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Software for your PC

Hardware gets cheaper but a lot of software doesn't. This is my list of good software that is free or cheap.

Before starting the list I want to recommend a site that looks at your website and produces a range of sitemaps free of charge for you to download. After you have uploaded them to your website you can get the site to ping all of the search engines to register your sitemaps with them. Please make sure you send a donation to make sure we don't lose this excellent service : HTML and Google Xml Sitemap Generator

OpenOffice and Libre Office (previously Star Office)

These are as good as, or better than, Microsoft Excel, Word and Powerpoint. They can open and save Microsoft Office files and in most cases look and feel the same. Libre Office is an offshoot (called a fork) of OpenOffice but at the moment both are very similar. I am currently using Libre Office. One reason is that only Libre Office will handle Microsoft XML versions of documents and powerpoints. No doubt OpenOffice will do so soon.

They also contain a draw package and an equation editor, though the latter is a bit clunky. The only thing I don't like is that you can't set a different default file storage directory for each part of the system, e.g. Writer, Calc and Impress.

Base, the database manager, is moving towards being powerful enough to replace Access. Its not quite there yet and there is a lack of manuals. To find out more click here.

Download from: http://download.openoffice.org/ or http://www.libreoffice.org/download/

There are excellent user guides at: https://wiki.documentfoundation.org/Documentation/Publications

What operating system? Why not ubuntu?

Windows becomes more pointlessly bloated with each release. What's more you are forced by Microsoft to buy yet again, even though you are very happy with the current system. In my case this was XP. I could see no reason to change, however I had to fork out to buy Windows 7. Yes, its good and I like it, but I don't need it. Despite having even more powerful hardware it runs no faster.

I decided to list what I wanted from an operating system: providing a graphical interface, installing third party applications, building a sensible file system, using the web and email, creating a home network, peripheral handling... er that's it.

I am now trying ubuntu. I cut my teeth on Unix and could never see it being suitable for a home computer. I played with linux and still felt the same way. Now I have tried ubuntu. Many thanks to Mark Shuttleworth, founder of Thawte, for putting money into creating a team of developers in his company Canonical to create and support ubuntu. As a result we can have an operating system that is free, in both the financial and licence senses, and appears to be as good as, or better than, Windows. One major advantage of ubuntu is that there are different versions available to run on the most primitive computers up to the fastest. You can ressurect that 12 year old laptop.

For a good introduction buy 'The Official ubuntu Book: seventh edition'. It comes with a disk to try the operating system. I ran it off the disk and liked it. It found my networked printer and the internet access was faultless with the built-in Firefox and Thunderbird. Ubuntu comes with the full LibreOffice suite so once it is installed you have a fully-functioning computer. I have just bought a very bog-standard PC for less than the retail price of Windows 7 and am going to to install ubuntu on it. I am confident that I will be able to junk Windows at last.

What will I lose? I use Access 2010 and the LibreOffice database manager can't do what it does. At the moment the windows package installer called wine can't install it. Until I can install 2010 I will have to use more clunky spreadsheet versions of the tables and put up with a lack of function.

AVG free anti-virus and anti-spyware software

AVG/Grisoft produces excellent antivirus software. It picks up more viruses than Norton and is free. You can also buy a commercial version with a firewall for a reasonable price.

Download from: http://free.grisoft.com/

Kaspersky anti-virus

I have now switched to Kaspersky. In tests its out-performs all other anti-virus applications so I think its well worth the modest price.

Mozilla Firefox

This is the best web browser. The others always have to catch up when Mozilla introduces new ideas like tabs. You can squeeze many bookmark icons on the toolbar because, unlike Internet Explorer, you are not forced to have a text label. I trust its security better than Internet Explorer, and it conforms to the worldwide web standards. However it is possible for others to view the passwords that Firefox stores on your computer. You must set a master password using tools/option/privacy. You can now get Firefox for Android smartphones. It enables you to sync with your desktop version so you don't have to carry your bookmarks and (encrypted) passwords with you. You might choose Safari, Opera or Google Chrome instead, which are also free. I avoid Google like the plague because I object to the way they collect and sell my data.

On the Internet courses I used to run I always warned people to think of emails as postcards not letters. However the disgusting intrusion into our privacy carried out by GCHQ in the UK and the NSA in the US goes far beyond what even the most suspicious of us felt possible. We owe a vote of thanks to Ed Snowden. Technically he is a criminal but to people who value our hard-won freedoms he is a hero. 'If you don't do wrong you have nothing to fear', is no argument. Governments should not, in this sinister way, intrude into and record what innocent people do without their consent. That is what the Stazi did, so it is no wonder that the East German Angela Merkel is horrified. Mozilla has improved the privacy on Firefox and there is now an add-on called Lightbeam which allows you to see which third-party companies are recording your data. Alternatively conduct your searches using duckduckgo.

In the light of Ed Snowden's evidence about the US secret services putting back doors in software, Mozilla has asked people to keep an eye on the code to spot any attempts to do this to Firefox. This is very likely to be successful.

Download from: http://www.mozilla.com/en-US/

Google Chrome

This is the next best browser. I like its simple and clean layout. If you are a dedicated googler everything you want is there - gmail, maps, pictures, documents etc. Don't forget, however, that Google stores and sells your data. One major fault is how it stores passwords for the sites you need to log into. Unlike Firefox you cannot protect them with a master password so they are not secure. You have the option not to store them on shared computers, but that isn't really the answer. The version for smart phones is excellent.

Download from: https://www.google.com/chrome/

Mozilla Thunderbird

This is an email package that does the same as Microsoft Outlook. However it does not arrogantly prevent you from attaching files such as Access mdb files. It credits you with knowing what you're doing.

Download from: http://www.mozilla.com/en-US/

An alternative is Eudora at http://www.eudora.com/download/.

Duckduckgo

I have never trusted google and my suspicions appear to have been justified by its continuing intrusions into our lives with streetview, wifi data capture and now glass. Until now my searches have been done with Altavista (Yahoo). However DuckDuckGo is a replacement for both. According to its wikipedia entry 'it positions itself as a search engine that puts privacy first and as such it does not store IP addresses, does not log user information and uses cookies only when needed. [The owner Gabriel] Weinberg states "By default, DuckDuckGo does not collect or share personal information. That is our privacy policy in a nutshell."' In the light of Edward Snowden's heroic revelations about the UK and US governments' abominable probing into our lives, this is now all the more important. I have nothing to hide, but unlike the young who don't seem to care, I value the privacy and freedom that my ancestors fought long and hard for.

Download from: www.duckduckgo.com

Mozbackup

How easy it is to forget to back up emails, and browser data such as bookmarks and passwords. Fortunately MozBackup has given us software to make this simple. You just have to remember to run it once a week or so to back up to your hard disk. If you have network attached storage (NAS) such as Western Digital or Buffalo (and you should) you can use backup software such as Memeo that automatically backs up any file, as it is created or changed, from your hard disk to the NAS. That includes the backup files that MozBackup creates as well. Belt and braces!

Download Mozbackup from: http://mozbackup.org/

KompoZer

My venerable copy of Dreamweaver 8 will no longer activate. I followed up the recommendation to try KompoZer and so far I am very impressed. Uploading pages ('publishing') using FTP is very simple. I like the split editing screen better than Dreamweaver. I have a way to go before I can be sure that it will do all I want. I think more hand coding is needed than I am used to. That said it looks very good so many thanks to Fabien Cazenave (aka Kaz),the  KompoZer lead developer. Please donate some money to him so that this excellent project can continue.

Download from: http://www.kompozer.net

FileZilla

This is a great way to use file transfer protocol outside of KompoZer, perhaps when you want to download an entire site that you are editing. 

Download from: http://sourceforge.net/projects/filezilla/?source=dlp

GIMP

The great thing about digital photography is that you can improve the image by changing contrast, brightness and colour balance. You can crop the photo to select the important bit. If you have ever used Photoshop you will know what you can achieve. GIMP allows you to do the same things as Photoshop but it is free. The interface is perhaps a little more clunky. You can also get an add-on the read raw files.

Download from: http://www.gimp.org/downloads

Skype

This is a Voice over IP (VoIP) phone service. When used Skype to Skype it is free to anywhere in the world and the quality is excellent if you have broadband, even if the connection is slow. You can also phone in the usual way to landlines using SkypeOut. In England, local and national calls to 01 and 02 are 1.2p per minute at all times, and international calls start at 1.2p. Most developed countries are at this rate, even to mobiles in many. All you need is a headset and microphone costing perhaps 3, and a credit or debit card to buy credit for SkypeOut. If you have a network with Internet access, each computer can have its own connection - effectively its own separate phone line.

If you want to use a Skype telephone, they can be bought for 10, but spend a bit more to get one that does not use your sound card, or you get Windows sounds interrupting your chat. Originally I used a Philips VOIP321 ethernet/USB base station that gave both Skype and normal PSTN phone connections with several cordless telephones. It cost about 70 with two handsets. I have now switched to RTX 3088 basestations and handsets, again connecting to both landline and Skype. They have excellent range and sound quality and plug into an ethernet switch or broadband router, so they do not require any computers to be switched on.

You can also use video cameras so you can see and be seen whilst you phone, but make sure you buy one that has the Skype logo on the package. You might not be able to use the camera with the above dual Skype phones. You might need to switch to a simple headset when you use a camera.

Skype is also available on many mobile phones. You use your data allowance, or wifi if this is available. An alternative is the new Vonage Mobile app.

Be aware however that since Microsoft bought skype it is no longer an encrypted end-to-end service. Your calls can be intercepted and snooped on through Microsoft's servers. There was no obvious reason for the purchase. I wonder if Microsoft was bribed to do it by the NSA?

Download from: http://www.skype.com

GNU C compiler

If you intend to learn or use C, there is a good free compiler available for Windows from sourceforge. Download from http://sourceforge.net/projects/mingw. Select the default folder settings. To make it available from any folder you must change your search path, as follows. In Control panel select System/Advanced/Environment Variables. Scroll down to and double-click Path. Add to the end of the existing path ;C:\MinGW\bin;. To test the installation, go into command prompt and type gcc -v. You should get some information about the gcc version, amongst other things.

Lazarus

I used Pascal extensively in the past, with the Borland software. That is no longer available but there is now a free Open Source Pascal/Delphi compiler and development environment from SourceForge. This was recommended to me by Tom Boyd, for which thanks. I have opened and compiled ancient code with it.

Download from: http://sourceforge.net/projects/lazarus/files/

Metering your broadband usage

If you are on a broadband connection with no download limit you don't need this. Everyone else will want to avoid their speeds being slugged, or being charged, for using extra data. If you don't know what your monthly data usage is, you can download and install the free monitor from Think Broadband called tbbmeter from http://www.thinkbroadband.com/tbbmeter.html. The site also has an excellent speed test on it.

Zip

Many software packages are zipped to reduce file size. You can download winzip but, unless you want to pay, you have to use the evaluation version and get nagged each time. You can download an excellent unzip package called PK Reader 7 from Tucows at: http://www.tucows.com/

Ccleaner

You have to be really careful about software that is supposed to clean up your computer. Most is fake and install trojans on your hard disk. However ccleaner is not one of these and is recommended by Computer Shopper. It cured a past problem that was preventing my computer from installing XP updates. It is best to download it from Tucows to be reasonably sure of a clean version. http://www.tucows.com/

Downloads

In fact Tucows is probably the best site for free software and shareware. So have a browse at: http://www.tucows.com/

Hard disk monitoring utility

It pays to look after your hard disks, and to watch out for when one is likely to fail. If a disk runs hot its life will be shortened. Crystal Disk, which is a free utility, allows you to monitor your disks' vital signs. I always now fit a cooler to each disk. Crystal Disk tells me how hot each is. Download it from:

http://crystalmark.info/download/index-e.html#CrystalDiskInfo

Clearing files completely from your hard disk

If you are giving away a computer, you want to be sure that you have removed all of your files from it. Deleting them, and then removing them from the recycle bin is not enough. The data is still there. All that happens is that its start address is removed. It is quite easy to recover deleted files. What you should do is to use a program that writes over the data with patterns of characters. The free utility Eraser does that. It will even write data over all of the unused areas of your disk for a final cleanup. This does take some time to work - about the same as a full format. Download Eraser from:

http://eraser.heidi.ie

Web hosting

Take care if you change internet service provider. Some do not provide any web space at all for your web site. Others do, but charge you extra to point your domain name to it. I use tooway satellite broadband for Internet access. It doesn't offer hosting so I set up an account with 1and1. Their 'Beginner' account only costs 4.99 a month and does anything an ordinary person will need. They are very efficient and have good online support services. I have set up several web sites for other people with them. The address is: http://www.1and1.co.uk

Registering a domain name

Unless you have a good reason for doing otherwise, use BritishNIC for registering domains. The address is: http://www.britishnic.com It costs 15 for two years and is very easy to use. You can do web and email forwarding to your account at your Internet Service Provider. This is a very good idea if you change ISP regularly. You can then have an unchanging email address which can point to the new ISP or, for example, a Hotmail or Googlemail account.

Give your name a lot of thought before you register, as you will be stuck with it for a minimum of two years. You also have to decide on the high-level domain (HLD), such .co.uk, .com or .co.eu for companies or .me or .org for people. I have always advised UK companies to use .co.uk as it is then clear where you are. Some believe that .com has elan but I think it causes confusion and puts customers off.

Recently the number of top level domains has increased dramatically. There is a large range of professional and private orientated names such .me, .website, .shop, .doctor etc. If you were beaten to your choice of name under the old limited system you might now be able to grab it. I managed to get peterscott.website. However some out-of-date email systems are still rejecting email addresses using the new domains. You may of course choose more than one. It is best to remove your real name and address from the whois directory. You can't do this for business orientated domains like .co.uk.

Students and teachers

If you, or one of your family, is a student or teacher you can get a lot of software at about 25% of the normal price, called an Educational Licence. With some software there is a condition that you can only use it non-commercially. eBay has several legitimate educational licence sellers. You have to get a form signed by your school, college or university if you are a student, or a letter from your boss if you are a teacher. Adobe has a system where a teacher can send a copy of his or her ID card and payslip instead (with the money amounts rubbed out!) but I imagine this is no longer available for Dreamweaver now that it is only available as a heavy monthly subscription.

Please let me know

If you learn of other possible entries here please email me at my email address

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(C) Peter Scott 2009

Last edit 8 October 2016