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 commercial value.


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,

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,

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,

If you 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




The 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,

A 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





Low-cost broadband contract with monthly usage limits



Change or reassign the functions of keys on a PC keyboard



Small postage-stamp sized image





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

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