BOOT CAMP 475 (08/0/07)
Freeware Top Tens. Part 1, Utilities
The free software market has come a long way
since the first Boot Camp roundup, back in 1998 but the overriding principle is
still the same. Freeware really is something for nothing, (or next to nothing);
it’s the elusive free lunch, usually with no strings attached.
The obvious question is why would anyone want
to give away computer software, which, if it was any good, could presumably be
sold at a fair price? There’s no simple answer but many of the best freeware
programs are just that and are given away by genuinely altruistic individuals
and organisations, who for various reasons want to share their expertise or
challenge the traditional market model. Others have ambitions to take on the
big boys, usually with a view to getting their products established or
road-tested before launching a paid-for version a year or two down the line.
Some freeware is an unashamed ruse to tempt you
into buying a more sophisticated version of the same program, or it’s just an
older version of a program that is no longer commercially viable. A fair number
of shareware programs are small tools, utilities and add-ons designed to
improve the functionality of other programs and therefore have little or no
Whatever its origins, if asked, it is polite to
make a small donation or pay a modest license fee if you find a freeware
program useful and continue to use it and in doing so you will help to sustain
this lively and vitally important segment of the software market.
Of course not everything is what it seems and
there are plenty of rogue operators peddling ‘free’ software that could end up
costing you more than just money. Many programs that purport to eradicate
spyware and malware infections are spiked with nasties, or generate ‘false
positives’ to scare you into shelling out for programs or services that more
often than not do not work. Suffice it to say that the programs we’ll be
featuring have, as far as possible, been given a clean bill of health;
nevertheless you download and use them entirely at your own risk, nor are we
able to answer any technical queries relating to these programs.
To set the ball rolling we begin this week with
a selection of utilities that one way or another improves the look or
functionality of Windows. They have all been tested on Windows XP, many of them
also work on earlier versions of Windows but Vista users will have to wait
until later in the year when we are planning a freeware and shareware special
for the new operating system.
One of the Windows Explorer’s many annoyances is the way it
displays the size of a file, but not folders. Foldersize puts this right;
simply right-click on the column title bar, select Folder Size from the
drop-down menu and the new File Size column appears.
Free Commander, http://www.freecommander.com/
If you just don’t get on with Windows Explorer
try this alternative. Free Commander is similar in appearance but it has a
number if useful extras, including a built-in file viewer and compressed file
reader, fast access to all drives, buttons for Start menu, Control Panel,
System folders and Desktop and the twin-pane display can be easily
re-configured for a horizontal or vertical layout.
Intellipoint Mouse Magnifier, http://tinyurl.com/2t2zl4
This freebie mouse utility program from
Microsoft is designed for mice with scroll wheels. Once installed go to Control Panel, double-click the
Mouse icon, select the Buttons tab then the Wheel Button drop-down menu. Select
Magnify then click OK and when you next click the mouse wheel button the
pointer turns into a magnifying glass
In earlier versions of Windows it used to be
possible to remap keyboard functions. KeyTweak restores that facility to XP, so
you decide what each key does. It’s a great way of putting those obscure and
unused keys to some good use.
If you are stuck with a capped broadband contract you need to know
how much data you are downloading each month, or you may incur penalties.
Netmeter displays real-time, daily, weekly and monthly usage logs, it also
estimates future traffic levels, handy if you are thinking about switching ISPs.
What’s on your hard drive, how much
room are your programs and files taking up, and how much free space is left?
Scanner shows you, with an easy to understand concentric pie chart.
You can do all sorts of things with this neat little program, like
closing windows, opening programs, printing and navigating menus by
'gesturing' with your mouse. For example, to close a window just hold
down the left mouse button and draw the letter 'C' (it appears on the
screen in blue). There are more than 80 preset commands to play with,
or you can create your own.
Visual ToolTip, http://chsalmon.club.fr/index.php?en/Visual-tooltip-about
like the look of Windows Vista but are not yet ready to make the move here’s a
way to have one of the new operating system’s most attractive features on your
XP desktop. Visual ToolTip creates thumbnail previews when you hover your mouse
pointer over a taskbar button
Windows volume control is really annoying, you have to click on the little
speaker icon then fiddle around with the slider but with Volumouse just hold
down the Alt key and spin your mouse wheel to raise or lower the volume.
Zune Desktop Theme,
couple of years ago Microsoft designed a dark and stylish desktop theme for XP
called Royal Noire (it is very black…). It was never officially released but
copies leaked out and MS have ironed out the bugs renamed it Zune and now it’s
even more eye-catching!
Next Week – More Freeware and Shareware Top Tens
broadband contract with monthly usage limits
Change or reassign the functions of keys on a PC keyboard
Small postage-stamp sized image
BONUS TIP OF THE WEEK
Yet more generosity from
Microsoft. This little add-on is part of the Windows ‘Power Toys’ suite and it
works on the Windows task switching function, which lets you change running
applications by pressing Alt + Tab. As well as the usual row of icons you’ll
also see a thumbnail preview of the programs as you flick between them.
© R. Maybury 2007, 0205