All over the web you can find sites that offer free software. Granted, these days you really have to be careful what you grab for free because much of the software they say is free, may really cost you a pretty penny in time and effort as you work to get the spyware or other hacker or virus software off your computer! So before you download that free software, make sure you check it out by entering it's name into Google.com and take the time to read some of the comments about it on various web sites. If you see people complaining about spyware and the like...run screaming from that download!
But there are a lot of reputable developers out there who write utility software that helps you perform this or that, which they give away free. Why free? Well, chances are they just created some useful tool for themselves and they wanted to share the wealth by giving it away to others who may need it. Yes, that's one great thing about the Internet community, there are a lot of good folks out there who just want to help.
Unfortunately, this fact was much more true many years ago when the web was in its infancy. Once it was discovered that the web is a good place to make money...the quality of users lowered and those who are only in it for the money swamped the web. So use caution! But know that some things really are free. Just do your research...before you install.
Here at MouseTrax.com, the mothership of TechTrax, Greg Chapman has built several tools that he gives away. In this article I'll tell you about a few of them. I'll also tell you about a few other popular places to find cool, free and useful tech tools.
However, know that there are lots of freeware and shareware sites on the web, as well as many notorious ones. If you don't know how to find others you can trust, ask your local geek.<smile>
I'm sure most readers of TechTrax are familiar with MouseTrax.com, since that's how most of you get over here to TechTrax. TechTrax is the spinoff Ezine site that originated from MouseTrax.com...the home site for Dian and Greg Chapman. There, amongst many other helpful pages, you'll find the MouseTrax Download page.
It's best to go check out the page yourself, since the downloads have instructions for use and many have reference articles to provide you with a more complete explanation of how to use the tools. But below I'll give you a brief idea of just some of the valuable downloads you'll find.
- How would you like to generate a Word document that instantly hyperlinks to all the files in a folder or drive? The Directory Cataloger does it with just a couple clicks. Simply open it in Word (2000 and above) and point to the folder or drive you want to catalog. Instant hyperlinks to all the files or for a quick printout of the file names. I can't tell you how useful this is when managing projects! Not to mention seeing what the heck you have on your system and easily opening files to investigate them further!
- Or if you'd prefer the same type of file printout with hyperlinks, but you'd like it in a format that allows you to add more details, check out the award winning File Cataloger. I have one that serves as my code library and one for my support library, linked to all my text files containing code or support answers.
- System administrators are going nuts over Greg's free Domain Report Manager. Need to get a list of all the systems on your network and find out what software is running on each...very quickly? Some companies or software will charge you thousands of dollars to get this information. Yet you can get it free just by running this simple tool. And you'll be amazed at how quickly you can document large networks.
- Ever wonder what option settings you've selected in Word and what they all mean? Sure, you can (and SHOULD) go into Tools > Options and nose around to see what settings are defaulted. But you can also just run the Word Options Utility and get a full Word document showing and explaining everything to you.
- Wouldn't it be handy to have a printout of all the software you have installed on your system? Moreover, a list of all the stuff you have to search through on your Start > Programs button? Greg's List All Program macro can do that. Just run the code in that template and it'll create a document for you with all those applications listed.
- Hey admins...need to resolve the NetBIOS names of machines running in a particular IP? Greg does, too. So he's created this nifty tool and shares it. Check out the download page for his NetBIOS Name Retriever.
Lots of other great tools on the MouseTrax.com Download page (http://www.mousetrax.com/downloads.html), like tools to easily clean out your TEMP folder, get a file showing all your graphic images...including animated ones and full paths listings...a macro to manage complex Word doc sections, and much more.
Microsoft has lots of free goodies that you can download to enhance your experience using Office. You can go to the main Office download page and there you'll find everything from patches to free clipart. Go to the main Office web site and check the links along the left.
In particular, check out the Downloads for Office updates and addins. If you're into Clipart, click that link for tons of free clipart you can download. And there are also gobs of custom templates you can download to customize for your own document and presentations.
And if English is not your preferred language, know that you can easily access the Office web site in your language, with specific information related to your version of Office, by clicking the Worldwide link on the main Office website (http://office.microsoft.com).
And thankfully, Microsoft has added an option so that...if you go to another language version of the Office site, it doesn't automaticlly become your default for Office...as it once did! You need to check the option on the page if you want to always return to that language for Office support. I once went to another language site to help someone find something and discovered it had become my default. I had a heck of a time trying to figure out how to get back to my English version!
A useful and trustworthy site, as far as I know, is Download.com, a C|net sponsored site.
They do attest to the site containing trusted software. Although, with thousands of entries on their site, that must be a real chore keeping up with all those downloads. I mean, how would they know if someone changed the info? Posted something less than trustworthy?
Well, I do know that they make you submit the items for review and then it appears that they only allow downloads from the files they've received. I know this because I had my very popular Word VBA course approved for their site. So I've been through the process.
And you can find just about anything on their site!
Granted, much of it is not free. But you can type Freeware into the search and you'll get a list of all the free tools on the site. However, you might also want to try Shareware. This is the term used when you're allowed to sample software, but then must pay for it to continue using it. It's a nice way to sample various tools and utilities. However, it's also a good idea to keep a list of what you're installing to make sure you can uninstall all that stuff if you decide not to purchase it. Otherwise you can easily forget about it and have it eating up space on your hard drive.
In this day of the Open Source movement, you'll want to check out SourceForge.net where you can find tons of open source development projects. The idea is simple; provide a place for developers to bring their projects to the public, attract a larger audience of developers to each project then, consequently, provide better software to end-users at much lower cost. Source forge properly declares itself "The world's largest development and download repository of Open Source code and applications."
A quick search for chat clients shows lots of free projects, in many formats, including Windows.
And a click on the desktop items shows projects for all different environments.
Source Forge currently has more than 100,000 software projects listed and more than 1,000,000 members and it's the site where Microsoft offers its limited Open Source offerings. Here you'll also find some of the more famous tools like Ethereal (open-source net traffic sniffer), SpamBayes (email anti-spam filter), BitTorrent (P2P file sharing client), TightVNC (cross-platform remote console utility), WinMerge (file comparison utility) and NASA's World Wind project.
There's no need to be taken in by the idea that Open Source is a world only for the Linux or Mac user. Open Source is a method of product development and most of the projects at www.sourceforge.net offer compilations for Windows, too.
One of the best ways to find out about recommended utilities, software and other geek tools is to sign up for a reputable newsletter that specializes in telling you about items like this. The best one I can think of is Lockergnome.
Now realize that Lockergnome has several newsletters, so take a little time and consider what you need before you sign up for them all, as you can easily become overwhelmed and end up not having time to read any of the information.
If you're looking for recommended downloads, check out their Hot Download newsletter. You can also search their files to learn about previously listed items.
And I know that they do investigate the files themselves before they recommend them...at least they did when they bestowed a few awards to Greg's tools.
Hope you find some of these resources useful. Just remember, don't be too quick to download everything, particularly items you see advertised all over the place. If they're putting a lot of effort toward advertising their free products...you have to wonder just how bad the spyware is that must be hidden inside!