others... they are very varied. At the time of the devastating hurricane hitting the US dependency Puerto Rico..... thousands died, and Trump threw paper towels at them, and blocked ships departing with relief supplies... the Zooniverse team put together a post hurricane aerial survey of the entire 3,000 square miles, assessing the degree of damage to buildings, the places roads were blocked, etc... in a searchable database... in less than a week. Probably something of a help to those trying to get things "right" again for the 3.5 million people on the island, don't you think?
Back to "the list" of recommended free software....
Disk backup- Paragon Backup: I using this for quite a while... was very happy with it. I used it to take images of my hard drives, especially when a system was first set up.
"Everyone knows" you should "back up your work and system" regularly. Easier said than done!... back when I first said hat (about 2005)... and even less easily done today.
To be frank, the unwelcome "improvements" to Windows, in particular the twice annual "updates" have left me looking for the exit. I no longer spend time trying to "back up" my system software. Today I try to back up my data, and hope that at least most of the software I use will remain useable in the face of Microsoft's ongoing rampages.
So Paragon, even if it still (3/19) offers what it did isn't something I use.
Turning to data backup:
There are many schemes. They all obey the "two out of three rule"...
Pick any two: Fast/Easy Cheap Effective. If you want something fast/easy and cheap, it won't be effective. Or you can have cheap and effective, but it won't be fast/easy.
Books have been written on backup. I'll try to cover some highpoints:
Start from the question "What do I need?" And the first refinement of that is "What do I need to save me from grief when (note I didn't say "if") my computer breaks down or is stolen?"
You'll need two things. You'll need the documents you've created, the emails you've sent and received, your photographs, etc. In other words: your data. In many cases (not all) these objects are in discrete files, and a healthy backup system "merely" ensures that you have copies of everything, in their current forms, on a separate storage device. USB connected hard drives are a wonderful solution. You can back up this sort of thing "by hand".... but beware things like your browser bookmarks. Finding the necessary file may not be easy. Just copying one file to the right place may not be all you need to "activate" your (bookmarks, or whatever) in a new machine. But for heaven's sake, DO just copy the data files, photos, documents, etc, which can be backed up as simply as making a copy.
You also need the programs which work with your data. This can be a bigger challenge. You can rarely just copy an .exe file o folder these days, although backing up my freeware and shareware is usually that simple.
You can buy programs to help you with backup. Among other things, they "keep and eye" on things, and automatically (if all is going well) do fresh copies of things which have changed. They can sometimes compress and send elsewhere your backups. They can sometimes reduce overheads by doing incremental backups. They sometimes offer "roll back" features, with which you can "go back" to an earlier version of something.
Syncing is sometimes used for "backup". A syncing program arranges for two identical copies of something to exist. In simple use, this is perhaps simpler than the things backup programs do. Good. I like simple. Less to go wrong. So if you are searching for a "backup" solution, ask yourself if syncing is all you need.
And then there are disk backup, or disk imaging programs. They attempt to copy your whole disk, and to give you a way to "fill" a new hard disk with what was on your old one. Not a trivial undertaking! And it is hard to test whether all is well until you NEED all to be well... but worth considering. I particularly like to do a disk image of a new system early in my ownership of it.
This paragraph's information may be dated at 3/19 Going back to Paragon's disk backup tools: It took me a little digging at their site, but: I Found It! "It" being the current (5/10) offer of a free program for backing up your system. It is called "Paragon Backup & Recovery" today. Previously it was known as "Paragon Drive Backup". By either name, it is a great tool.
10 May 2010: Well! That was interesting! If I hadn't used Paragon's excellent tool previously, and if it weren't free, and if I wasn't stubborn, I'm not sure if I would have persevered.... (The gory details of Getting It To Work, 2010, are on the old version of the page you are reading.) 3/19: Paragon are still around... they must be doing something right!.. and still offer a free backup & recovery tool they call free. Apart from a cursory glance at the webpage (28 Feb19), I haven't investigated it. From there: "Everyone has a right to protect their assets. Create backups of individual files, partitions or the entire Windows system in a snap, and restore data in WinPE if required."
Whatever backup scheme you adopt, remember The Big Question.
The Big Question is: Will your backup work when the time comes?
What will the steps be? Will you need to install the Backup software somewhere, in order to transfer from the archive to a new hard disk? Will you be able to get the Backup software in order to install it? Was the archive un-corrupt? I don't ask these questions to criticize Paragon... they are well aware of these "Catch-22" issues... but you, their potential customer, must also realize that there are these "little issues" you must hope to avoid when The Day The Computer Died comes.
By the way... I was backing up a netbook. I made the archive of the hard drive on the hard drive I was archiving... pretty neat trick! And then, via my LAN, moved it someplace safe.
Disk Scrubbing: You may know that when you delete a file from your computer, you don't actually delete it. You merely remove an entry from a table of contents.
Eventually, the part of the disk holding whatever you "deleted" will be re-used, and what was there is lost... but the system tries to reuse the oldest free space first. It can be a while before a given bit of information is truly gone.
There are programs out there to undelete things, even things which were in the Recycle Bin before it was emptied. But they are a story for another time.
What if you are giving your computer to a friend? To a charity?
You may want to "scrub" the free space, so that the undelete programs cannot access things which you had on the hard disk.
This paragraph may be dated at 3/19 The nice people at Summit Computer Networks have a free disk scrubber program for you! (Summit's "day job" is POS Pizza, a point-of-sale system designed for pizza and sandwich shops. They also offer to provide (for a fee) services and consulting to small to medium sized businesses. I used that link with no hassle 20 Nov 13, whereas the Tucows link below gave rise to things my Eset anti-malware suite didn't like. Odd.
Their free Hard Disk Scrubber is a well focused, well featured application. It is offered in several versions, one for DOS, one for Windows versions before Win2K, and the most current version, which is for Win2K and later.
I've used a variety of file deletion utilities over the years. For my purposes, I don't need the fancier alternatives which integrate with my operating system... with all the potential for problems that entails. The Summit Computer Networks application suits my needs just fine.
The only "problem" I had was that when using it the first time, somewhat nervously, of course, the button "Scrub Drive" worried me. Would it scrub everything?? It didn't. The title on the panel for that did say "Scrub free space", which I should have seen.
The application can also delete and scrub specific files, if you wish to proceed that way.
Summit's product was in the Tucows archive, where Bad Stuff is weeded, in August 2011. A version was recommended in a PCWorld.com article as long ago as 2004.
3/19: Not only is Tucows still around, but even the deep link to Disk Scrubber is still fine... the mark, I think, of a well run site: They "play nicely" with others in the community. Of course, Disk Scrubber may not, today, be the best in class... but it would be a place to start.
DTP: From at least 2004, Serif made available free old... but far from incapable... versions of their PagePlus desktop publishing suite. (Or you might have find it on a magazine cover disk.) (See Serif entry under "photographic tools", too.) They were one of the first great software houses for the home user/ small office/ schools. Sadly, at 3/19, they seem to have "grown up", and are no longer offering the things that built their reputation. A pity. But as a champion of a "free world", I can't complain if they follow their wants.
Today? (3/19)... we don't need dedicated DTP, if we learn to use the more powerful aspects of, say, Open Office's wordprocessor. And for photo manipulation, there's Gimp. (That finally has a decent installer for Windows, by the way, if you tried to try it in the Bad Old Days.)
This paragraph dated at 3/19 eBook readers and documents:: The Kindle is, no doubt, a wonderful device. But! Do you want to be tied to one source for your eBooks? Do you want another monopoly stifling competition in another area of our lives?
This paragraph may be dated at 3/19 You do... for now.. have a choice!
This paragraph may be dated at 3/19 I settled on the Kobo. Not perfect... but "the one" for me, primarily because of its support for free books from outside sources. I have prepared a page with further details for you about using a Kobo to read free ebooks so you don't have to sign up and support the Amazon Kindle monopoly. That page also gives details of reading ebooks without having to buy a Kindle or a Kobo! (Kobos are less expensive than Kindles, too! <^_^>)
This paragraph **NOT** dated at 3/19 But what use is a reader without ebooks to read?? For many, many years, Project Gutenberg has been making books available in electronic form... many formats, including audio books! Gutenberg as good as it ever was, 3/19!
And you don't need a Kobo, or Nook, or Kindle to read them! The Android, to my personal knowledge, has good readers for eBooks in various formats. (As, I confidently assume, do other tablets.)
Also, your browser, or a text editor, or a wordprocessor "will do" to read free books from Project Gutenberg on your laptop. (The following bit may be dated at 3/19 You can, if you wish, load a Kobo (or Kindle) emulator onto your laptop. It won't let you read the full range of free books, for some reason, however... the "real" (silicon and plastic) Kobo (did) let you read the full Project Gutenberg (etc) library. As (did.. may do so still)...)
This paragraph may be dated at 3/19 Alternatively, I like the free eBook reader from Tom Fellner, "eTextReader". First published in 2002, it is just what I want. Remembers your place in your book. Typeface and font size selectable.
When you read your book on your laptop, regardless of what reader you use (unless you use a Kobo or Kindle emulator), you can probably use copy/ paste to extract bits to use in essays, send to friends, etc.
EditPad: For text editing... and a lot of general text-based work on my PC, I rely on Textpad.
This paragraph may be dated at 3/19 None-the-less, I would also mention to you Editpad, from JGSoftware, the suppliers of HelpScribble which I bought (2008?) for $99, and consider worth every penny. The nice thing about EditPad is that it is free for non-commercial use.
Electronics: I have done a separate page with breadboard design, schematic, and PCB drawing/ design/ fabrication CAD software. Some are free, or have free starter versions. Featured: KiCad, DesignSpark, and Eagle. Several others mentioned.
The section about email issues is quite long. You can skip over it, if you wish.
I still do my email with Pegasus at 3/19. I can access emails from as far back as 2005. I've migrated on from older computers many times over the years. Email client- Pegasus: A mail client. POP3. I especially like being able to preview the subject and sender of messages before downloading (or deleting) them, and I like the tools available for managing messages. And I like the degree to which you can access the data files from outside Pegasus. You can send encrypted messages to other people, even people not using Pegasus. (You tell them, by another channel, what the key is to read the message.) I've used Pegasus for all of my email since about early 2004. It is, perhaps, a little less "idiot proof" than Outlook Express... but a lot less frustrating, too, if you don't mind being a little technical at times. Yahoo doesn't admit to supporting it, but my Yahoo accounts play nicely with Pegasus.
Email client (second one)- Eudora: Another mail client. Gone by 3/19, I think. You can read more at the old version of this page, if you are curious about my 2013 views! That link will open in a new window or tab. Just close it to return here.)
Speaking of mail: Many people use web browser based email services. When this paragraph was new, that was unusual! Though it isn't "software", let me take a moment to recommend that you open a Google or Yahoo email account, if you don't already have one. Each has strengths, quirks and dangers. I'd avoid Hotmail, if I were you, if it is even still available. Don't "trust" any online mail service with your archives. A friend who was running a business with an paid for "premium" Yahoo account woke up one morning to discover that they weren't doing those accounts any more. All of her data was Just Gone.
There are two main "flavors" of email. In one (POP3 or IMAP), you generally (although you can "play" with the details) fetch email from a server, and hold it on your own computer. This is The Way To Go for people who want to minimize the time they are connected via the internet.
The other flavor is web based email. With the basic form of this, your emails don't "live" in your computer, they live on a server out there somewhere on the internet. To access that mail you just use a web browser, e.g. Firefox.
You can, up to a point, "mix and match". My main email accounts are with Yahoo. I could access my email via my browser, but I choose instead, usually, to use POP3, and download my email to my PC.
With Yahoo, I believe this entails a modest annual charge. Once, and in some regions still, perhaps, it was free to access your email via POP3, using, say, Pegasus. However, you can ALSO access your Yahoo or Google mail via a web page. Marvelous when you are away from home. As long as you can get to an internet-connected machine, you can check your mail. (Do change your password once you are back on your home machine, though, if you used a "public" computer. From the time you use that "public" computer until you change the password on a non-public machine, there is a chance that someone may have learned your password. If you are going to be traveling, it is probably worth setting up an account that will only be used for non-critical email.) Another reason to use Yahoo's mail (or similar) is that if you change ISP, you won't have to change eddress. One reason not to some services, sometimes, is that they presume to tack ads onto the foot of your emails. You should understand that many services scan your emails, and if your write to your friend about, say, Barcelona, you may find ads for holiday packages to Barcelona being presented. A big deal? Probably not. But you should know what is happening, so you can decide if you care. How do you know if your service reads your mail? Google admits to it, as do others. If you can't trust them with their scans, can you trust them to tell you if they are scanning? Email isn't very secure, anyway.
Speaking of privacy concerns... you might want to consider ProtonMail. As with Skype, for the greatest benefits, that is for ProtonMail user- to- ProtonMail user... but that is not the only way to use it. You can still email (ProtonMail) or phone (Skype) people in the rest of the (email/ telephonic) world! From your ProtonMail/ Skype service.
Encryption: If you take sensitive documents away from secure locations, or if you want to secure documents on a computer to which others may have access, there are many options. Before you get too enthusiastic, remember that encrypting something is fine... as long as everything works. It also introduces an extra thing to go wrong which could lock you out of the files, in addition to locking out the Bad Guys. Sigh.
Open Office (and most other serious office applications) will allow you to save things in an encrypted form.
The Pegasus mail client will allow you to send encrypted emails. Your recipient doesn't need to be using Pegasus.
This paragraph may be dated at 3/19 I've played a little with Cryptainer, from Cypherix, and found it did what I wanted, without worrying overheads. It will work on your hard drive, or on memory sticks, aka thumb drives. And has it occurred to you that you can use flash memory cards as if they were thumb-drives as long as the machines you want to access them on have suitable card reader/ writers? There are also rather nice mice with built in card reader/ writers... the best of both worlds?
This paragraph may be dated at 3/19 You don't have to dedicate a given backing store device to Cryptainer. To standard file browsers, the secured data just looks like another file. If you have the password for that file, it will open for you, after which you have an extra "drive" on your computer until you close it down.
This paragraph may be dated at 3/19 Don't be confused by the reference to "Cryptainer Mobile" at Cypherix's website... it is needed for putting encrypted material on thumb drives, but it IS included in the free, LE edition.... but it won't work on a Windows 98 machine. (Cryptainer works, but you need to install the software on each machine which will want to access the protected files. With an XP machine, and Cryptainer Mobile, once you have it set up, the thumb-drive can be taken to any XP machine, and you can use it, without installing things on the PC.)
This paragraph may be dated at 3/19 Cryptainer also allows you to send encrypted email files. The recipient will not need to have a copy of Cryptainer LE installed to decrypt the files. (Pegasus has a similar feature built in.) You can create encrypted self extracting files with WinZip, too, of course. Or, at least with Open Office, simply use your wordprocessor's "password protect file" option.
Speaking of encryption: I've written a page with some ideas about choosing passwords for you.
And if you are security conscious, you may want to consider my disk scrubber suggestion, also on this page.
File management software: See more specific topics, like file deletion/ file scrubbing and disk backup, encryption.
File names: Believe it or not, while you read the rest of this, I am a fan of learning to do things with the basic tools built into the operating system. However, at least through Win10, there are two "gaps" (afaik!) in Windows Explorer. (And what they've been doing with "Windows Explorer", apart from giving it the much better new name, File Explorer, in recent years is a subject we best not start upon! (Dog's dinner.))
First File Explorer gap: I don't know a simple built in way to obtain a list of the name of the files in a folder. With the following add on, you can select a group of filenames (in the usual way), right-click, select the "Copy Filenames" which the add-on adds to that menu, and you will have copied the filenames to the system clipboard. Now you can go to any text editor or wordprocessor document (etc), click "Paste" (the usual one... you can, as usual use Ctrl-V), and the names are "typed" into your document. It "just works", if you just use it... but it Gets Fancy (sensibly) if you press Ctrl or Shift when you click "Copy Filenames". (Simple: Just the names. With Shift: names with full path info. With Ctrl: names plus whatever you want of things like Date Modified.
This paragraph may be dated at 3/19 Visit ExtraBit.com to download this free (for non-commercial work) utility. (Ha! Thank you! For YEARS I've copied single file names by starting a rename, doing "copy", then exiting the rename, without any change to name. And I've used CopyFilenames to copy lists of files names. It was only just now, as I installed CopyFilenames onto the computer I'm writing this with, that it occurred to me to use it for a single file's name! So much better than my old way!! (I often copy single file's names... For instance: when documenting installs.)
Second File Explorer gap: Suppose you have a bunch of photos from your digital camera, with names like "IMG0001", "IMG0002", etc... and you want something different. (Be careful about your wants! Some systems of digital image naming (or tagging) can lead to an awful lot of work. Are you really going to keep up your "super system"?)
Maybe you've heard of IrfanView, the simple image viewer with basic editing functions?
This paragraph **NOT** dated at 3/19 Irfan compares to a photo manipulation package as "Notepad" compares to a big wordprocessor. One of the "hidden extras" in Irfan is an excellent wildcard enabled file re-namer... it can even access the ExIF data inside your images, so, for instance, with one batch process, IMG001, IMG002... could become IMG2012-03-17-15-45, IMG2012-03-17-18-12, etc... the photos now named for when they were taken. (Date/time in reverse order, so that sorting on filename also puts images in chronological order. Or they could become "FredBday12-001", "FredBday12-002", etc. Full text about Irfan elsewhere on this page. It also has a good screenshot grabber. And... and... and....... And yet it is not one of those bloated "Swiss Army knife" apps that take forever to load, "mess with things", run slowly! AND it is free!! (SEND him some money... he has earned it!) (3/19: Irfan is SUPERB! I routinely use it for some things I used to use a commercial image manipulation package for.)
FTP Client: Terrapin This is the program I used fro many years to send my web pages to the server you fetched them from. Alas, it is gone. Some time now, at 3/19. See Filezilla for what I now use. (You can visit the old version of this page, if you are curious about my 2013 views! That link will open in a new window or tab. Just close it to return here.)
At 3/12 there were numerous places claiming to offer the software. Do you really want to install FTP software from a site you don't know is reliable? Tucows doesn't seem to have a listing for Terrapin FTP. Sigh.
I've been using Filezilla fro some time at 3/19. It has been around for a while, so I can hope it will stay available and it has a user community. I believe that it at least started in the same place as Firefox. Also... if today you want an FTP client, the day may come when you want an FTP server. Wouldn't it be nice if they could both come from the same place?
I am no expert on the field of FTP clients and servers... but I'm happy with both the Filezilla client and their server.
This paragraph ** IS ** dated at 3/19. I now rely on the firewall built into my anti-malware (from eSet.) Firewall- Outpost: For years, this was a free firewall from Agnitum. (You can visit the old version of this page, if you are curious about my 2013 views! That link will open in a new window or tab. Just close it to return here.)
Fritzing: I have done a separate page with breadboard design, schematic, and PCB drawing/ design/ fabrication CAD software. Some are free, or have free starter versions. Featured: Eagle and KiCad. Several others mentioned.
Geotagging: For hardware and software, some free, some retail, for embedding location data in photographs (and collecting the information while the photos are being taken) see my guide to geotagging.
This paragraph may be dated at 3/19 Hyperterminal replacements: Once upon a time, Windows came with a simple serial port terminal program. It was useful for setting up modems, etc. If you want something similar, free, open source and available for Windows and Linux, I would recommend the PuTTY terminal software. I must admit I haven't used it much, yet, but when I was working on connecting micro-processors (Arduino) via serial comms, it filled my needs well. For simple things, you only need to download "putty.exe", and you immediately have the required application... that's not a setup file.
This paragraph may be dated at 3/19 To quote the site, PuTTY is... "implementation of Telnet and SSH for Windows and Unix platforms, along with an xterm terminal emulator."
This paragraph may be dated at 3/19 Image Display: In haste: This paragraph is a temporary citation of two new (10/07) enthusiasms... one of them isn't even free! The enthusiasms are: Picture Go, which IS free, and Able Photo Slideshow, which is shareware. 30 day trial/ $20 to register. I was looking for a way to use an old laptop as a "Photo Frame". I'm working on a comparative review. In the meantime, I can commend the two mentioned above as worthy of your consideration. I eventually did a comprehensive review of a range of photo display software, most of which is shareware.
I used to be covering both Irfan Viewer and Picassa here. Picassa fell by the wayside some time ago at 3/19, at least as far as how I used it. (You can visit the old version of this page, if you are curious about my 2013 views! That link will open in a new window or tab. Just close it to return here.) What follows, the material about Irfan View... one of my Top 5 programs, free or otherwise... was updated 3/19.
Image managers- Irfan Viewer (aka IrfanView): Irfan lets you manage, view and manipulate graphics files. Resize. Adjust. Print contact sheets. Create slideshows. Change color balance, contrast, brightness ETC!!!
Be sure to read the help files... interesting! (Even has a file renaming tool in it!... but still a nice, small, fast app. Irfan compares to big photo manipulation programs as Notepad (or Textpad!) compare to big wordprocessors.) It also has a good screen grabber. With, as you would expect from something in IrfanView, if you know the product, the critical attention to detail that makes something work well, not merely "work". (It DOES work- Just maybe not how you thought it ought to! Take the time to get to grips with how it expects to be used.)
Once, there was also Picassa. It did many of the things Irfan does. And allowed you to assemble photo albums.
Think of these programs as ways to look at what files you have on your disk, i.e. as enhancements of File Explorer. While they do have some features for changing the images, you are advised to obtain and master a separate tool for that work. Suggestions appear in the Photo Tools section further down the page.
Irfan (and Exifier, down in the Photo Tools section) has tools for renaming batches of files. If you delve into them, you can accomplish remarkable things. For example, how about using the date the photo was taken, as stored within the photo by many cameras ("ExIF data"), to assemble a name for the photo? If you use, say, 2006-12-25-13-01 for a photo taken just after 1pm on Christmas, i.e. year first, hour in 24, minutes last, then your photos will sort themselves logically even when sorted by name, won't they? Alternatively, I am a great fan of using the number originally assigned by the camera (after ensuring that it doesn't start again at "IMG_001" repeatedly), and maintaining separately a cross reference that tells me, say, that photo 6012 was taken on 23 April 07. The more concise reference number is easier to use, and can be incorporated easily in subsequent names for derivatives from my prime copy of the image. Less obscure names tend to get out of control. Call the photo of you pet "Fluffy-In-Garden" if you will... but what do you call the next photo of Fluffy in the garden? The numbers may be obscure, but at least they are manageable. If photos 6012, 6087 and 6251 are of Fluffy in the Garden, you can have "FluffyInTheGarden6012", "FluffyInTheGarden6087" and "FluffyInTheGarden6251". Best of both worlds. Remember the need to back up your hard disk. It will fail one day, and if you don't have a second copy of your photos somewhere else, they will be lost. (Yes, I know I said that again below. Have you backed up your photos? You can do it "tomorrow"... if your disk doesn't fail today.) (Around Feb 2018.. or was it Jun? An "update" from Windows wiped all of many people's JPEGs (photos) off of their hard drives. They had done nothing "wrong". They were using their computers in a normal and reasonable manner. Microsoft knew it was a risk. And rolled out the JPEG destroying update anyway. They say that the thing people most often take chances to rescue from a burning house is their photo albums. And you have only one copy of your digital photos? On a computer. Maybe it will never go wrong.
See also the Photo Tools section farther down the page.
This paragraph may be dated at 3/19 Instant Messaging: If you use more than one IM service, you may be tired of having multiple IM client software packages to contend with. Pidgin tries to save you this by letting you access most popular IM sites with just one "universal" IM client. (I don't use instant messaging, so haven't tried this one, but it was once often mentioned in magazines.)
Kindle:: See eBook readers and documents.
LAN management: See "Network tools", just a little farther down this page.
This paragraph may be dated at 3/19 MP3 ripper: Software for ripping (i.e. copying) audio CDs to MP3s for players. It does the job well, with minimal other "stuff". It was a SourceForge project. The "Cdex" (Not "CD Ripper") I used and liked, may be the one available at CdexOS.net, or you may have to use Google to find a copy. (See also "audio tools", above.)
Network tools: See Packet Sniffers and SNMP tools. (Those are links to other parts of the page you are reading.)
This paragraph may be dated at 3/19 Packet Sniffer: To see what's bouncing around your network, give "SmartSniff" a try. It is one of those lovely applications which do not require "installing", by the way. You fetch the .exe as a .zip, and after you have unzipped it, it just runs. The .exe is the final program, not an installer.
This paragraph may be dated at 3/19 If you need to dig deep into your LAN traffic, you may need to add the also free WinPCap, "underneath" SmartSniff, to discover some stealthy packets. There's more on these matters at my essay on getting started with TCP/IP programming. (WinPCap, sadly, isn't just an .exe, but then again, to do what it does, it can't be that simple.)
PCB design: I have done a separate page with breadboard design, schematic, and PCB drawing/ design/ fabrication CAD software. Some are free, or have free starter versions. Featured: Eagle and KiCad. Several others mentioned. (KiCad going from strength to strength, 3/19)
Photographic tools: In a moment, I will talk about some "stars" in the Photographic Tools category, but before I do...
As mentioned above, but just in case you missed that- I wanted to turn an old laptop into a "Digital Photo Frame". I searched through many image managers, slideshow and screensaver creators, and some HTML and Flash and DVD photo show / gallery creators. My comparative review may be of interest, if you want an in depth look at a number of options, some free, some shareware.
Serif used to offer "old"... but far from incapable... version of their excellent PhotoPlus. Alas, they no longer do this. (You can visit the old version of this page, if you are curious about my 2013 views! That link will open in a new window or tab. Just close it to return here.)
This isn't the place for an essay on how you store your digital photos, but before I introduce some other excellent tools, I will digress to say three things briefly:
1) Have a plan, a system... and stick to it!
2) Consider very carefully including in that system a way to keep "negatives", i.e. copies of your pictures in their original state, as they came out of the camera. For cropping, fixing red eye, etc: Work with copies of the negatives. Often when you work with an image, you lose things. As your skills increase, if you haven't thrown away the negatives, you'll find that you can do more with a photo that you didn't get as much from on your first attempt.
3) Remember the need to back up your hard disk. It will fail one day, and if you don't have a second copy of your photos somewhere else, they will be lost. (Yes, I know I said that above. Have you backed up your photos? You can do it "tomorrow"... if your disk doesn't fail today.)
One of the things you may inadvertently throw away is your ExIF data. If you aren't losing that, (or perhaps especially if you have lost it!) you may find that you like the free ExIFier program. That link may be dated at 3/19, but ExIF and ExIF editors are still very much with us.
This paragraph may be dated at 3/19 ExIFier gives you access to an amazing wealth of information stored within JPEGs by many digital cameras. Not only can you see when the photo was taken (date and time.. to the second), but also a lot about the camera's settings.... shutter speed, etc. And it is not just settings. If you manage an archive of photos from more than one source, the camera owner's name may help you.
This paragraph may be dated at 3/19 You can browse the information, edit it, export it, etc, etc. (When I said "edit it", I meant you can change or add to the information stored in the JPEG. This can be done photo- by- photo, or, say to change the photographer's name, an edit can be applied to a whole batch of photos.)
This paragraph may be dated at 3/19 You can use ExIFier as your file management program, if for some reason you don't like the alternatives.
Although I haven't used it a lot, yet, another program to manipulate digital photos is called "GIMP" (GNU Image Manipulation Program). I still have some old computers which will run my old, excellent, paid-for PhotoPlus. If that refuses to install on Win10 when the time comes, I will go to GIMP. It is good, and they finally produced a decent install package for Windows.
This paragraph may be dated at 3/19 Another free tool I haven't (yet!) tried, but which I suspect is excellent is JAlbum. You'll need to have a Java "engine" installed on your machine... but you're going to need it for something else before long, anyway, if you haven't got one already. JAlbum is for organizing presentations of images.... photo albums, in other words. (See also "Irfan" above, under Image Managers.)
Other Photographic Tools....
Geotagging: For hardware and software, some free, some retail, for embedding location data in photographs (and collecting the information while the photos are being taken) see my guide to geotagging.
Although I haven't tested them, a magazine I trust recommended the following sites for plug-ins for effects. Some are stand-alone programs, others are plug-ins. Some of those will only work with specific graphics packages, but the portability issues are tending to diminish. Be sure to obtain the Windows or Mac version, as appropriate for you. One of the following said that Irfan (see Image management, above) can accept Photoshop compatible plug-ins.
This paragraph may be dated at 3/19 Places to try: Amphisoft, or The Plug-in Site (many, many links... with some editorial commentary. Harry's Filters were commended in another magazine I read.), or Flaming Pear (there are quite a few non-plug-in, standalone image tweaking tools here), or Ulead's site (which may require... yuck... Mr. Gate's Internet Explorer.), or Virtual Photographer (magazine explicitly says this works with many photo programs, including PhotoPlus... though maybe not with the VERSION of PhotoPlus that is free? Let me know what you discover?)
This paragraph may be dated at 3/19 If it all becomes a bit much, you might want to investigate Plug In Commander from The PlugIn Site.
This paragraph may be dated at 3/19 Still in the "recommended by trusted magazine" vein: Animake creates self-running animated GIFs. (I think Photo-Plus offers this, too. I like PhotoPlus... enough to pay for the "latest, greatest" version, so I don't spend much time with the alternatives.)
This paragraph may be dated at 3/19 And finally: just a few names. You may find these filters at The Plug-in Site or elsewhere: Alf's filters, Dreamy Photo, Mura's Seamless Filters, Neology Filters, PT Lens (removes distortion due to wide angle lens), Xero Filterset.
Programming: There are a number of ways to obtain good programming tools, free. I've posted them on their own page.
This paragraph may be dated at 3/19 PuTTY: Serial port, etc, terminal program: See the HyperTerminal Replacements section, above.
Schematics (electronic) design: I have done a separate page with breadboard design, schematic, and PCB drawing/ design/ fabrication CAD software. Some are free, or have free starter versions. Featured: Eagle and Kicad. Several others mentioned. KiCad going strong at 3/19.
Serial Port Software: See the HyperTerminal Replacements section, above.
This paragraph may be dated at 3/19 SNMP: (Nothing to do with email. (That's SMTP). This is about Simple Network Management Protocol work). If you are looking for SNMP utilities, the nice people at http://bttsoftware.co.uk/ipspy.html have some nice simple utilities for you- A manager, and a trap watcher.
This paragraph may be dated at 3/19 Star / planet gazing: Ever seen something in the night sky, and wondered "What's that?"? You might like to try Starry Night. I was lucky enough to have a copy arrive on a magazine cover disk. You can see amazing things in the motion of the planets if you set Starry Night on "fast forward" and watch one part of the sky at the same time each night for a few weeks.
Space Flight: Perhaps this is the place to mention the quite fantastic Orbiter Space Flight Simulator. (3/19: Site seems alive and well.) The only thing it is not is a good zap! zap! arcade game. Even if you're not into games, give the site a quick visit. The project started as an accurate simulator of orbits. Then it just sort of grew. The rest of this paragraph may be dated at 3/19 It doesn't need a monster machine, but if yours is c. year 2000, then just turn off lots of the graphics features. Besides flying around planets, you can also fly a "spaceplane" around Cape Canaveral (Kennedy) as if the plane were a Cessna with VTOL. The scenery is so realistic that it brought back memories of a visit I made to the real Canaveral. I went to see a shuttle launch. That is a trip well worth making. Not even the Imax film really conveys what it is like. There are some good museums in the area to visit, too, while you're there.
Stopwatch: See Timers.
Synching: (I.e. synchronizing files. And data backup): See Disk Backup
This paragraph may be dated at 3/19 Timer: For an elegant little countdown timer, I like the simple-ware from BTT Software. Have to stop what you are doing in 25 minutes? Set a time, and it will beep at you when you should stop. BTT Software have quite a few useful small applications, many of them for application developers, network administrators.
Three-D CAD : I don't know a lot about 3-D CAD... it is a "project too far" that I look forward to doing more with... one day. On the "waiting for editorial attention" page which "feeds" this page there are quite a few 3D CAD products are discussed.
I have done another page about free, or shareware, software for you. It covers products that I have either not had time to evaluate sufficiently, or simply haven't had time to write up properly for you. It is my "waiting for editorial attention" page for freeware, shareware.
N.B.: The search engine just looks through the web site for the words you enter. It cannot answer "Which program is fastest?"
Why does this site cause a script to run? I have my web-traffic monitored for me by eXTReMe tracker. They offer a free tracker. If you want to try it, check out their site
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