Download Yourself Some Free Software
Having spent a sizeable sum of money on a computer, most people are understandably reluctant to shell out another bucket-load of cash on software. The solution is simple - get something for nothing.
Itís often said that thereís "no such thing as a free lunch", but there is such a thing as free software, commonly known as "freeware" (a play on words of "shareware", which is software you can try out for a limited period before deciding whether you want to buy it). The quality of freeware varies from the abysmal to the very impressive. In this article I hope to point you in the direction of some of the better free programs available for your PC.
Most commercial word processors are large, complex and powerful. The majority of writers donít use a tenth of the features in such "bloatware", and might find themselves better served by a small, no-nonsense program instead.
The first word processor I would recommend is RoughDraft, but I must warn you that Iím biased because I wrote it! Designed specifically for writers, it has all the basic functions you would expect to find in a word processor, plus a number of special features, including play and screenplay modes, automatic creation of cover pages for submissions, and an instant backup option to ensure your work is safe in the event of computer failure. Give it a try and let me know what you think.
If RoughDraft isnít to your taste, there is another small word processor called WordTabs. Although the programmer has now finished with it (there wonít be any more updates), the latest version is an excellent program that I found more than a little influential when writing my own. Itís very stable (Iíve never managed to crash it) and contains some unusual features you might find useful.
Those who do prefer big programs with tons of features might not be satisfied by either of these. But surely you canít get an all-singing, all-dancing word processor for nothing? Well, yes you can. Itís called Sun StarOffice and itís actually not just a word processor, itís an entire office suite - word processor, spreadsheet, database, presentation manager, web browser, you name it. Enough, in short, to run a small business. StarOffice takes a bit of adjusting to, and it can be slow on older computers, but the amount of power on tap is undeniable. The main disadvantage is that itís a very large program, and downloading it from the internet can take you literally hours. The best way to get your hands on it is to wait for one of the many computer magazines to feature it on their cover CD. Fortunately, this happens quite often.
Moving away from word processors, one tool for writers that I canít recommend highly enough is WordWeb, a dictionary and thesaurus program. But why should you use this instead of the paper versions that sit on your bookshelf within armís reach? Two reasons: first, WordWeb can be started directly from many of the major commercial word processors (or from RoughDraft), and second, it collects all of the information together in one place - dictionary definitions, synonyms, antonyms, similar words, and so on. This can be a big time saver when youíre hammering away at the keyboard in an ecstasy of inspiration and suddenly need to know what "enantiomorphism" means!
If you regularly use the internet for research, then, like me, you probably have a love/hate relationship with it. Two of the biggest frustrations are (a) speed (in other words, lack of it) and (b) losing your connection when youíre in the middle of downloading something.
Naviscope aims to speed up your browsing in several ways. The most useful feature is the ad blocker which cuts out most of the adverts that appear on web pages, leaving more time for downloading the actual information youíre interested in. On my system, Naviscope has blocked just over 10000 adverts since I installed it - thatís a lot of saved time! It also has the ability to fetch pages before you decide to go to them, a tweak to make sure your internet connection settings are set for maximum speed, and even an option to keep your PCís clock accurate by downloading the current time from an atomic clock on the internet.
The strangely titled and funky-looking Go!Zilla has two particularly useful features for those who get a lot of files off the internet. Firstly, whenever you attempt to download something, it jumps to the fore and does a quick search of the web to find the fastest download sites for you. Second, it supports resumable downloads. This means that if your connection to the internet fails in the middle of a download, you can pick up where you left off rather than having to start all over again.
Many of the files you can get from the internet are compressed to make them smaller and therefore faster to download. They need to be uncompressed once youíve got hold of them, and for this I recommend PowerArchiver. Constantly and tirelessly updated by its author, it offers all the compression options you could ever need. In addition, the help system is comprehensive and contains a tutorial to get you started.
One program that every computer user should have installed is a virus checker. Luckily, thereís a thorough and very simple one called InoculateIT Personal Edition, which has been made free by its authors, Computer Associates. Updates appear on their web site on a very regular basis. Download an update every few weeks and your system will have the best chance of spotting and recovering from the latest viruses.
- RoughDraft (5 mins) - rsalsbury.co.uk/roughdraft
- WordTabs (6 mins) - No home page, try searching ZDNet, Nonags or Moochers (addresses below)
- StarOffice (4 hours 10 mins) - www.sun.com/staroffice
- WordWeb (19 mins) - www.wordweb.co.uk
- Naviscope (3 mins) - www.naviscope.com
- Go!Zilla (7 mins) - www.gozilla.com
- PowerArchiver (8 mins) - www.powerarchiver.com
InoculateIT Personal Edition (14 mins) - http://antivirus.cai.com
These are only a few of the programs you can download from the internet for free. If youíre hankering for more, you can find them at any one of the dozens of web sites that hold libraries of freeware and shareware. Some of the most useful are:
- Nonags - www.nonags.com
- Tucows - www.tucows.com
- ZDNet - www.zdnet.co.uk/software/free
- Moochers - www.moochers.com
Itís also worth keeping an eye on the newsagentís shelves for magazine cover CDs - every now and again someone does a blitz on freeware and shareware.
Since writing this article PowerArchiver has become shareware and InoculateIT has been discontinued and replaced with a shareware equivalant. For free alternatives I suggest: