The best things in life are free. Unfortunately, some of the worst things on the Web are free.
Many of the free programs on the Web arent worth the time it takes to download them; theyre inadequate compared with commercial versions. Even worse, some free offerings are downright evil: They use the lure of getting something for nothing to induce you to download a fake program that is loaded with adware, spyware and viruses.
Thats why alarm bells ought to ring when you see the word free. But there are free programs out there that are just as good as commercial software, sometimes better.
Finding worthwhile free programs is a bit like panning for gold. The trick is separating the gold from the dirt. Today, Ill offer my list of free programs that seem like solid gold to me:
This free program easily earns the right to be at the top of the list. It creates a complete inventory of all the programs installed on your computer. It also takes a detailed look at your computer hardware: the amount of memory installed, free hard-disk space, the model number of your video adapter. And it examines the health of your hard disk.
There are so many uses for this program. Lost the activation serial code for your software? No problem, Belarc lists it. Need to know the service tag number assigned to your computer (required information to get tech support in some cases)? Its right there.
You can download this gem of a program here: www.belarc.com.
Many products, free and commercial, promise to clean up your hard disk, speed up your computer and even fix problems in a key section of Windows called the Registry. Almost without exception these programs do more harm than good.
Meet the exception: CCleaner. It delivers on its promise to clean your hard disk of unwanted programs. It also will safely remove bad or unused entries from Windows Registry. Its fast and safe.
You can download it here: www.piriform.com/ccleaner.
Note that you may find an offer to provide additional support for $24.95. Pass up that offer (once youve used the program for a while, you can make an independent decision about paying).
If youve ever tried to email an enormous file, you probably ran into problems. Most Internet providers have limits on the size of email attachments. Even if your file is smaller than the limit, sending it can take forever.
Besides, why subject your recipient to a long download? Instead, store that file online free using Windows Live Skydrive. You can share it, password-protected.
Unlike some free online-storage offers that limit you to 2 gigabytes or less, you can store a hefty 25 gigabytes at no cost. But the advantages dont stop there. If you have a work or school project that requires collaboration with others, Skydrive is perfect for you. Upload a Microsoft Office file, and team members can edit that file online.
You can sign up for this service here: http://explore.live.com/windows-live-skydrive.
Take a look at these free programs. And please let me know about some of your favorites, as well as the fools gold the free programs youve tried that havent panned out for you.
firstname.lastname@example.org. Bill Husted writes for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.