Computer Technical Tips

Our Picks of Great, Free Software

Do you think open-source software can't be better than the big-name, well-advertised, pricey, intrusive, bloat-ware you've been using? [Are you listening, Microsoft, Symantec, McAfee, Adobe?] Then it's time for you to do some research in the industry journals, &/or use your favorite search engine, &/or ask an expert, &/or visit some user forums, OR just take a peek below.

Perhaps it's time to look into complementing or replacing your expensive (or stolen?) fancy-ware with leading-edge, user-driven, safer, cleaner, efficient, open-source and freeware such as these below.

Except for the firewalls and anti-virus programs, all of these programs can be run alongside your current software for comparison. When you settle upon a favorite, simply remove what you no longer use.

BE CAREFUL when you install ANY software, even that from the biggest names in the business. Only install the options you want - some companies try to slip in stuff you DO NOT want (Apple Updater, ZoneAlarm Anti-Malware & Yahoo! toolbar spring immediately to mind). Only install the main modules. This means DO NOT take the 'Quick' install route; instead use the 'Custom' or 'Expert' install button & disallow the junkware & paid-for tag-along programs.

Also, keep in mind that the developers want to make a living, too. Often, they offer a simpler version of their pay-for software so that you'll try it out and then upgrade. Feel encouraged to contribute to the efforts of the open-source & kitchen-table developers.

In Order of Importance:


  • Zone Alarm (for Vista & earlier [works on 7 but I'ven't tried it])
  • Comodo Pro (for Windows 7 & earlier)

A firewall is an application that shields a computer from access by unauthorized users on other computers. If you're on a network or if you access the Internet, you need a firewall. If you already have a firewall (the built-in Windows firewall doesn't count), you must uninstall that one before you install one of those listed above.

Good firewalls have a steep but brief learning curve for both you & the computer. The firewall worries about all attempts by programs or others to get into (bringing bad programs) or out of (sending your private information to baddies) your computer. You must train the firewall by answering its questions about which things you trust or don't trust. Therefore, be thoughtful; don't be impatient. Once you've told the firewall to remember what's OK & what's not OK, it won't keep bugging you about the same issues.


If you already have an antivirus program installed, you must uninstall it before you install another.

(Unfortunately, if you have Symantec or McAfee, removal might be quite difficult - it won't be your fault. These two in particular are infamous for trapping users. There are third party & vendor programs online available to help.)


These guard against & remove spyware, key loggers, hijackers, etc. Install and run all three of these. Keep in mind that much, if not most, 'anti-spyware' offered to you on the Internet is malware itself & will do anything from just iritate you, take your money, steal some of your data to render your machine useless. Strangely enough many people conduct themselves online in way that would render them penniless or hospitalized if copied in a big-city environment.


  • Defraggler (This great little defragmentation program.)


  • SyncBack (This great little program automates both synchronizations & backups.)
  • CD Burner XP Pro (A richly-featured CD & DVD burner.)

Web Browser

Microsoft's Internet Explorer (like AOL) is more of a toy for newbies & hobbyists than a serious browser. While IE claims to meet international Internet standards, Opera, Firefox, Safari & Chrome really do. Whereas IE opens your computer to attacks from web sites & invites malicious programs inside, these protect you far better. This piece, although from 2004, sums up IE's problems since its inception back in the 90's: IE's Dangers


  • Thunderbird (similar look and feel to MS Outlook)
  • Eudora (The classic early email program; easy to repair; keeps attachments in separate, readily available folders.)

PDF Reader

  • Foxit Reader (even allows one to place notes on a PDF for personal use.)

This program will not annoy you with reminders to update/patch constantly, & is safer, faster, smaller than its Adobe counterpart.

Office Suite/Wordprocessor

Open Office offers a word processor very similar to MS Word, a spreadsheet very similar to MS Excel, a presentation program very similar to MS Powerpoint. These programs are fully compatible with their Microsoft counterparts. Using Open Office you can view documents that were created in the Microsoft suite and you can save documents so that they can be viewed in the Microsoft suite. Unlike MS Office it meets all Int'l standards & is backwards & cross-platform compatible.

Notepad++ is a beefed up version of Windows' Notepad that works great for notes but even better for software & website developers, being configured to directly support about 48 computer-related languages.


Calendar, contacts, scheduler, alarms, notes, etc. (Note: Not all of Palm's other functions will work in Vista. The "new" 6.2 version of Palm Desktop has had several key functions stripped out of it)


The two "alternatives" listed above may be just what you've been looking for if you've had it with their namesakes' bloated, slow, poor-sounding, intrusive, obnoxious performance.

Audacity will catch & record anything that goes through your sound card; however, getting it setup the first time to "see" your sound card might be a little difficult [among the many Audacity tutorials on the web is this one covering the critical sound source setup problem: Audacity setup tutorial].

Photo Editors/Organizers

  • Picasa (photo editor, viewer, labeler, and organizer)
  • Gimp (Adobe PhotoShop-like complexity & learning curve)
  • Paint.Net (Free Adobe Illustrator replacement)

Organize, resize, crop, stylize your photos & save them in a variety of file formats with these free Photoshop alternatives.


This calculator even keeps your history & provides a "paper tape printout" option.


You can explore the earth, the oceans, Mars, & the heavens.

FTP Client

Use this to up- or down- load files over the Internet.

Note: I support only Windows computers because my chosen client base most commonly uses it. I do not recommend it over Linux or the Mac OS. Avoid Vista.