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50 Free Tools to Make Computing Easier - Tech Learning

50 Free Tools to Make Computing Easier

Editor’s Note: Miguel Guhlin wrote about 25 tools in his March 2005 article “Free and Low Cost Software to Make Computing Easier." He has since revised the article and doubled the number of resources. This is the result. "So, what new software," I ask myself some late evenings, "is
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Editor’s Note:

Miguel Guhlin wrote about 25 tools in his March 2005 article “Free and Low Cost Software to Make Computing Easier." He has since revised the article and doubled the number of resources. This is the result.

"So, what new software," I ask myself some late evenings, "is available out there for free?" Over the last few months of research, over 51 software programs have jumped out at me. Even better: 92% are free (or, if you prefer, 95% of Windows programs mentioned here are free, as opposed to 75% free Mac programs). On the Windows side, you could get by with free tools and not purchase a single program. On the Mac, purchase depends on what your needs are, but remember that Macs come with many free software tools already (e.g. iTunes, iPhoto, iMovie). Also, depending on your platform, needs, or choices, you won't need all 51 or more of these software programs. So you have a few choices from which to pick!

If you don't mind, come along with me and we'll take a quick look at some of the free software out on the Internet. Many are fully functional freeware programs that the author or company allows anyone to use without asking for ANY payment. A few are "try before you buy" shareware.

Software Tools to Make Computing Easier

Often, I have had to seek out free tools to use in workshops because the teachers, administrators, and/or parents may not have the funds to purchase the commercial software available. As an educator, I can appreciate the meaning of "free" or "low-cost" alternatives to expensive products. For example, the academic version of MS Office costs $150 but you can get StarOffice at no cost if your District signs an agreement to not use the software inappropriately and pays $25. OpenOffice is another free alternative for you if your District would rather not make MS Office or StarOffice available to you. For most people, especially cash-strapped parents and educators, even $150 translates into another annoying cost. "We bought the computer," they say, "and now we have to buy that program for how much?"

Why Write about free tools?

In early August, 2003, I was invited to present at a conference with over 1600 participants. It was a marathon conference and I was asked to prepare five different presentations. Of all the presentations, the most popular--that is, the topic that packed the room and resulted in standing room only—was entitled, "Freeware Internet Survival Tools". I was shocked. Over the years, I had started to think that this type of article and/or presentation was a waste of time. But it became clear to me that the words "free" or "almost free" attract educators and students in a powerful way.

Questions Educators Ask

Since I wrote the first version of this article, Freeware Internet Survival Tools in 1999, I have heard new questions that reflect the power of the Internet and increasing user familiarity with tools. The following is a short list of some of the questions I have heard, or asked myself:

  1. How do I compress multiple files for transfer as an Email attachment?
  2. How can I setup my own Web server?
  3. How do I set up an FTP server?
  4. How do I setup an Email (SMTP) server and why would I want to?
  5. How do I protect myself from spyware or adware?
  6. How can I protect my computer from viruses?
  7. I've heard that Internet Explorer has problems. What browser might I use instead?
  8. How can I ensure that my Email is private, not public?
  9. What Email software is available for me to use?
  10. What can I do to minimize SPAM in my Email inbox?
  11. How do I create PDF files without having to buy Acrobat?
  12. How can I easily create Web pages without Dreamweaver or Frontpage?
  13. What programs can I use to create/edit graphics for use in Web pages?
  14. I'm doing a presentation without Internet access—how can I quickly download the entire Web site?
  15. What can I use to make flyers, brochures, etc.? You know, desktop publishing a la MS Publisher?
  16. Where can I find all these free programs?

If these are questions you are facing, then by the end of this article, you'll have all the answers you need to deal with Internet-related tasks. And, the best part about the answers is that the programs listed are, for the most part, FREE! Unfortunately, installing some of these programs on your work computers is not permitted—check the table at the end of this article for more information. Educational and government entities have to purchase them—like Lavasoft's Ad-Aware, for example. However, it's cheaper if your district negotiates a purchase through proposal/bid process rather than your campus purchasing them individually.

1 -How do I compress multiple files for transfer as an Email attachment?

Sending Email attachments is easy, but can cause a lot of trouble for the recipient. Before you send an Email message, contact the recipient and agree on a compression format. Compression programs work like electronic suitcases. A suitcase allows you to carry your clothes relatively neatly on long trips. This is the same reason we use compression programs. There are several formats:

The most popular compression format is ZIP, an established compression format that is available on Linux, Windows, and Macs. The programs that you use to decompress filename.zip files include (but aren't limited to) Aladdin's Stuffit Expander, a free cross-platform decompression program. It uncompresses all popular compressed and encoded formats including ZIP (.zip), MIME Base64 (.mim, .mime, .b64), RAR, UUENCODE (.uu, .uue), GZIP (.gz .z), ARJ (.arj .pak), ARC (.arc), BINHEX (.hqx) and STUFFIT (.sit .sea). This program's ease of use and ability to handle many file-types make it a must-have. For example, double-clicking on a zip file can create a directory and extract all files into it. Note that the program cannot handle multi-part or encrypted files.

You can create, as well as decompress, zip files on the Windows XP platform using built-in ZIP compression. Simply right click on the file or folder of files you want to compress and take advantage of the SEND TO COMPRESSED (ZIP) FOLDER.

Of course, there are a wealth of compression programs. At no cost, you can get IZArc, a versatile, easy to use compression program. In addition to an easy to use Windows Explorer interface, IZArc allows standard operations such as adding, viewing, deleting, renaming files in a compressed archive. You can also use IZArc to install programs from the downloaded archive (a time-saver!), check archives for viruses, and perform multi-disk spanning of files. It is compatible with the popular ZIP format, as well as an alphabet soup of compression formats, including 7-ZIP, ACE,ARC, ARJ, BH, BZ2, CAB, DEB, GZ,HA, JAR, LHA, LZH,PAK, PK3, RAR, RPM, TAR,TGZ, TZ, ZIP and ZOO.

You can also create self-extracting, or executable, password-protected archives that don't require a decompression program to expand. This is useful if you want to give a file to a neophyte who may not know how to handle compressed programs yet, as well as enhance security.

For Macintosh users, zipping is as simple as a right-mouse click (or Ctrl-Click with a single button mouse). When right-button mouse clicking, click on the file you want to ARCHIVE files to ZIP format.

2 -How can I set up my own Web server?

One classroom teacher at the TCEA State Conference said, "I want to set up my own Web server in my classroom because I can't get space on the District server. Am I able to do that?" The answer is, "Of course!" Then, I reminded the person that they should check into their district's acceptable use policy. At this point, the person just smiled and we moved on to the details.

If you enjoy sharing student work or publishing your own work, but lack funding (approximately $10,000 for a Windows server) to buy your own server and place it in the District's server farm, or lack support, then you are probably considering setting up your own Web server using a desktop machine. You wouldn't believe how many other educators are doing the same thing. In a few hours, you can probably find a wealth of free Web server software to use. Most of it is difficult to set up and get going, but after hours of looking, you may run across Xerver, which also has versions available for Mac and Linux.

Xerver is surprisingly easy, safe to use—which means that it does not have any security holes yet discovered—and easy to set up Web server software. It features a setup wizard that guides you through setting up the server, allowing you to specify which folder has your Web pages, whether you want to password protect directories (a nice feature difficult to achieve with some server software), and much more. It also has Web-based administration; that means you can administer or change the setup of your Web server via the Web. Of course, this feature can be disabled once you are done with setup. It also comes with built-in File Transfer Protocol (FTP) features. FTP is essential to a Web server since FTP software is what you use to transfer Web pages you’ve created from your computer to the Web server where they are shared on the Web.

While Mac OS X has built-in capabilities, you may want more control. In that case, you should investigate Web Crossing Express the free version of a Web/FTP/Email server. It is similar to Xerver in its capabilities and features, except that Web Crossing comes in Windows, Mac and Linux versions! Definitely a program to check out!

3 -How do I set up an FTP Server?

The concept of FTP, or File Transfer Protocol, is quite simple. Files are shared via an FTP server—which can be any computer—and then accessed using an FTP client that allows one to get or put files depending on levels of access. Setting up an FTP server has become a simple process. As a matter of fact, just like Web servers, you can take any computer and make it into a file sharing station using FTP Server software. There are many uses for this, from allowing students to put and get, or upload and download respectively, files from a central location. You can restrict their access to one folder, but then later get all the folders for viewing purposes. I imagine its use in Web design classes and other places where a network drive has not been set up for you or your students.

On the Windows side, there are a variety of programs. One such program is FileZilla Server. Another free, Windows possibility is GuildFTPd. Now, both of these are flexible, free FTP Server programs that you can use. Regardless of which one you choose, you will still need an FTP client. While many still use WS-FTP LE, which is the free, academic version of the popular FTP client, others may want to take advantage of the more powerful, yet easy to use—and also free— FileZilla FTP Client.

While you don't have to use FileZilla FTP client to interact with FileZilla Server or GuildFTPd, the client is so easy to use you would do well to consider it. Another popular FTP client is SmartFTP, also free for academic use.

On the Macintosh side, you can use Fetch or one of the others available at FTP client. For educational, non-profit use, Fetch is available at no charge provided you register it. Transmit, a shareware alternative, has the more traditional split screen window...but as shareware, it is not free. A recommended, completely open source, free alternative FTP client for the Mac is Cyberduck .Unfortunately, as far as I know, for the Mac platform, no free FTP Server software exists—with the exception of the Built-in FTP features of Mac OS X. Still, you might consider 3 FTP servers. I'll start with the most expensive:

  • Rumpus FTP Server for the Macintosh is a quality program but is expensive at $249 (possibly less with academic discount). It is definitely industrial strength for education settings.
  • By contrast, CrushFTP Server, which costs $25 for 10 concurrent users, works well for certain settings) is amazingly inexpensive but, unlike Rumpus, has many features that may be confusing to the novice user. However, CrushFTP server is initially easier to set up, handling command line edits in Terminal mode.
  • Another shareware option is to get FTP-Config, $20 for unlimited users. It is a program that installs a free FTP program on your MacOS X, Pure-FTPd, and provides a graphical user interface with "many of Pure-FTPd's features." Setup is simple and online help is detailed but not too detailed—a relief when you want to get things working quickly. This is the option this author recommends for low-cost entry into setting up a Mac FTP server.

4 -How do I set up an Email server and why would I want to?

Mass Emailing your colleagues for unsolicited, commercial use is considered SPAM. However, knowing how to send mass Emails is also a part of knowing how to use Email effectively. As such, an Email server can be a critical part of sending out Email using what are known as bulk Emailers. Some educational applications include the following:

  • Sending out HTML/Web Page newsletters to subscribers.
  • Sending Email out to your students.
  • Send Emails to organization members (e.g. TCEA).
  • Facilitate graduate research, Email surveys.
  • And, my personal favorite, send Email to thousands of workshop participants who have registered and attended—or failed to attend--professional development sessions within your District.

To send Email out in this way, you generally follow a process such as:

  • Export only the data relevant from a series of relational databases to comma-delimited format or tab-delimited format. This exported data would include first name, last name, Email address, workshop #, workshop title, workshop date, and registration/attendance status (depending on whether the notice was going out prior to the workshop, or after they had attended the workshop);
  • Import the data into a mass, or bulk, Emailer and customize the outgoing message using “mail merge” features that allows participants to receive a message tailor-made just for them;
  • Set up your computer as an Email (SMTP) Server; and finally,
  • Send out several hundred Emails. This is all a lot easier than it reads.

Some free Windows Email servers include:

For the Mac, there’s Mac OS X PostFix Mail Server which comes built-in to the operating system but has to be switched on. My preference is ArGoSoft's Freeware Email Server.

Some free or inexpensive bulk Emailers include FairLogic's WorldCast for Windows, which is free for non-profit use, and MacBulk Mailer for Macintosh, which carries a $49 pricetag. Please note that a more detailed article on this topic is available online at “Staying in Touch: How To With Bulk Emailers."

5 -How do I protect my computer from spyware or adware software?

"What are all these windows open on my screen?” a campus administrator asked me recently. Unfortunately, windows were appearing on her personal laptop's screen at an alarming rate. She had Adware! Adware sometimes causes advertising banners to appear on your screen in multiple, cascading windows that can appear so quickly that you are unable to use your computer for anything else. Furthermore, when doing a search, advertisements could appear everywhere on your computer. They are pernicious and invasive. And then there are Spybots, which are no fun either. These can be used to collect the keystrokes you make—consider how dangerous this is when typing in sensitive information such as social security numbers or critical passwords—and send them on to others.

Although we came to the brink of reformatting—wiping her hard drive of data and starting over—we were finally able to install the right combination of software to prevent spyware/adware software from taking over her computer. The software programs listed below are all free for individual use. I encourage you to take these steps to immediately protect your computer. If you are undergoing a spyware attack, start with Step 2; this will prevent pop-ups from overwhelming you as you try to take care of the problem. They include the following:

  1. Update your Windows Operating System . You can do this by pointing your Internet Explorer browser to “Protect Your PC."
    This Web site will allow you to get (download) the latest updates for your particular operating system.
  2. Install an Internet Monitoring or Firewall program such as Zone Lab's ZoneAlarm, Kerio's Personal Firewall or Agnitum's Outpost Firewall Free . A firewall program essentially monitors and restricts incoming and outgoing Internet use. It allows you to see how the Internet is being accessed on your computer. After a few alerts, you are able to identify which program is trying to access the Internet and deduce why. The program can be taught to remember which programs to allow, and which to bar. ZoneAlarm is a free download and includes a short tutorial/wizard to help you configure it. The first few uses of the Internet will require your permission, but you will actually be able to prevent your computer from sending out unauthorized spyware connections. This is important since an unauthorized spyware could further install other software on your computer.

    If you do not want a firewall, but still want to know what programs on your computer require Internet access, you can install a monitoring program. For Macintosh computers, you can download BrickHouse or Little Snitch. While both are shareware ($25), BrickHouse allows you unlimited use as opposed to Little Snitch which allows only three hours of use before you have to pay. Both will allow you to monitor incoming/outgoing traffic on your Mac. Although Macs, as of 11/26/2004, are immune to spyware, these two products will help you keep track of applications that communicate with the software manufacturer via the Internet.

    Windows users, who will still need a firewall program to monitor Internet connections even with Windows XP Service Pack 2 installed, can take advantage of the free WinPatrol or Spybot's TeaTimer, which is discussed below, to monitor Windows settings changes. Another alternative is JavaCool Software's FileChecker. Each program provides you with more information to facilitate your decision-making and awareness of spyware/adware/viruses that may need Internet access. In some cases, you are able to halt the process before worse damage occurs or recognize the problem. A rule of thumb is to disallow Internet access unless it is critical to the operation of your machine. This is especially critical after installing something you've just downloaded off the Internet, even if it is coming from C-Net's Download.com, which has some software infected with spyware/adware.
  3. Disable System Restore : If using Windows XP, you need to disable a feature called "system restore." This is a utility that makes back ups of selected files on your computer. If a virus infected file, or spyware/adware file, is backed up, when you restart your computer, the infected files will be restored. This would prevent a clean-up from taking place. You can find directions on how to disable System Restore online at “Disabling System Restore."
  4. Install several anti-spyware programs—unfortunately, 1 or 2 is not enough—including the following:
  5. Finally, fix your Windows Registry. If you've had to battle spyware or adware on your computer, then you may have other, long-lasting problems. After cleaning out toxic programs, the Registry on your computer has been corrupted. The Registry is a place where the Windows operating system, as well as other programs, save information about themselves. A corrupt registry means that your machine will start up slowly and/or crash frequently. While there are many "registry cleaners" out on the Web, I would recommend Macecraft's Registry Supreme. Not only is it easy to use, but when I used it on three different systems within it's 30 day evaluation period, it worked flawlessly. And, while not free, it only costs $12.95! And, cleaning your Registry periodically can speed up your system significantly! If you aren't interested in installing RegSupreme, you might try this alternative—although it's not as comprehensive as RegSupreme, it is completely free— EasyCleaner. EasyCleaner also offers other options similar to RegSupreme Pro including removing installed programs, checking startup services, and more.
  • LavaSoft's Ad-Aware: You'll want the free Personal version for home use, and either the Professional or Plus version for work).
  • Spyware Blaster: This is a free program that innoculates your computer against spyware/adware.
  • Spyware Guard: This is a free program (from the same people that developed Spyware Blaster) that monitors for spyware/adware.
  • Spybot: If you activate Spybot's TeaTimer feature, you'll be notified of any changes to your Windows settings and registry (more about the registry in the next section). TeaTimer—like WinPatrol—will enable you to better control what changes are made to your computer.

    Between the four programs, you have a greater chance of cleaning out existing spyware and ensuring that no new spyware will find its way into your computer. If you believe your computer is already infested, you will also want to use CW-Shredder. CW-Shredder , which is free, cleans out particularly pernicious spyware. Of course, Softpedia offers others you can use. Another approach to take, especially if you haven't been hit yet, is to innoculate your computer against spyware. Spybot allows you to do this to some degree, but Spyware Blaster, mentioned above, prevents spyware from actually establishing a beachhead on your computer. You can find some free tutorials for installing these programs online at a site calling itself Anti Spyware Toolkit.

And, finally, you need to consider a good antivirus program.

6 -How can I protect my computer from viruses?

"I keep hearing that antivirus software is a necessity, but I can't find one that's low cost or free. And, don't they all need to be updated?" My first experience with a virus was one that made black boxes appear on my screen while slowly destroying my executable program files. Now, with a few precautions, you can download software off the Web without worrying about being infected with viruses. Now, I'm confident that my antivirus software will catch viruses and trojan horses. Combined with the anti-spyware/adware software above, I now use Grisoft's AVG Antivirus for Windows computers. Free for personal use, this antivirus program—in my experience—has caught viruses that seem to slip by other antivirus programs such as Norton and McAfee. AVG Antivirus can be set to check incoming and outgoing Email, used to scan specific files, and whose updates can be set to download and install automatically so that you need not worry about it. Fortunately, AVG Antivirus has a wonderful product available at no cost for personal use— AVG Free Edition.

If AVG Free Edition doesn't catch your fancy, you can also try AntiVir Personal Edition. Once again, both these antivirus programs are for personal use only. Another powerful, free for home use antivirus program is Avast! Home Edition. Another free alternative is to use Stinger, a standalone anti-virus tool. This is a program you can quickly run from a CD-ROM, USB FlashDrive, or floppy disk.

With the free software tools outlined in responses 5 and 6, you can now be fearless, albeit prudent, in your Web downloads. However, one more, slightly radical change for some folks, is necessary.

7 -I've heard Internet Explorer has problems. What browser might I use instead?

"There are a number of significant vulnerabilities in technologies relating to the Internet Explorer domain/zone security model. .It is possible to reduce exposure to these vulnerabilities by using a different Web browser, especially when browsing untrusted sites," shared the United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team, a part of Homeland Security, on June 29, 2004. So, have you switched browsers yet? I made the switch a few months ago after spyware invaded my Windows computer, taking advantage of the Internet Explorer browser. I spent hours trying to close the gate as window after window opened up on my screen. After instituting the controls mentioned in steps 5 and 6, I didn't have to switch browsers. However, having seen Internet Explorer so easily subverted, I switched browsers. Instead of Internet Explorer, I tried Netscape, Mozilla, Mozilla Firefox, and Opera. I finally settled on the free , Macintosh and Windows friendly Mozilla Firefox due to its flexibility and compatibility with all the systems I use at home and work. Mozilla, a more full-featured and also free browser, already seems to have gained wide-spread compatibility. While Firefox is the more streamlined browser, Mozilla may be the one most users begin to turn to in the face of Internet Explorer failures.

If you must use Internet Explorer, then you might consider installing Bartdat's Scrub XP. It "removes IE history, temporary files, cookies, and your documents list from your Start Menu. It also empties your Recycle Bin and clears Auto Complete Entries." Not only can this help you deal with inappropriate problems, but also, maintain your privacy. If you're interested in protecting your privacy in regards to other files—most recently used lists—you might consider the free MRU-Blaster as well as the other programs mentioned in the sidebar under Question #8 below.

8 -How can I ensure my Email is really private while on the Internet?

Until a short time ago, I did not care whether my Email was read by anyone other than its intended audience or not. After all, everything I committed to writing was something I was willing to stand behind. Or, so I thought until, as a district administrator, I realized the power of Email. How could I ensure security of communications with my staff on a public system or when I was away from the district Email system?

Furthermore, how could I secure electronic employee documents (e.g. appraisals, etc) that contained social security numbers? If I backed these up to a CD-ROM then I’d have to lock that up also. Yet, a stack of CDs—like the ubiquitous 3.5" floppy disks—would then start to accumulate. Backing up to a network drive does provide an alternative provided that one can ensure that the files are encrypted, or cannot be read. But, how can one be really sure? The following also forced me to consider secure Email communications.

In Summer, 2004, the Electronic Frontier Foundation had the following appearing on their Web site:

The First Circuit Court of Appeals dealt a grave blow to the privacy of Internet communications with its decision today in the case of U.S. v. Councilman. The court held that it was not a violation of criminal wiretap laws for the provider of an Email service to monitor the content of users' incoming messages without their consent.

This ruling means that your Internet Service Provider (ISP) can monitor the content of your incoming Email without your permission. What about outgoing Email? As online privacy suffers, it's important that we all do our part to protect our communications. While it may seem an inconvenience, ensuring Email privacy is quickly becoming one of the critical 21st Century skills. The situation is reminiscent of the shift in our approach to locking our front doors. In the past, front doors in small towns were left unlocked. Now, our children are trained to always lock the doors behind them. Protecting your privacy—like locking the door to your house—has to be a skill we teach in school and to each other.

Privacy ToolKit

Protecting your privacy is critical. Using a program such as PGP or Cryptainer LE (see main article) is only the first step. Everything you do leaves traces of information that others can access from your computer. You should consider using programs like those mentioned below to ensure your privacy. One such free utility is Eraser 5.7. It allows you to permanently erase files, just like the free PGP software, so that they are unrecoverable, even by "forensic" methods used by government and FBI. Using the DOS version means that Eraser will not be installed on your computer, but you will still enjoy the benefits of having "erased" deleted files on your computer. See “Erasing Deleted Data From Your Hard Drive”, a short tutorial on wiping your hard drive using the DOS version of Eraser.

Frightingly, Eraser has a free hard drive reformatting utility that can remove asset tracking programs like Absolute Software's CompuTrace. This is important to know, especially for organizations which might choose to use this expensive software in lieu of other security methods (e.g. cables to secure computer equipment).

In addition to protecting your Email privacy, you may also want to consider the following free utilities available from JavaCool Software, the same folks that made SpywareBlaster.

  • MRU Blaster: Protect your privacy - find and remove over 30,000 most recently used lists and other stores of hidden information.
  • ID-Blaster: Destroy tracking tactics by randomizing GUID/Unique ID numbers found on your computer.
  • DocScrubber: Removes critical information that you might be inadvertently revealing through your Microsoft Word documents.

Several programs exist—read the Privacy Toolkit sidebar--to protect the privacy of your Email and files. The premier tool, of course, is the free version of PGP, or Pretty Good Privacy. It will allow you to safeguard your communications (it actually encrypts your Email messages) and encrypt files as needed. For $59, you can purchase the more full-featured PGPPersonal Desktop version that provides a perpetual license and many more features. This free version of the software has become much easier to use than in past years and I highly recommend it. The $59 version works well with MS Outlook and other Email clients. The free one requires a bit more copy-n-paste.

If you are interested in an alternative to PGP, you should consider Cypherix's Cryptainer LE Free Encryption Software. It allows you to create multiple 20 MB of encrypted and password protected drives/containers (there are other versions of the software that allow you to create bigger drives). This is a feature the free version of PGP does not offer. More importantly, it also allows you to encrypt individual files (e.g. Word documents, Zip files) for transfer via Email. The person receiving the Email attachment is not required to have Cryptainer LE installed to "decrypt" the encrypted file. You can set the file to be "self-decrypting" or have the Email recipient use a free Decypher It! program available at no charge for download and use.

Finally, another free PGP-like tool that you can use that is based on Open Source is Windows Privacy Tools, or WinPT . It offers the same features as PGP but lacks the stigma of being commercial software offered as "cripple-ware."

Whether you use WinPT, PGP or Cryptainer, you can protect your files by "zipping" them into one compressed file and then encrypting them. This allows you to place your files anywhere without fear of their being viewed openly. You can easily use these programs with your favorite better-than Outlook Email program such as the free Windows, Linux or Mac Mozilla Thunderbird Email client or the wonderful, feature-rich—but only available for Windows—free Rose City Software Collection's Calypso/Courier Email program.

9 -What Email software is available for me to use?

There are a variety of Email programs available for your use. Three of my favorites include Mozilla's Thunderbird, Qualcomm's Eudora Lite, and Rose City Software's Calypso. The first two are popular, but you may not be familiar with Calypso. Unlike Thunderbird and other Email programs, which can be opened by anyone who has access to your machine, Calypso requires you enter a password before you open your Email inbox. If you don't know the password, you are not even allowed into the inbox or to check Email. This means you can "save" your Email accounts' passwords—and yes, it handles multiple accounts, including POP and IMAP, just like Outlook—passwords and remember just ONE password to get into Calypso. This adds another level of security to your Email. What's more, Calypso saves everything about your Email in ONE file, making it easy to compress with a compression program, or encrypt with PGP. When I encrypted that one file with PGP, the file size dropped from 109 megabytes to 29 megabytes. When compressed with a program like IZArc to zip format, the size dropped to 16 megabytes. Encrypted, the 16 megabyte file remained at 16 megs. As such, Calypso's Email file—compressed, encrypted or not—makes it easy to back up your Email, transport on a USB FlashDrive (e.g. DiskonKey or PenDrive), ensuring that you will always have access to important messages.

Calypso, although free, is an older software product. Unfortunately, it does not work with Yahoo Mail POP3 accounts, but will work with others. An updated version of Calypso, known as Courier, is available as shareware for $29.95. Courier is essentially the same program as Calypso with all the features. Those features are much more developed than Mozilla Thunderbird, Qualcomm Eudora and Outlook Express, but are updated to be more compatible. The list of features for Calypso/Courier is too lengthy to detail here, but is easily visible on the Courier homepage. I highly recommend Calypso as a free Email program provided you do not need POP3 authentication—get Courier if you do—that can help you keep your Email inbox protected from prying eyes.

10 -What can I do to minimize SPAM in my Email inbox?

Even though popular, free Email programs—such as Mozilla Thunderbird—may have built-in spam protection, I encourage you to consider using special programs like POPFile or K9. Essentially, these programs are more than just spam blockers or fighters. They are an automatic Email classification tool that works with all incoming Email messages. If you can check your Email using a POP3 Email client, like those mentioned in response to question 9, then you can use them. Using Bayesian filters, they allow you much more flexibility than simply classifying Email as spam or ham, good or bad. Instead, you can use it to build a set of powerful filters that work in tandem with your Email program. With one of these two free programs in place, thousands of spam messages—with viruses—are quarantined or sent straight to the program's trashcan each day.

11-How do I create PDF files without having to buy Adobe Acrobat?

"We put our evaluation reports in Acrobat PDF," shared one grant evaluation company, "because it protects the integrity of our work." What an eye-opening experience it was for that person to find out differently. Even if you have the full version of Adobe Acrobat for about $150, or if an Adobe Acrobat PDF file is passworded, you can bypass its security using PDF Password Recovery software. Even though you may not use PDF files to ensure integrity of your data, there are other benefits.

Sharing files in Portable Document Format (PDF) is convenient because it allows people to view your work without having to have the original software program. This is especially true if you created a beautiful pamphlet in MS Publisher (available only for Windows) but then wanted to send it to a friend who was using a Macintosh. It is also true when sharing documents with someone who does not have the same fonts you have (e.g. you have Print Shop/Artist installed and they do not).

You can get a free PDF creator for Windows known as PDFCreator-0_8_0_GNUGhostscript.exe. Although previously a shareware program, it was released as freeware in 2004. To ensure that it is made into freeware, you will need to apply what's known as a patch. Macintosh users have PDF creation built in to OS X.

12-How can I easily create Web pages without Dreamweaver or Frontpage?

Just as you are able to use StarOffice or OpenOffice as a free alternative to Microsoft Office, so can you use NVU, pronounced "new view,” as an alternative to Macromedia Dreamweaver and MS Frontpage. What makes NVU so nice is that it is a powerful, what-you-see-is-what-you-get (WYSIWYG) Web page editor and site manager. It features (1) built-in FTP like the expensive programs, (2) tabbed editing, which allows you to keep open multiple files and switch among them by clicking on a tab, and (3) support for frames, forms, and tables. It is free and available for Windows and Linux operating systems. Like Dreamweaver, it also allows for the use of templates. Templates allow you to create a custom look or feel for your Web site, then apply that look and feel to other Web pages. See “Designing & Publishing a Site With Nvu." If you are teaching Webmastering but cannot afford the expensive Dreamweaver, then you should definitely try NVU. At a download size of 7.8 megs, it's not too hard to obtain.

13-What programs can I use to create/edit graphics for use in Web pages?

"Photoshop? Doesn't that cost $699.00 with the educational discount?" As we all nodded our heads, someone raised her hand and said, "I'd rather use the shareware Paint Shop Pro. It costs only $99.00. It is the premier graphics editing program used in some multimedia classes. Yet, it is shareware." Of course, there is now a free alternative to any of the more expensive graphics creation/editing programs like Photoshop, Paint Shop Pro, and/or Macromedia Fireworks. The program is GIMP. Like it's costlier cousins, Gimp enables you to create and modify graphics. Unlike them, it is free. Note that installing Gimp can be tricky since it involves a two-part installation. First, you have to install the GTK environment, then install the actual program. This means that you have to download (get) two different files from the Internet. However, it's worth the effort and should not take you much more time.

Freeware alternatives to these high-powered graphics programs are few and far between. If you don't need to do graphics-editing using Gimp, then you can use IrfanView, or I-View for short. IrfanView is a fast graphic viewer. It can associate itself with many file types so that double-clicking a file will open it in IrfanView. There is also support for a large selection of graphics types and common sound formats such as WAV, MID, RMI, Quicktime Movies (MOV), AVI movies and sound files. As the program is a single fast EXE file, it is a great application helper to configure in your Internet browser plug-ins.

I commonly take snapshots of my Windows screen by pressing Print-Screen, and then cropping the picture in IrfanView. On a Mac, you can press Apple-Shift-3 to take a screenshot, or Apple-Shift-4 to capture a selection of the screen. Then, paste it into a graphics editing program for cropping and resizing. Macintosh users can also resort to the free ImageWell, available for download. ImageWell allows you to resize, rotate, crop images, add drop shadow effects, add text to your images, add balloons, labels, arrows, squares, circles and more. It facilitates screen captures, uploading images via iDisk or FTP.

Finding a free program that did what I wanted for Wiindows took me days of searching. If you are looking for an easy way to manage all these graphics—including photos—and are jealous of Mac's iPhoto software, you should get Google's free Picasa Image Manager.

14-I'm doing a presentation that uses the Web but I won't have Internet access. How can I quickly download a Web site?

Just when you think Internet access is ubiquitous, you find out it's not--and you're set to do an important presentation where you need to show off a Web site. Or, a student has created a Web page that defames a teacher and you need to get a copy of it for "evidence." Whatever your need, a program like Web Whacker can be useful. While there are costlier versions of "Web whacking" type software, you can obtain two free programs—Site Snagger for Windows or SiteSucker for Macintosh—that are similar and work effectively.

Both are free and easy to use; you simply paste the Web address into the appropriate location on the program, tell it how many levels deep you want to go (experiment with this so that you can better understand it), and then "snag" the site. Should you choose to snag more than two levels, be aware that all pages linked to the original page, and all pages linked to those pages will be saved to your hard drive. After snagging/sucking a Web site down, you can then open the index file for the site with a Web browser and everything will work—with the exception of "external" links that connect to materials not originally on the Web site you snagged. Finally, please be aware that you should make every effort to adhere to copyright fair use guidelines when snagging Web pages off the Internet.

15-What can I use to make flyers, brochures and more?

A few years ago, I remember obtaining my first copy of Publish It! It came on multiple diskettes, and allowed me to create brochures easily. Unlike with word processing programs of the time, such as WordPerfect, I was able to easily create textboxes, place images and then copy-n-paste text and have it flow from one frame to the next. While word processing programs have improved, some folk still long for an easy-to-use desktop publishing program. This probably explains the success of Microsoft Publisher, which comes with many templates and an extensive graphics library, which the Internet has made obsolete. You can now find free graphics on Web sites such as Open Clip Art Library, which has 2,896 different images you can use. You can browse these graphics online or get the ZIPped file.
There is also the Linux- and Macintosh-compatible Scribus. If you're a risk-taker then you can also attempt to install Scribus on your Windows computer. Just follow Installing Scribus on Win32.

16-Where can I find freeware software?

My favorite free software Web sites include SourceForge.net ; Download.com; and VersionTracker.com. There are many others, of course, but just searching through these three will consume a significant amount of your time. Before you begin searching, make sure you've taken care of steps 5 & 6 (above) to protect your machine. I have encountered spyware at the Download.com site and would not want you to face these "unprotected."

Below please find a table summarizing all the software titles mentioned in this article.

Miguel Guhlin

Note that items with Free* (asterisk) are no charge for use in educational settings. Others are free for use only on personal computers (e.g. home).

Type

Title & Download Link

Operating System

Cost

Compression Software

IZArc

Windows

Free*

Aladdin Stuffit Expander

Windows/Mac

Free*

Web Server

Xerver

Windows/Mac/Linux

Free*

Web Crossing Express

Windows/Mac

Free*

FTP Server

GuildFTPd

Windows

Free*

FileZilla Server

Windows

Free*

FTPConfig

Mac

$20

FTP Client

FileZilla

Windows

Free*

Cyberduck

Mac

Free*

Fetch

Mac

Free*

Email Server

Free SMTP
http://www.softstack.com/freesmtp.html
or
http://www.softaward.com/1036.html

Windows

Free*

PostCast

Windows

Free*

ArgoSoft Freeware Email Server

Windows

Free*

Postfix Mail Server

Mac

Free*

Bulk Emailers

WorldCast

Windows

Free*

MacBulk Mailer

Mac

$39.90

Firewall & Internet Monitoring

Zone Alarm

Windows

Free

Kerio Personal Firewall

Windows

Free

Outpost

Windows

Free

Little Snitch for Mac OS X

Mac OS X

$24.95

Brickhouse

Mac

$25

Windows Settings Change Monitoring

WinPatrol

Windows

Free*

Spybot's TeaTimer

Windows

Free*

FileChecker

Windows

Free

Anti-Spyware

Ad-Aware SE Personal

Windows

Free

Spybot Search and Destroy

Windows

Free*

SpywareBlaster

Windows

Free*

Spyware Guard

Windows

Free*

CW Shredder

Windows

Free*

Mozilla Firefox (Internet Browser)

Windows/Mac/Linux

Free*

Windows Registry Clean Up

Registry Supreme

Windows

$12.50

EasyCleaner

Windows

Free*

Anti-Virus

AVG AntiVirus

Windows

Free

AntiVir Personal Edition

Windows

Free

Avast! Home Edition

Windows

Free

Stinger

Windows

Free*

Privacy Tools

Windows Privacy Tools (WinPT)

Windows

Free*

Pretty Good Privacy (PGP)

Windows/Mac

Free

Cypherix Cryptainer LE

Windows

Free*

MRU Blaster

Windows

Free*

Eraser 5.7

Windows

Free*

ID Blaster

Windows

Free^

DocScrubber

Windows

Free

ScrubXP

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