Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Best Freeware

There is a ton of free software out there that is just as good as commercial versions. I am by no means an expert in any way about this kind of stuff. But, aside from talking with friends who know more about it than I do, I have found some websites that give a pretty good consensus from others who are more in-the-know about what the best software is. Specifically, I've been going through lists at Gizmo's Tech Support Alert.

I originally found it when looking for some other freeware to replace my firewall and anti-virus software. I had been using ZoneAlarm for my firewall, and AVG for my anti-virus. But, both had been pissing me off for various reasons. So, I went looking for replacements. This was a few months ago. I ended up getting Online Armor for my firewall and Avast! (though it is exciting, the exclamation point is part of the name and not something I put in there) for my anti-virus. I've been very happy with both of them over several months of use.

Online Armor: Online Armor can be a bit intrusive, asking you about a dozen times whether the program you are trying to run is ok. This is especially true right away, as it has to "get used to" all of the programs you already have. And it puts up a little advertisement for itself in the corner on that blue screen as Windows is loading (essentially, "Windows - protected by ONLINE ARMOR! - is starting up"). That's kind of annoying, but not a big deal. I mean, you don't need to advertise to me anymore, dumbasses. I already installed you. Aside from those things, I find it pretty easy to use. It also loads up fine on startup, which was a real problem ZoneAlarm had on my computer. ZoneAlarm always went through at least three or four hiccups before it finally finished initializing. And, Online Armor doesn't nag me with screens trying to get me to upgrade, buy other products, donate money or anything like that, which is something I've found myself really appreciating in freeware. Oftentimes with free software, you have to put up with those kinds of minor inconveniences.

Avast!: Arr, mateys, this be a fine anti-virus program! I liked AVG for a long time, but then there was something about it that I absolutely loathed. I forget now what it was (maybe they changed their policies about it or something), but I don't really care that much anymore because I'm now happy with Avast! On the downside, I get temporary slowdowns on my computer when Avast! downloads new virus definitions. But, honestly, that is probably due more to my computer being a piece of crap than the fault of Avast! And I appreciate the fact that Avast! so frequently stays up to date. Oh, I do have to mention the sound. When you first install Avast!, it will give you an audible alert along with a visual alert whenever it updates and stuff. I knew after the first time of being startled by my computer speaking to me, "Your computer has new virus definitions," that the sound had to go. The voice was soothing enough, but I knew that having to hear that over and over every day was just not going to fly. But, again, like Online Armor, it has been solid and I don't have any nagging splash screens or anything like that.

I could go more into detail about the features and such these programs have, but I don't really know what the hell I would be talking about and you can just read whatever I would be quoting from the websites. "How 'bout those leak tests, eh? Can't beat that Online Armor. Fo' shizzle!"

Let's see, what other free stuff have I used so far from the Gizmo lists? I got CCleaner, a file cleaner that gets rid of all those useless Temp folders and such on your computer that just clutter up your drive. That first cleansing was pretty great, freeing up about 2 gigs of space, if I remember correctly, which is pretty awesome considering my hard drive is only 20 gigs (I told you it was a piece of crap).

I also got A-Squared, a program to scan for/remove trojan horses and stuff. Basically, Avast! scans for a bunch of stuff, and A-Squared scans for any other stuff that Avast! doesn't, covering my bases. When I first got it, I did a scan and a couple of things popped up that were missed by other programs. So, I figured it was a decent download.

I also got The Gimp as an Adobe Photoshop substitute. But that sorta doesn't count, since I already used to use it at work. I have since gotten over my initial hatred for the Gimp interface and actually like the program now. However, if people are turned off by the interface and prefer something like Photoshop, there is Gimpshop, which supposedly mimics the Photoshop interface. I haven't used it, though.

I fiddled around with Sandboxie for a little while. Basically, what Sandboxie does is create a little partitioned area, a "sandbox," for you to run programs in. Things within the sandbox do not affect the rest of your computer unless you specifically allow them to. So, for example, you can run your internet browser in Sandboxie, download all sorts of potentially unsavory files and the files will be isolated from the rest of your computer. At the end of your Sandboxie session, you can specify what things you downloaded you really want on your computer, and it will put them there and delete the rest of the crap. The upside is that it adds an extra layer of security to your computer, and prevents some unnecessary cluttering of your drive. But, after using it a couple of times, I got tired of it. My browsing practices aren't that bad and I know what I should and shouldn't be downloading and all of that. So, it just became more of a hassle than anything. But, it might be a decent idea for those who are more paranoid about what they download.

JAP is another program I tried out one time out of curiosity. It is a program that uses proxies and encryption and so forth to anonymize your IP whenever you go surfing the internet. Again, I guess it could add some security to your browsing, but it seems more like something you would use if you wanted to do something illegal on the internet and didn't want to get caught. And, because it is a German program, all the sites that you visit end up being German versions of the sites because your proxies are German-based. For example, in my one use of it, I was getting the German version of Yahoo when I went to that site. So, again, that alone was much more hassle than useful to me. And that isn't even mentioning the setup for the program, which was a pretty big pain. Definitely not worth it to me.

I've got some other programs waiting to install to check out. I'll let you know what and how they are. Anyways, check out Gizmo's Tech Support Alert for any free stuff you might want to pimp out your computer. They have lists broken down into categories, or you can just go to the bottom of the page and click on the Show Me Everything link to see all the lists. They also have some Guides and Tutorials that might be useful, as well as links to other good tech websites.


-k said...

hmm, i'll have to check out the Gimp freeware- what did you used to use it for at work (or what do you use it for now)?

Monkey Mike said...

Let me know if you like it or not. It took me a while to warm up to it, and looking at some tutorials helped. At work, we would use it for any kind of photo manipulation stuff, like creating stimuli for experiments and stuff. Personally, I've used it for making custom portraits for games, as well as for making all of the images for the Buffy Cyberboard that you can't open.