September 30, 2010 by Vincent
Five (Arguably) Most Useful Freewares
This is a guest post by Maria Rainier.
Who says nothing in life is free? Not all of us have the money to blow on McAfee and Kasperskey for basic anti-virus software, ridiculous long-distance phone bills, and the like. Here are some basic freeware options to keep your money where it belongs—in your account.
Avast Free Anti-Virus
The multiple shields of Avast provide premium safety for your computer and web-browsing for free. The newest version, Avast Free 5 (previously the Home Edition), according to CNET, protects the computer with manifold defenses: antivirus, antispyware, behavioral shield, and adjustable mail and file system shields that join pre-existing behavior, network, instant messaging, peer-to-peer, and Web shields.
Its independent third-party testing has been able to compete with bigger (more expensive) names like Symantec and Microsoft.
Most noticeably, Avast Free 5 has had a makeover. It’s now got a smooth, more manageable UI as opposed to its previous skinnable (albeit confusing) look. Otherwise new to Avast is the capability to silence the vocal announcements upon startup that, despite daily repetition, used to scare the pants off of me. An “intelligent scanner” looks at changed files after establishing a standard.
Everyone knows about Skype these days, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth mentioning. Of late, its added features include call transferring, Skype Access for Wi-Fi hotspots, accessibility provisions, birthday alerts, and, according to CNET, the function to send one Skype user’s contact to another.
High- def video calls, with the help of the user’s HD Webcam, is also in the works, although public chats are nowhere to be seen and instant messaging remains a little rough, as remains the picture quality.
Skye is also experimenting (improving, I hope) with screen sharing, which starts a video call and broadcasts a recording of (part of or all of) your screen to another viewer. It’s no replacement for collaborative Web conferencing, since you can’t see both the original caller and his or her desktop andonly one viewer can see the broadcast at a time.
Still, you can’t fault Skype for revolutionizing long-distance calling: making international calls between two Skype users free, and between Skype users and landlines and cell phones significantly cheaper than regular rates.
This is another no-brainer, but you can’t deny that fiddling around with Google Earth isn’t just plain fun. Now, not only can you check out your hometown and that tree you fell out of when you were eight, you can also check out the Google Ocean in version 5. BBC and National Geographic have teamed up with Google Earth to allow you to explore the Titanic and other wrecks in 3D. NASA provides some data so we can take a gander at Mars.
Even if it might seem a little stalker-ish, you can still use Street View to see roads, houses, restaurants, and even crime statistics—these were useful things to see a few months ago when I was switching apartments. Just be sure to close all or at least most other windows when you’re prowling the streets. The program tends to take up a lot of memory, and we don’t want your computer overheating.
It’s not Photoshop, but it gets the job done better than Paint and won’t automatically lower the quality of your images. You can cut, crop, sharpen, blur, tweak with colors, and otherwise edit multiple media formats. You can even apply batch conversions and create panoramas. You can even open MP3, AVI, audio CD, and WMA with a plug-in. It’s not much to look at, but unless you’re a professional photographer wanting to sell your artwork, it works.
For those of us who have built our own computers or otherwise weren’t given WinZip, 7-Zip is free and can shrink files into formats like ZIP, TAR, GZ, and its own 7z, which can be 40% smaller than their ZIP counterparts. Admittedly, this compression can take longer and use quite a bit of memory, but if you’ve got to send out that e-mail, and that e-mail’s got to have those documents attached to it, it’s worth the wait. You can even password protect your archives. It’s marketed for developers and more advanced types, but casual users will be able to find their ways around the (overly?) simple UI.
Bio: Maria Rainier is a freelance writer and blog junkie. She is currently a resident blogger at First in Education and performs research surrounding online degrees (OnlineDegrees.org). In her spare time, she enjoys square-foot gardening, swimming, and avoiding her laptop.