Techsperts Talks About is where you’ll find our favorite technology tips, tricks, and information. In this, our third post of the series, we’ll share our best finds for useful free software and services.
Freeware. It’s a concept that’s so cool, with a reputation that’s so bad. What is freeware? It’s computer software you don’t have to pay for. (If it’s not clearly labeled freeware and you still copy it, use it, or distribute it, that’s called theft.) Freeware can range from cute little games to full-featured office productivity systems. There is an entire operating system, Linux, which is based around the idea that software should be free.
Freeware is free. We like free. What’s the problem? Freeware can be buggy, but that’s not so bad. It can also be laden with viruses, spyware, and other nasty pests. If you’re into free, what can you do to be sure you’re getting quality, free software?
You can start by downloading your freeware from reputable sites, such as CNET’s Download.com. However, Download.com itself tries to install programs that, while not actively harmful, can be intrusive. A better idea is to know what you’re looking for, and then research that program using established sites. For an extra layer of security, scan files using your anti-malware program before you install them.
We’ve compiled a list of programs and sites that this blogger has actually used and liked. For the most part, we’ll deal with free security software, but there are some other goodies here as well.
Free Software (and Services) You Can Actually Use
Without further ado, here are our top picks for free stuff on the web:
AVG Free Antivirus. AVG’s users—paid and free—total more than 175 million. If you don’t want to shell out $50 for a paid antivirus, AVG’s free product is one of the few that can compete with the spendy versions. On PCMag’s test, it detected 97% of potential malware, and had a respectable 78% cleanup rate. The drawback to free? In this case, it is the persistent popup boxes that either tell you what AVG has done to keep you safe or ask you to upgrade to the paid version.
A good antivirus does not a secure computer make. It needs a reliable firewall as well. Although Windows includes a default firewall, it’s not as powerful as ZoneAlarm Free Firewall. This firewall installs easily and quickly. It performs its duties so well that harmless programs may get caught in the crossfire, so if you do a lot of gaming, you may want to upgrade to Norton Internet Security or another paid suite with greater flexibility. But, if you want to stay reasonably protected without opening your wallet, ZoneAlarm is a good place to start.
Ever wonder how secure your Windows PC is? I did, so I downloaded Microsoft Baseline Security Analyzer. It took a while to scan, but it gave me a detailed report of what updates were installed, what needed to be installed, and how secure my various programs and passwords are. Don’t be put off by the fact that it’s aimed at IT professionals; a link next to each item in the report will give you more information if you need it.
Now, let’s talk about a couple of handy utility sites that, while not actually programs, are extremely useful:
Did you ever have to send sensitive information in an email? Because emails are about as safe as public billboards, it’s best to avoid the practice. But if you must, make use of a free, encrypted email service like SendInc. Your information is coded with commercial-grade encryption keys, and you can choose the length of time it is available to the recipient. After that, the email self-destructs, not even leaving a wisp of smoke behind.
Fax machines may be going the way of the corded phone, but there are still times when you need to send a fax. FaxZero offers free (up to 3 pages with an ad) or cheap ($1.99, up to 25 pages, no ad) faxes. Just attach your files, set up a cover sheet if you’re using one, and check your email box for confirmation that the fax has been received.
Next week, check back with Techsperts Talks About as we muse on our favorite—and not so favorite—productivity suites.