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This Article Is Sponored By You! | Friday, March 30, 2007 by Salman Siddiqui | Comments
I am now blogging on my self hosted blog CompuWorld and started another blog of mine the Senorita

The Internet is stuffed with great downloads and Web sites offering free software and services of every kind. Want to tune up your PC, keep it safe, create graphics, or back up your system with gobs of free storage space? You can find free software and sites to do all that, and plenty more.

PC World has come up with an awesome list of freebies which you can use in your daily computing experiences. Here I have compiled the list with the best of those, which have been marked by PC World as winners.

System Utilities:

Windows XP Tweaks
Fresh UI
Fresh UI is a tweaker's heaven: With it you can change scores of settings in XP, many of which you probably never knew existed. Want to alter most any aspect of the Windows interface? Go ahead. Customize the Start menu? No problem. Change global menu settings and dozens of network and Internet settings? You can do them all, and a whole lot more.

Windows Vista Tweaks
TweakVI Basic
If you want to do some serious Windows Vista tweaking, you need this utility. Microsoft seems to have gone out of its way to make Vista unfriendly to power users. But this great freebie gives you hundreds of ways to adjust the operating system, tasks that otherwise would be extremely difficult to do. Whether you want to, say, hack the Start menu, put an image on Internet Explorer's toolbar, or optimize your CPU's cache, this program has something for you.

Security Software
In a world filled with high-priced subscription-based antivirus programs that bog down your PC while protecting it, Avast stands out. This program is one of the few free antivirus applications that do as good a job as any of the big boys. Avast includes more than seven different varieties of shields, safe-surfing tools, and real-time virus protection for your OS, as well as for Outlook. The program downloads and installs updates automatically, and Avast works with both Windows Vista and XP. Given all this, why pay?

Registry Cleaner
TweakNow RegCleaner Standard
The Registry is a scary place; like Dante's underworld, it should have a sign reading "Abandon all hope, ye who enter here." TweakNow RegCleaner Standard is your virtual Virgil, a guide into the depths of the Registry. It automatically scans your Registry and reveals problems. After you examine the changes and tell the software to do its magic, it cleans the Registry for you.

Hardware Utility
Belarc Advisor
If you're looking for an exquisitely detailed audit of your hardware, this is the download you need. The program starts with the basics, such as the computer manufacturer, installed RAM, hard-disk size, and processor type and speed. But it also shows you the motherboard maker, hard-disk manufacturer, chassis serial number, PC service tag, bus type and speed, multimedia devices...the list goes on and on.

Communications and File Sharing

E-Mail for Free
The heavyweight champ of free e-mail is clearly Gmail, and not just because it gives you as much storage space as you'll ever need. Though Gmail may not have the prettiest interface of the bunch, it's speedy, it does away with frills, and it has all kinds of features if you're willing to do a bit of digging. For example, Gmail doesn't handle just Web-based e-mail; unlike other free services, it can work with your existing e-mail software. You can also use it to forward mail to other accounts. (Click Settings, Forwarding and POP to configure both of these options.) Gmail allows you to create rules to handle incoming mail automatically. And you can easily search through your messages via Google.

It's no wonder that the PC World readers surveyed rate Gmail as their favorite e-mail service. Says Chuck McNevich of Lexington Park, Maryland, "The interface is considerably faster than Hotmail, Yahoo, and the like. I don't have to pay for the huge storage it gives me."

File Sharing
Need to share files? Forget e-mail, BitTorrent, and instant messaging apps -- you won't find a better program than this. AllPeers, which works from within Firefox (an Internet Explorer version is planned, but not yet available), lets you set up folders for file sharing. You can specify who has access to those files, and you can send messages to those people to alert them when files are ready. In addition, you can share Web pages or images from Web pages, and you can view any media files you receive from other people right inside Firefox. It's the easiest way to share files of any kind with anyone.

Instant Messaging, Voice and Video
How can you be in two or more places at once -- that is, use multiple instant messaging services simultaneously? Use Meebo. It lets you log in simultaneously to seven instant messaging services, namely AIM, Google Talk, ICQ, Jabber, MSN Live Messenger, Yahoo Instant Messenger, and Meebo's own network. You see all your contacts in a single list, and you can correspond with them all from a single interface. It's perfect for instant messaging on the road, since you don't need to download a client; everything is available on Meebo's Web site.

Blogs and News Reading

Personal Web
Home pages are passé -- what you really want is a Webtop, a personal Web space you can customize with news feeds, chat tools, weather info, and plenty more. With Pageflakes you build your custom Webtop from a collection of components, including RSS feeds and news, plus direct feeds from Flickr, YouTube, and similar sites. You also get tools such as an address book, notepad, and clock, and you can even have a widget that lets you read your Web-based e-mail messages. And in the downtimes, you can try a game of poker or a Sudoku puzzle.

Online RSS Reader
The Web-based Bloglines loads quickly, sports a sophisticated interface, and delivers such snappy responses that you'd almost think you were using downloaded software. Bloglines makes subscribing to and reading feeds easy, as well. We're particularly fond of the Clippings feature, which allows you to add any blog or Web page text to a special Clippings tab; that way, you can keep all of your important posts in a single location for easy retrieval. We also like Clip Blogs, which are clips from blogs that you can keep private or share with others.

Software RSS Reader
What's the best way to integrate RSS news feeds and the Web? Don't use a separate RSS reader. That's the secret behind Sage, which integrates directly into Firefox (but not Internet Explorer). Using it is simple: Click the Sage icon in your toolbar; Sage will then drop down on the left. Whenever you visit a page that has an RSS feed, you click the Discover Feeds button to add the feed. The rest of the Firefox window then becomes your reader. Sage lets you organize your folders, search through feeds, and import and export feeds lists.

Blogging Site
Blogger is home to tens of thousands of blogs, and with good reason. Because it's template driven, getting started is simple; posting is also a snap. But you have plenty of powerful tools here, as well, such as the ability to make RSS feeds yourself, and the ability to create posts merely by sending an e-mail message containing the text.

PC World readers also love Blogger, with one reader noting the service's "easy-to-use features [and] nice themes."

File Management

Desktop Search
Google Desktop
Google has done more than just conquer the Internet -- with Google Desktop, it has conquered your PC as well. The program brings the same kind of fast, accurate searching to your desktop that Google does to the Web. It searches as you type, and displays the results in your browser. One nice touch: When the program is installed and you search via the Google Web site, the results will also include those from your computer.

Polled PC World readers cite the simple, familiar Google interface as a plus, and also like the program's speed. Says Donnie Proffitt of New Carlisle, Ohio: "It's extremely fast and makes finding photos and music files on my PC easy even on my large, cluttered hard drive."

Backup and File Synchronization
Free backup programs and Web sites tend to give you only the basics, hoping that you'll then pay extra for additional features. That's not the case with Mozy, a full-featured online backup service. You can, for example, back up only the portions of files that have changed, saving considerable backup time and space. You can also browse through 30 days' worth of backups to locate previous versions of files. Techies will appreciate features such as bandwidth throttling for backups, and halting backups if the CPU usage exceeds a certain percentage. You get 2GB for free; beyond that, you'll have to pay.

Productivity and Office Apps

Office Productivity Software and Services
What makes Zoho the winner is that it doesn't merely try to copy Microsoft Office functionality. It's Web-based, so you can collaborate with others on your documents, for example. But the functionality of even the base software beats Microsoft's offering in some areas; for creating HTML and graphics-heavy documents, for instance, it surpasses Word. This is the best and most comprehensive Web-based office suite you can find. Included are a word processor, a spreadsheet, a presentation program, and a database builder -- and plenty of other productivity applications are being added all the time.

Time Management
Juggling multiple projects has never been so easy. For every project you create a separate page, each of which can include to-do lists, freeform text, notes, links, files, images, and reminders. Backpack also has a calendar, and if you use Apple iCal, Mozilla Calendar, or any program that supports the iCalendar format, your reminders will be automatically added to your Backpack calendar. You can even have reminders sent to you via e-mail or to your cell phone.

Notepad Replacement
NoteTab Light
This utility improves on Windows' Notepad in so many ways, it's hard to count them. Start with the basics: You can open multiple files, not just one, as you must in Notepad. Each file runs in its own tab, so switching between them is easy. The program comes with all kinds of nifty built-in tools, too, such as a feature that strips HTML out of a document, a Paste Board that saves text clips automatically, macros, and plenty more.

Business Productivity
Google Apps for Your Domain
If you're running a small business, why pay for collaboration software when this site can give you a lot of what you need for free? Google Apps offers group calendaring, portals for each employee, and Gmail accounts for everyone using your business domain. In addition, you get a simple Web page creator for building and managing your site, and you can register a domain for only $10 per year. Google also has Google Apps Premier Edition, a for-pay version ($50 per employee) with extra features for large companies; but Google says it will continue to offer Google Apps for Your Domain to small companies for free.

Music, Photos and Video

Entertainment Software
VLC Media Player
If you play a lot of video and use Windows Media Player, you've probably come across a number of files that you can't play -- you're told you need to have a codec to handle them. Good luck finding that codec. Instead, try the VLC media player. This software plays pretty much every media type you can think of -- and likely a few you haven't imagined. Not only will it play audio and video formats, but it will also play DVDs, VCDs, and many streaming protocols.

Image Editing
Google Picasa
Why spend several hundred dollars for graphics software when you can use the top-notch free app Google Picasa? This photo editing and sharing program from Google is a big hit with PC World editors and polled readers alike. Says one reader: "Beautiful interface. Excellent for organizing or anything else -- touching up, slide show, screen saver, and wallpaper." Other respondents, like Erich Tucker, of Woodbridge, Virginia, gave Google Picasa kudos for making it a breeze to find and edit pictures. We agree.

Web Video Site
No need for a drum roll here: YouTube wins this one, hands down. It has the biggest collection of videos, it's easy to search, it's well organized, the video streams quickly and smoothly, uploading your own videos is easy...what else do you want?

One surveyed PC World reader explains his vote for YouTube succinctly: "Billions of videos. Loads fast." Another cites the service's sizable storage space. And yet another reader speaks directly about why people like video sites in general -- it's a "decent source of diversions," he says. We couldn't agree more.

Multimedia Tools and Toys
If you want to create media, not just consume it, try this program, which includes audio recording tools and sophisticated editing functions. You can even create audio soundscapes from scratch. You can add any of several dozen effects, use a sound short, the app has everything you need. While you don't have to be well-versed in sound editing to use it, people with some experience will particularly enjoy its power.

huh . . .

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