Top 3 Products & Services
Dated: Aug. 13, 2004
Related CategoriesComputer Beginners Guides
There are a lot of great freeware programs out there. Many are as good or better than their commercial alternatives. This list features my pick of the "best of the best."
All these utilities have been featured in past issues of Gizmo Richardss.
The Best Freeware List
Best Free Anti-Virus Software
I normally recommend the Norton Anti-virus suite but I'm fully aware that some folks simply can't afford to buy it. If you fall into this category then you should check out AVG Antivirus 6.0 Free Edition. This product has been continuously refined since it was first released in 1991 and now offers very impressive protection capabilities. Additionally, it's relatively small, light on resources, has regular automatic updates and handles email scanning. There is a free and a pro version, the only difference being that the free version has a few non-critical features disabled and has no technical support. Even so, it's an impressive package and a offers the financially challenged a real alternative to the major anti-virus suites.(5MB)
Best Free Browser Accelerator
There are dozens of products that claim to speed up your surfing
Best Free File Manager
Windows Explorer is fine for simple file management activities but when you have some serious work to do, you need a two pane file manager. I use Directory Opus which is excellent but costs $59. Recently I discovered 2X Explorer. It offers most of the functionality of Directory Opus and is totally free. As a bonus, its user interface is very similar to Windows Explorer, so most users will find this tool easy to learn and use. (392KB)
Best Free Anonymous Surfing Service
There are lots of reasons folks have for wanting to surf anonymously, ranging from simple paranoia to possibly being murdered by a malevolent foreign government. Whatever the reasons, commercial services that offer anonymity are doing real well. However one of the best services, JAP, is totally free and it's level of secrecy is better than many commercial systems. However expect your surfing to slow down as you'll be relayed through a chain of servers. You'll also need to change your browser settings to work through a proxy.
Best Free Software Suite
GNUWin II is a free software compilation for Windows. This huge suite features dozens of programs including free alternatives to many expensive commercial products. There is Abi Word as an alternative for MS Word, OpenOffice for MS Office XP, The Gimp for Adobe Photoshop, Gzip for WinZIP are dozens more. Taken collectively this suite provides more than enough software to completely set up a PC without spending a cent on applications or utilities. The suite is available or CD or you download the CD image and cut your own.
Best Free Notepad Replacement
There are lots of text editors and Notepad replacements. Some of these aspire to be programming editors while others try to be word processors. What I love about EditPad is that, unlike the others, it concentrates on simply being a better plain text editor and it succeeds brilliantly. It has a Notepad like interface combined with tabbed document windows and the ability to open as many documents as you like with no file size limitations. I use it every day for tasks as diverse as writing Support Alert Newsletter to examining my web log files. Some of the latter can be up to 100MB, yet EditPad handles these huge files with ease. (849KB)http://www.editpadlite.com/
Best Free Hotkey Utility
Hotkeycontrol XP is a free utility that allows you to define your own hotkeys so that a single key press can launch an application, insert commonly used text, change your volume, or just about anything else. Hotkeycontrol works with all versions of Windows from 98 onwards, though some features will only work with Win2K or XP. (0.91KB)
Best Free Registry Cleaner
To keep the registries on my PCs in top running order I use Fix-It utilities and Norton Utilities as well. Both of these are commercial products but I must admit that ToniArts Easy Cleaner performs almost as well and is totally free. As a bonus, it will also detect duplicate files and help you clean up temp files to make more disk space.
The Best Bookmark Cleaner
Check&Get scans your bookmark file for dead links or for changed content. When I tried it on my huge favorites file I discovered 17% of my links were dead. I've now got a much leaner set of favorites and the comfort of knowing that the links actually work. Check&Get is available on free license but you need to register.
The Best Free Screen Capture Utility
I've used over half a dozen screen-capture utilities and none of them has really satisfied. Until now. Gadwin screen capture does exactly what I want in the way I want. Further, it avoids the trap of providing lots of useless and confusing features. It's the little things that count like making the hot key PrtSc so I don't have to remember it, and automatically sequentially naming the output files for multiple screen shots. Gadwin will stay on my PC permanently. (976KB)
The Best Free Search Bar
Dave’s Quick Search Bar is a free utility that gives you the same easy access to Google searches as Google's own search bar but wait, there’s more. It also provides access to the excellent Teoma, FAST and other search engines. Because it resides in your task bar, it's accessible from any application. Comes with a host of other features such as dictionary/thesaurus access and even a calculator. If that's not enough for you, it's totally customizable. One cool product. (380KB)
Best Free File Cleaner
I've tried quite a few commercial products designed to clean unneeded temporary files off your hard disk but must say that the free utility "Empty Temp Folders" ranks with the best. It takes a few minutes to set up but after that, all you need do is press a button to recover many megabytes of disk space. (667KB)
Best Free Spam Filter for the Average User
Mailwasher is for most folk, the easiest way of dealing with Spam. It's a free email preview utility that allows you to check your email on your mail server before you download it to your PC. The advantage of this approach is that you can kill unwanted messages including spam, viruses and large attachments before they get anywhere near your computer. But Mailwasher does more. It automatically flags for you any messages containing viruses and possible spam which makes for quick and easy identification. It also will send a message back to the spam mail sender saying that their message could not be delivered. Hopefully this will encourage some spammers to take your name off their mailing list. Note: The free version now handles only one POP email account. (1.35MB)
Best Free Spam Filter for Experienced Users
When it comes to effectiveness, POPFile beats the pants off every other spam filter I've tried. But this effectiveness takes a little time to develop. POPFile is a statistical filter so it has to be trained to recognize your spam from your normal mail. It takes a week or so before it starts becoming accurate and best results may take a month or more. POPFile works as a proxy mail server so that means that it can be used with any POP email client. Setup is reasonably straightforward for experienced users but beginners should stick with Mailwasher.
Best Free PopUp Stopper
The Proxomitron is not like your average popup stopper. It operates by filtering and transforming all your Web pages on the fly. As a result you can not only stop pop-ups but pop-unders, ads, flash animations, status bar scrollers and just about anything else. Besides, next time you are asked what pop-up stopper you use, you can answer; "why, I use The Proxomitron" and how cool is that.
Best Free Download Accelerator
Star Downloader 1.32 is not only free of charge, it's free of ads, spyware and other undesirable extras packed into most free download accelerators. On top of that, it is blindingly fast and has a raft of features including automatic mirror site detection, automatic resumption of failed downloads, download scheduling, anti-virus integration and more. If you are not yet using a download accelerator, go get this product and start counting the time you save. The faster your internet connection, the more you will gain. Users with slow modem connections will, unfortunately, benefit least. (1.3MB)
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