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Computer Care: Free add-ons are a good way to police your PC
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There are some great programs on the market to help keep your computer in working order. Some cost up to $30, yet many do not. Surprisingly so, these inexpensive or free programs work just as well as the costly ones.

You won’t find them at the mall, but you can download them from your computer. There are many download sites on the Web that offer an abundance of these low or no-cost computer programs.

Basically, they come in two groups: freeware and shareware or trialware. The latter allows you to try the program for a number of days or instances. When that allocation is up, you need to either buy the program or delete it. I’ve tried trialware that I ended up buying. Many are affordable, in the $15-$25 range and well worth the cost.

Free programs abound. Some ask for contributions, but it’s not mandatory. If you like the program, send them a couple of bucks. Tread cautiously, though, because many that sound great are not.

That’s not to say there aren’t good free programs. There are. Yet a caveat exists; depending on where you find them, some may come with unwanted surprises in the form of Trojan Horses, spyware or viruses. Always run a scan on what you download before you install it.

It’s also advisable to create a System Restore Point prior to installing each program. This way, should you encounter problems, you can reverse the changes.

Some programs are rated by the site editors as well as by consumers. Read the ratings. If these have only one or two stars, go to the next offering.

If you decide to keep a program, and especially if you buy one, make a copy of the installer off of your hard drive, i.e. a CD, external hard drive or a flash drive. Also, make a record of the key or registration number you are issued. This way, if and when your hard drive fails, you’ll have a backup of your programs.

Let’s begin with Microsoft. It has a bunch of offerings on its Web site, www.microsoft.com/en/us/default.aspx; just choose a category. I like the PhotoStory3, a free, full-feature slideshow creator. It also has MovieMaker2 for creating home videos.

Other sites to consider for various categories are download.com, majorgeeks.com and bootdisk.com for essential utilities.

Here are more I find especially useful:

  • DriveImage XML, for backing up and imaging your hard drives for free; www.runtime.org.
  • Glary Utilities, a free multipurpose utility suite that you’ll find useful; www.glaryutilities.com.
  • Foxit Reader is a super-fast pdf file reader for those who tire of waiting on Adobe Reader; www.foxitsoftware.com.
  • CCleaner empties your trash, Internet histories and temporary files with one click; www.ccleaner.com.
  • AVG version 8 is a great free antivirus suite from Grisoft; www.free.grisoft.com/doc/2.
  • Advanced Windows Cleaner Personal is a free registry cleaner plus more; www.iobit.com.
  • Email Stripper cleans your e-mail forwards by deleting spaces, the stray ">" artifacts and address headers; www.papercut.com/emailstripper.htm.
  • You Send It lets you use its program to send files up 1GB to e-mail recipients without overloading either of your mail servers; www.yousendit.com.
  • StartUp Monitor helps you determine what is running on your system at startup; www.mlin.net/startupmonitor.shtml.
  • Belarc Advisor will inventory your system, telling you about both hardware and software installations, including licensing information; www.tinyurl.com/5w60.
  • Open Office is a free Office-like suite of programs; www.openoffice.org.
  • Firefox 3 is a better alternative to Internet Explorer; www.mozilla.com/firefox.
  • Vista Drive Icon, one of the only things I like in Vista, now available for XP. This icon replacement shows the drives’ current capacity; drvicon.sourceforge.net.
  • Printer Anywhere allows you to send a document to a printer anywhere, for free; www.printeranywhere.com.
  • Nano Scan will check your computer online for viruses and malware; www.nanoscan.com.

Before you download anything, make sure you’ll be able to use that program with your operating system. Not everything made for XP will run on Vista.

Also, know that no cost means no support. Most come with a help file and some documentation on the author’s Web site, but support ends there. Considering the level of phone support these days, you won’t be missing much.

Give some of these programs a try. I’m sure you’ll be pleasantly surprised by what you can get for free.

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