My Freeware Favorites

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Great software list – Charlie

We all love free. Free is just always better for some reason. With computers, free software is wonderful, especially when it is better than software you actually have to pay for. In this article I will list many of the tools that I have encountered over the course of my computer repair career. All of these tools are freeware and easily downloaded at either the author’s website or a third party website such as Majorgeeks.com or Download.com.

Let’s start with the malware removal tools that most of you, I’m sure, already know about:

 

Lavasoft’s Ad-aware

Author’s site HERE;
Download site HERE

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The famous Ad-Aware – one of the first programs that was really good at finding and removing adware/spyware infections. I remember a computer in the school library that was nearly unusable as it was so slow with pop ups and other junk. I managed to sneak this onto the system and run a scan (took quite a while for me to accomplish that – the system was so slow).

It removed 2,535 items, and voila! Suddenly the computer was very usable again. Ad-Aware just breathed new life into the machine. Now, that is an extreme example of what Ad-Aware can do. It is definitely a great tool to start with when attempting to clean up somebody’s system.

There are two version of Ad-Aware. One that is just a basic scanner which is the free version. Then there is the Pro version (read: pay version) available which offers real-time protection.

 

Safer Networking’s Spybot
Author’s Site HERE;
Download HERE
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Trusty Spybot. The name makes it sound like a questionable tool, but trust me – this program plus Ad-Aware compliment each other very nicely. It also is a spyware/adware scanner.

One of the features of this program that I really like is the ‘Immunize’ tool. With Spybot fully updated, you run the Immunization tool and it will change certain Internet Explorer settings to automatically block known bad websites and cookies from ever even being allowed on your computer. It’s not super comprehensive by any means, but it is a very nice feature nonetheless.

 

Grisoft’s Ewido
Author’s Site HERE
Download HERE
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Ewido is another adware/spyware scanner. It is, from my experience, one of the most effective ones as well. It scans very much like a virus scanner – that is, it takes quite a while and looks at pretty much every file on the computer. It’s also got some basic Trojan detection in it as well. At one point an independent company produced this software, but then several months ago it was bought by the company Grisoft, which are the people behind the popular AVG Anti-Virus.

 

Grisoft’s AVG Anti-Virus

Author’s Site HERE;
Download HERE

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This is my favorite anti-virus program. It is no king-of-the-hill in terms of detection rate, but it is better than most other commercial AV programs such as Norton and MacAfee. The reason it is my favorite is because it has a better detection engine than a lot of AV programs but most of all, it barely takes any resources to run. If you install Norton or MacAfee, you will notice an immediate slow down in your computer; you install AVG and it will hardly miss a beat.

There are two versions of this software. The free version, which is wonderful as it offers everything a fully featured AV client should – realtime scanning, automatic updating, reliable detection and a small footprint. However, with the free version there is very little you can do to edit the program’s default settings. Thus enters the Professional version – it’s everything the free one is only it is much more customizable.

As a side note, from my experience the most effective-antivirus program I’ve come across is one by the name of Kaspersky. It is based in Moscow and barely has a presence in the American market. It is a bit guilty like Norton in that it can suck down more resources than wanted. But in sharp contrast to Norton, it does its job and it does it very well.

The newest version of the software (version 6.0) has a very powerful option which allows you to create a Rescue Disk. If you’ve seen my previous article about UBCD4WIN and how it is based on BartPE – that’s exactly what this disk is. You can create a BartPE disk that has Kaspersky on it, thus getting a very powerful AV program to run from a bootup disk – I’d like to see a virus hide from that.

Unfortunately, it also costs about as much as Norton, but because the detection capability is so great with Kaspersky it really makes it worth every penny if you (or someone you know) seems to attract a lot of viruses.

Now, all of these previous tools are great for cleaning up systems. But there are good steps to take before ever using one of these tools on a computer, good prep steps I like to call them.

The prep steps involve eliminating temporary and unnecessary files from a computer to help the scans complete faster. Prep step one is also to disable the System Restore feature of Windows. While handy, if you know that a computer has a pretty bad infection on it, getting rid of restore feature has two advantages – it drastically reduces the amount of files that need scanning and eliminates one of the primary spots that viruses hide.

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What’s the next prep step you say? Why run CCleaner of course!

 

CCleaner

Author’s Website HERE;
Download HERE

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This very handy little tool, which is also frequently updated and comes in many different languages, is a very small download that is just barely too big for a floppy. Even though the file size is small, it is basically the Window’s Disk Cleanup utility on steroids. It is much more thorough with many more options, not to mention a great deal faster.

Plus in conjunction with its top notch junk file removal aspects, it’s got a basic registry scanner. It’s not as comprehensive as something like Registry Mechanic (which is a great shareware registry cleaner) but it still finds its fair share of registry issues. And besides, it’s free, so that makes it that much better.

One really cool, though rather gimmicky feature of the program is that you can elevate its level of deletion. That is, you can do the standard Window’s delete, or you can delete your files to either Department of Defense standards or, for those who are doing really illegal things, NSA standards.

Now that CCleaner has been installed and ran, it helps make all of those previous scanners complete their duties that much faster.

 

Winsock Fix

Author’s page author unknown;
Download HERE

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Removing all of this virus junk usually takes its toll on various Window’s elements, one of the more common ones being Winsock. Winsock is a layer of the Window’s networking element – if it’s not working, neither will your internet. Run this handy little utility and it will reset your Winsock back to defaults and clear up quite a few Window’s-based networking issues.

 

Zonelab’s ZoneAlarm

Author’s page HERE;
Download HERE

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Trusty ZoneAlarm. For anyone on a broadband connection, a firewall is essential. Most of us I am sure are going through a router, which will block the majority of hacking attempts, but it’s still always smart to have some host based protection as well. This free firewall is one of the nicest that I have ever had the pleasure of using.

It’s got an interface that is just jam packed full of features but is by no means confusing to navigate to find what you want. On top of that, it’s also one of the least intrusive firewalls out there. You install it, give the majority of your programs permission to access the internet within the first few minutes of use, and after that it just sits in the background until something new comes along or there is an update ready. It is also very easy to turn off, and keep off. Very handy if issues creep up at LAN parties.

 

Ranvik’s Total Copy

Author’s Site HERE;
Download link on author’s main page

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Out of all of the other utilities, this is one of my favorites. It is simply an augment of the Windows copy dialogue. It is a tiny installation file at only 252k. But once installed, it’s a very easy to use and extremely wonderful to have around.

Whenever you want to move a file or directory around, simply drag it with the right click button to the desired location and a menu comes up. You can do the standard Windows actions, or Total Copy or Total Move (cut) it. When you choose that option, you get the above screenshot instead of the Window’s dialogue.

With Total Copy in command of the transfer, you can actually see the speed of the transfer, the time left, and a percentage bar. You can also pause or cancel the transfer all together. You can even set the ‘Speedlimit’ of the transfer.

One of the best features though is when you hit a bad file that doesn’t want to copy, no more getting very frustrated trying to figure out what in the world copied and what didn’t – just hit ‘ignore’ on the bad file and the copy process continues unabated! Also, if you are transferring a file over the network and there is a disruption in the network, Total Copy just pauses the transfer, waits for the link to come back up and off you go again as if nothing happened!

The creators also claim that it speeds up local transfers an average of 10% and network transfers a whopping 100%. I can personally vouch for the network transfer being faster with Total Copy over standard Windows Copy.

 

A43

Author’s Page HERE;
Download link on author’s homepage

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This seemingly Windows Explorer clone has some wonderful built in features. First, it’s small, less than 800k. Second, it doesn’t have an install; it just runs off of the .exe and the handful of files that come with it. Third, it has some great built in features, such as support to zip/unzip, un-rar, and create compressed .exe’s of groups of files, all built right into the Explorer window itself. This is great if you are working on someone else’s computer and don’t want to deal with the hassle of downloading and installing win-rar just to get at some files.
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Lavalys’s Everest

Author’s Page HERE;
Download HERE

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This system information tool can tell you almost anything you want to know about your computer, its hardware and then some. It actually has several different versions – among them are the Home and Corporate version.

The Home version has actually been given the axe, but that’s alright because OldVersion.com has kindly preserved it for us. Now, there is a trick with the Home version of the software: if you download any version before version 2.x, it will report to you your Windows XP product key, but the newer versions will not, for whatever reason (I’m sure it was at Microsoft’s beckon, but their exact line of thinking, I don’t know.)

Great for identifying that mystery piece of hardware. Armed with that info, you can then go to DriverGuide.com (sign up for the free account, it’s worth it) and find the driver for it.

 

Paint.Net

Author’s Page HERE;
Download HERE

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This program started life as a project for some undergrads at Washington State University and eventually turned into what it is today – a free program that is basically Photoshop Lite. As long as you have the Microsoft .NET 2.0 Framework installed, it’s a mere 3.5 MB download.

It can do many of the features of Photoshop (at least the few features of Photoshop that I know how to use) but because it has such a small resource footprint, you can launch it quickly – and with multiple instances – without strangling your system to death. Perfect when you need to do some basic picture editing that takes more than what traditional MS Paint has to offer but you don’t want to hassle with Photoshop.

 

AOL’s Aim Express

Author’s Page HERE;
Download – NA, it runs via the browser

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I don’t know what your preferred Instant Messaging client is, but mine is AIM. For those of us in college or at a work place that has a computer with internet access but no ability to install AIM when time is needed to kill, this great little thing is AOL’s best kept secret.

Simply go to the above website, type in your name / password, and bam! You have AIM running inside your browser (Both Internet Explorer and Firefox work, from my experience.) No installation, no traces other than browser history, it’s a godsend when you need it. Now, it is a drastically reduced AIM client – you don’t have any features other than chat available to you, but usually that’s enough anyway.

 

Quick Time Alternative / Real Player Alternative

Quick Time ALternative HERE;
Real Player Alternative HERE

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I don’t mind the actual Quick Time program too much, but it irks me how I have to download it in a bundle with iTunes, which I don’t like (I don’t own an iPod and I don’t use a Mac, so iTunes is pretty useless when Winamp is a thousand times better.) Now, RealPlayer I absolutely hate – its bloatness, ads, and constant nagging popups drive me nuts.

I am not alone in my sentiments and thus born were the alternative versions. They not only integrate support for Quick Time and Real Player files for most other media players to handle, but also throw in the Media Player Classic as a default player, just in case you don’t have any other ones installed. It also supports IE/Firefox in-browser playback.

 

Foxit Reader
Author’s Site HERE;
Download HERE
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The idea of the PDF (portable document file) is a great idea – have a document that looks the same on anybody’s computer regardless of installed fonts, programs or what have you, to display as the document’s creator intended.

But I hate Adobe Reader.

When I accidentally click a link that leads to one, I just lower my head, sigh and wait several minutes for the program to launch itself, download the document, and finally for me, to get a chance to exit. Ah, then I stumbled across Foxit Reader.

Adobe Reader comes in at 20 MB; Foxit, which does all the same functions, comes in at 1.7 MB. Huh? What in the world is the discrepancy?

Adobe can take a minute or two just to load itself and then take more time to load the document. Foxit will load itself in seconds with the document right behind it just as fast. I have no idea what the deal is with Adobe, but I don’t really care, because it all comes down to Foxit being a better, faster, and much more pleasant application to deal with when launched, accidentally or not.

Well, that is the list of my favorite and best freeware apps that I have discovered over the years and like any good tech, I am always on the look out for more.

Enjoy!

Charlie

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