The world wide web is full of software that can make your life easier and more productive; the best part is there are many which are free without compromising on their features and quality. Here’s a selection.
Those little electronic pocket dictionaries that looked like digital diaries may never have taken off, but WordWeb sure looks a winner. A desktop international English thesaurus and dictionary for Windows, you can use it to look up words from almost any program, showing definitions, synonyms and related words. Also includes pronunciations (through sound files) and usage examples, and has helpful spelling and sounds-like links.
If you are looking for a particular part of speech you can click on the Noun, Verb, Adjective or Adverb buttons to show only the relevant synonyms and related words. It can be used offline, or online in which case you can search web references like Wikipedia — all with one click! You can also bookmark words, and a random option helps you learn vocabulary.
It integrates automatically with MS Word; you no longer need to be stuck with their American dictionary as WordWeb offers you British, American, Canadian, Australian, New Zealand [Images], Irish, South African, Asian and International English options.
WordWeb has a free version which allows you to do almost anything you may need, with some additional features in the paid Pro version costing $29.
There is someone watching everything you do online. The agents are collectively called spyware, which is software installed on your computer without your knowledge. They create your marketing profiles by transmitting your web usage patterns and information about you to compilers who sell this to advertisers. They may not be as harmful as viruses, but these can still slow down your computer, clog up your net connections or even cause it to crash. And there are privacy issues too, which can compromise your safety.
Popular anti-spyware downloads include (ranked best first) Ad-Aware (www.lavasoftusa.com/), Spybot – Search and Destroy (www.safer-networking.org/), SpyCatcher Express (www.tenebril.com/consumer/spyware/spycatcher-express.php) and SpywareCatcher (www.spywarecatcher.com/).
AVG Anti-virus free edition
Certainly the most popular of free anti-virus programs, AVG is seen to be more effective than even the paid products from Norton and McAfee. The free version is only for personal, non-commercial use and on single machines only. There is no technical support available either.
For business users, and those seeking support, there are paid options starting at $29.95. Premium offerings come bundled with anti-spyware, anti-spam and firewall options too.
Image editor and organiser: Picasa from Google
With so many image editing and image organising software going around, it is always tough to make a selection. Picasa gives you both editing and organising options in one. Use it to find images on your PC, rename them and classify them in albums; you can include the same image in more than one group without taking up additional disk space.
Do single-click simple editing, make them arty by adding sepia tones, add captions and even do some fine editing. Photos can be shared over email (Picasa automatically resizes them for easy viewing in email programs), posted them on your website or blog and create slideshows, movies, posters and collages. All this for free!
Joost: TV on the internet
Ever since the internet caught popular imagination, users have been waiting for the day when television content would come streaming in onto our PCs. Joost has finally done it. Download it, and start watching — it’s as simple as that.
Choose your channels from a selection of music, sports, travel, adventure, wildlife, sci-fi, animation and more from some of the world’s best-known TV channels. This list is being expanded all the time (it’s a bit limited to make everyone happy at the moment). It lets you watch any programme whenever you want and interactive features make it even more fun. Unlike YouTube you cannot share content though. Also, as with regular TV, you will have to grit your teeth and sit through the ads.
The catch — yes, there is a catch — is it’s by invitation currently. So you will need to find someone who has a spare invite, or apply to be invited on the site. Invites are usually with users who already have Joost — find a friend or search the web for those advertising spare invites. You will need to set aside 500 MB of disk space for it though, a bit for the software and the rest for buffering content.
Pdf995: Convert anything to PDF
How often have we wanted a simple way to convert documents to PDF for distribution? Pdf995 makes it possible simply by installing itself as a printer.
So, when you want to convert your document, give the print command and choose Pdf995 as the printer. Customisation options allow you to produce professional quality documents, in any desired format. Free versions make you see a sponsored ad everytime to use it though and for $9.95 you can avoid these.
Talk to the world: Skype
A must-have for those needing to make long distance calls (although it can be used for local calls too). Make free calls to other Skype users anywhere in the world, or call landlines and mobiles at rates to beat most calling cards with the SkypeOut service.
A Pro feature allows unlimited calls to landlines within your own country for a monthly fee of about three dollars, but this feature is not offered in India yet.
You can even get a real telephone number for people to call you on Skype, or you could forward these to another line at SkypeOut rates. Use this service for chats with other Skype users, sending SMS and voicemail too.
See the world: Google Earth
If Skype lets you talk to the world, Google Earth lets you see it. It combines the power of Google Search with satellite imagery, maps, terrain and 3D buildings to put the world’s geographic information at your fingertips. Type the address to see your house, or get driving directions when you search for a specific location like a school, park, restaurant and hotels you want to get to.
It also allows you to tilt and rotate the view to see 3D terrain and buildings, or look up to explore the sky. It’s limitation lies in pointed images and information being available more for the developed countries, but this is changing gradually.
You have a vision of your dream house, the world’s tallest building, a new bedroom or a home woodworking project? Visualise and bring it all to life at Google SketchUp, a hidden gem in Google’s formidable arsenal. There’s no need for any designers or architects, just do it yourself and share these 3D models with everyone.
It comes with a full set of sophisticated modeling and design tools, and includes great advice for getting started. And if you want to share your models with others, or if you want to be able to use models that others have created, you can post them on the 3D warehouse which comes as a part of this service.
For those not too artistically inclined, the 3D warehouse allows you to grab models from there. SketchUp has fans amongst professionals too; they are known to make 3D models from their Autocad files. Of course, if you need more advanced features a pro version is available for $495.
It’s called OpenOffice.org, not Open Office, and is the leading open-source office software suite for word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, graphics, databases and more. It is available in many languages and works on all common computers.
All your data is stored in an international open standard format and can also read and write files from other common office software packages. It can be downloaded and used completely free of charge for any purpose. Besides being free, it is supposed to be easier to use and also more stable than MS Office.