Shareware and freeware might just restore your faith in a world gone mad, where the boss of a computer software company can amass a personal fortune greater than the combined national assets of several small countries. This week we've put together a selection of ten genuinely useful programs (actually only eight of them are useful, the other two are just for fun…) that are either completely free, or cost a fraction of their commercial counterparts. These are some of the missing bits from the operating system, applications and office suites that came with your computer, that will make you and your PC more productive, easier to use and more secure.

Don't expect any fancy packaging, inch-thick manuals or free helplines, and be prepared to invest a little time and effort in downloading them from the Internet or searching through magazine cover discs. However, the rewards and savings are considerable, and you'll have the satisfaction of knowing that you're helping to support and small but vitally important part of the computer software industry.

We covered the basics in last week's Boot Camp; to recap briefly, you will need an up to date anti-virus program and an unzip utility, and if you intend to go on using any of these programs don't forget to register and pay any licence fees. The programs are available from the web sites listed, most of them can also be found in major shareware libraries (see below) and on computer magazine cover mount CD-ROMs. Finally the obligatory disclaimer. We have tried them all, and they worked fine on our PCs, but we cannot take responsibility for any nasty things they might do to your system, nor can we provide technical support or answer any queries. If you like what you see please tell us about it, and if you have any favourites of your own we would like to hear about them.   

ACDSEE 32, 1.79Mb, 30-day shareware trial, Windows 95/98/NT

ACDSee is a fast and efficient image viewer perfect for viewing the contents of Internet downloads and cache files. It supports all of the most commonly used image file formats, including  BMP, DCX, animated GIF, IFF, JPEG, PCD, PCX, PIC, PNG, PSD, TGA, TIFF and WMF. Simply click on the icon in the easy to use directory window and a small thumbnail preview appears almost instantly, another click opens it full size, or you can move and copy the file to other locations, copy it to the clipboard, zoom, print or create a slide show.


DEMONSTAR 3.0, 5.8Mb, shareware, Windows 95/98/NT

All work and no play… Demonstar is an good old-fashioned alien shoot-em up combining bits from the most popular arcade games, like Space Invaders and Asteroids, but brought up to date with superb graphics and sound effects, just be careful, it's compulsive!


EZDESK, 84kB, shareware, Windows 95/98/NT

This brilliant little utility puts you in complete charge of your desktop. It manages icon and folder, hiding or minimising windows, clearing history and run lists, it provides you with a set of 'hot keys' to perform various functions (save folders, shutdown etc.) and if that isn't enough it can save and restore your preferred desktop layout.


INTERNATIONAL PGP, 6.9Mb, freeware, Windows 95/98/NT

Pretty Good Privacy is the de-facto data encryption program, it's so powerful that the US Government classed it as 'munitions' and tried to prevent its distribution. This 'International' version is free to use and is one of the very best ways of making sure that any files stored on your PC, or you send (or receive) over the Internet remain private.


INTERNET TIMER 4, 1.2Mb, shareware 30-day evaluation, Windows 95/98/NT

If you want to keep an eye on the time you spend on line, and the other members of your family, Internet Timer will keep you up to date. It features taskbar displays showing time and cost, it can be set up for multiple users and there are alarms to warn you when you reach time or cost limits.


MICROSOFT POWERTOYS, 209kB, freeware, Windows 95/98

Something free from Microsoft! Powertoys are a set of tools that put you in charge of how Windows 95 looks and works. It includes the powerful Tweak UI utility, for managing behind the scenes operations, icons and Windows Explorer plus lots of useful updates and enhancements. If you are using Windows 98 you will find a later version of Powertoys on the CD-ROM installation disc in the Tools folder, in a file called 'Reskit', look at the readme file first, for installation instructions.


MY OWN BACKUP, 1.1MB, freeware, Windows 95/98

Sooner or later your PC will keel over and die and if you haven't made backups of all of your important data and systems files you could be in big trouble. My Own Backup makes it easy for you, it can be configured to work in the way that suits you best by creating compressed backups that you can save to floppy discs or any other drive or your choice. If the worst happens there's a restore facility that will hopefully get you back up and running again in double quick time.


REAL 3D ICONS, 950kB, freeware, Windows 95/98/NT

If you are bored with your Windows desktop why not liven it up by changing your mouse pointer and cursors. Real 3D is just one of a huge number of animated pointer collections on the Internet, and a good place to start if you've never dabbled with this kind of thing before, since it's well documented, easy to download and install.


SHREDDER 95, 1.3Mb, trial version limited to 20 'shreds', Windows 95/98/NT

Normally, when you delete a file or program in Windows all that happens is that its name is removed from the disc directory, the contents remain on the disc, and can be recovered, until they are overwritten. Shredder does the job properly, by completely removing all traces of a program, and overwriting the data so that absolutely nothing remains. Use it wisely, there's no going back once you click the delete button!


STAY ALIVE, 450kB, shareware 30-day evaluation, Windows 95/98

When the dreaded blue screen of death or a fatal error message appears on your screen what can you do? If Stay Alive is running on your system there's a fair chance you'll be able to recover from a crash, at the very least it should allow you to save any open files or documents before the inevitable re-boot.


Next week – Essential backups






Means of protecting files and data by scrambling the information to make it unintelligible. Encrypted data can only be read using suitable software, unlocked with unique decryption 'key'


A combination of two or three keys strokes that activates a command or a program


Reduced sized image, quicker to load and display and cuts down on memory resources



If you are using Outlook Express and you receive and send a lot of email then your Inbox and Outbox folders could be swallowing up a lot of valuable hard disc space. Get into the habit of regularly 'compacting' the files, this can also make them small enough to backup to a floppy disc. Click and highlight the selected Inbox or Outbox folder icon then go to the File menu, select Folder and Compact Folder. If you want to backup your email you will find it in C:/program files/Outlook Express/Default User. Inbox and Outbox files come in pairs with '.idx' (index) and '.mbx' (mailbox) extensions, and must be copied or saved together.

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