Written on January 7, 2001 by Robert & Karen Vanderzweerde
Appeared in Greenmaster Magazine
It's no secret; there's plenty of software that you can download for free.
Some of it is even useful! The challenge is finding it, determining its
usefulness, and ensuring that it's safe and secure to use on you computer.
Here are nine useful and free downloads. All of them run on Windows computer
platforms but, unfortunately, not all the software is Mac compatible. Some of
the software files are large and may take a long time to download if you are on
a dial-up connection.
Adobe Acrobat Reader (www.adobe.com)
This is an absolute must have for accessing web content that is a PDF file
(portable document format). The reader lets you read PDF files, but not create
them. Web site managers and develops like to use PDF files because they retain
their formatting rather than letting your web browser decide how to display the
information. Many newsletters are delivered in PDF format so they look great on
the screen, and they print out looking good too. If you've ever downloaded an
income tax form, you've accessed a PDF file. Not only can you read PDF files,
the current free version of Acrobat Reader lets you fill in and print forms, and
access and read eBooks.
To create a PDF file, you must buy one of Adobe's other software packages
(this is where Adobe makes their money).
Also an absolute must if you access sites that have audio and video content,
especially if they are in RealAudio or RealVideo format. The RealPlayer
downloads the audio or video clip and begins to play it while the download
continues (i.e. you can start listening and looking right away rather than
waiting for the entire clip to be downloaded).
Real also makes other free products such as RealJukebox, with everything you
need to start recording, organizing, and listening to music stored on your
computer. They also have RealDownload that claims to make downloading any file
faster and easier.
When you visit Real's site, you must hunt to find the free basic software. Of
course, they would rather sell you the enhanced software (at a cost of $29.99
US). Be patient.
McAfee VirusScan (www.mcafee.com)
or Norton AntiVirus (www.norton.com)
Both of these products provide excellent protection from computer viruses.
They detect and eliminate viruses (even those in e-mail messages and downloaded
files) before they can do any damage to your computer. Both sites have excellent
information if you suspect that you have a virus.
While not exactly free, they can be downloaded for a 30-day trial. Then you
can buy the software ($29.95 US for VirusScan and $39.95 US for AntiVirus) or
download it again for another 30-day trial.
If you're using a high-speed web access (like @Home on cable or Sympatico on
DSL), you have a permanent link to the Internet. Whenever your computer is on,
you can instantly access the Internet. People on the Internet can instantly
access you, too, and unless you're protected, they can access your computer and
read your files. To protect yourself, you need a "firewall" to block
that kind of traffic. ZoneAlarm will not only protect you, it will notify you of
any attempts to break in. You'll be surprised.
Similar products can be obtained from other companies such as:
- McAfee Firewall, $39.95 US
- Norton Internet Security (Family Edition), $79.95 US
- BlackIce Defender, $39.95 US
This stock ticker can get stock quotes from stock exchanges around the world,
including Europe, Asia, Latin America, Canada, Australia and the US. CoolTick is
a small executable file that displays information about your favorite stocks.
Clicking on any of the scrolling symbols will take you to a detailed quote page
for that symbol. It even keeps running when you're not connected to the
Are you a Science Fiction addict? You can now help to turn fiction into fact.
SETI@home is a scientific experiment that uses Internet-connected computers in
the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI). You can participate by
running a free program that downloads and analyzes radio telescope data.
SETI@home activates whenever your computer is idle, much like a screen saver
(you can also run it as a background program. The program takes a lot of memory
when it is running, so it may make other applications run slowly. Also, you
won't see the cool graphics). The program connects to the Internet only when
transferring data or processing results (this occurs once every few days and
lasts for about 5 minutes).
A play on the phrase "I seek you", ICQ is an instant messaging
service. It informs you who's on-line at any time and enables you to contact
them at will. With ICQ, you can chat, send messages, files and URL's, play
games, or just hang out with your fellow 'Netters' while still surfing the Net.
How does it work? It's simple. When you install ICQ, the program asks you to
register at a server connected to a broad network of servers spanning the
Internet. At the time of registration, you receive a unique ICQ number, also
known as a UIN (Universal Internet Number). In addition, ICQ gives you the
option of entering personal information along with your ICQ#. This allows other
ICQ users to recognize you when you log on. Once you've registered, you can make
a selected list of friends and associates. ICQ uses this list to find your
friends for you. Meanwhile, ICQ waits quietly in the background without
interrupting any other applications in use. As soon as you log onto the
Internet, ICQ automatically detects the Internet connection, announces your
presence to the Internet community and alerts you when friends sign on or off.
This immensely popular service (at least since all of the legal and copyright
challenges from the big music producers have hit the news) allows you to find
and share music on-line. Once downloaded and installed, the software will ask
you for a location on your computer to place shared music files. You can now
search and download music from other user's computers.
There are several caveats to using Napster. The site asks you to respect the
copyright of music that you share (i.e. you should not be sharing music you're
not legally entitled to share). You could be liable for any copyright
infringements. Also, while other users are searching and downloading files from
your computer, your Internet connection will be used. If you have something
urgent to do, turn Napster off or you will be competing with strangers for
bandwidth on your connection.