SANDY BERGER: Internet Offers All Kinds of Free Stuff
If your New Year resolutions include cutting back on your spending, the Internet is the place for you.
The Internet has proven the old adage that says there is no such thing as a free lunch, to be wrong. In the early days of computing, we paid large chunks of money for software programs.
Now many of us have found that the Web is full of programs and services that are completely free. In fact, when I thought about it, I found that there are many free programs and services that I use every day. Most of these are killer applications that make my daily computing easier. You may want to check them out.
Windows Live Sync (formerly FolderShare) is the program that keeps all my files synchronized between computers. I have it installed on four computers, and I have chosen several folders on each of those computers to synchronize. Then when I change any file in my Synch Library on one computer, it is changed on all the computers.
This is all done over the Internet so I don't have to worry about creating networks or anything like that. It's a great tool if you use several computers in various locations on a regular basis. You can access the free download at http://sync.live.com.
Gubb (www.gubb.net) is an online to-do list, so it is available from any Internet-connected computer. The time-honored to-do list is still a great way to keep all of your tasks remembered and organized.
Gubb takes the to-do list into the online world, making your lists portable and easily accessible. It is simple, effective, and free. You can create as many lists as you like and you can even share your lists with others.
I use Gubb to keep track of all my different projects, making each one a different bright color so it is easily recognizable. I don't know that Gubb actually makes me more productive, but it does help me remember what I should be doing. Also, I love being able to cross off a completed task!
The Google Calendar (www.google.com/calendar) is another program that I use every day to help me keep on track. Again, it is an online service so I can access it from any Internet-connected computer, and I can also see all my appointments on my iPhone.
The calendar lets you specify recurring events such as birthdays. It also lets you set reminders. You can share calendars with others, so you can see everyone's schedule at once.
Skype is my everyday communications program. Skype lets you make computer-to-computer calls anywhere in the world for free. So I use it regularly to communicate with my family members who are spread around the world.
Each computer user installs the free software. As long as each has a microphone, you can call and talk as long as you like with no long distance charges. In fact, there are no charges at all for computer-to-computer calling, no matter where in the world the computers are located.
If both of the computers have webcams, you can even do free video calling. I pay a small extra yearly fee so that I can also call telephones in the United States from the Skype account on my computer. This allows me to call any telephone with no per-minute fees.
Shrink Pic (www.onthegosoft. com/shrink_pic.htm) is a free program that automatically shrinks photos that you attach to an e-mail. You simply install the program. After that, every time you attach a large photograph to an e-mail, it is automatically shrunk to the proper size. It will even turn other photo formats such as BMP and PNG files into JPEGS, which is the most common type of photo file that everyone will be able to open.
The Vista Start Menu (www.vistastartmenu.com) is a program that works on many different versions of Windows. While its name might make you think that it is only for Vista computers, I find it the most useful on my Windows XP computers.
This little gem of a program replaces the Start menu with one that is much more intuitive and user-friendly. This is the Start menu that Microsoft should have created.
If you have ever gone to Start and clicked on All Programs, you know how difficult it can be to find what you are looking for with the regular Start menu. You never know where or how the program you are looking for is listed. The Vista Start Menu lets you organize your programs so they are always in the same place under the name of your choice.
The Google Toolbar (www.toolbar.google.com) is a free program that adds a toolbar to your Internet Explorer or Firefox browser. From the toolbar, you can search Google without having to actually go to the Google Web site.
You can also create Favorites (bookmarks) that are available from every computer where you have installed the toolbar. I use this feature to keep all of my bookmarks in synch whether I am at home, at the office, or on the road. This toolbar also has many other useful features including auto-fill, a spell checker, a pop-up blocker, a Web page translator, and a tool to highlight search terms or words on a page.
Is there a downside to free programs? Of course, there is.
First is the fact that some enticing free programs carry spyware. Most programs and services request your e-mail address, and some of the more unscrupulous Web sites will sell your address to spammers.
All of the programs and services that I use have been tested to be free of spyware and other schemes. You can find more free programs and services in the Free Stuff area of my Compu-Kiss Web site at www.compukiss.com.
Check them out -- with the Internet you may not get a free lunch, but you are sure to find some great free programs that you can use while you eat your sandwich.
Sandy Berger welcomes all of your questions and comments on today's column. Please post them on the Compu-Kiss Message Board at www.compuss.com/happycomputing.
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