NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article, October 2006
Solve Computer Problems with Canonical Lists of Free Software
By Ira Wilsker,
APCUG Director; Columnist, The Examiner, Beaumont, TX; Radio & TV Show Host

(click to email author)


In several of my recent columns, I discussed free software for a number of specific purposes. The response to those columns has been encouraging, with a common request being that the readers want more information and resources on free software.

There are several mega-download sites, with thousands of software titles available for download. Two download sites that I reference on a regular basis are download.com and tucows.com. Both sites qualify as mega sites because of the sheer volume of software available, and the ability to search via a menu or search bar. Both sites allow the software in a chosen category to be sorted by license type, such as freeware (free software), ad-ware (free software that is supported by showing the user advertisements), demo ware (demonstration versions of commercial software, generally lacking full functionality), trial ware (functional copies of commercial software, typically with an expiration date), and commercial software (pay to download it). Tucows rates the quality of the software available for download with “cows”, five cows being the best, and download.com using a star rating with five stars being the best; many programs on download.com are not rated.

One problem with the mega sites is that while they are fun places to browse, it is often difficult to decide what software will meet our desired needs, and this is where some of the canonical lists shine.

One of my favorite such lists is “I want a Freeware Utility to ... 450+ common problems solved” at http://www.econsultant.com/i-want-freeware-utilities. I have personally used the resources on this list to resolve problems that I have identified, or to perform tasks that I want done. With a listing of over 20 categories, each category is headed with the expression “I want to …” and then lists a task or function. At the top of the list is the popular category “Anti-Spyware / Anti-Virus / Anti-Rootkit”, where it says “I want to …” and then lists such responses as “protect the computer against viruses”, or “protect the browser from spyware”. Following each response is the title of the software which meets that need, hyperlinked to the download site for that free software. Some examples are the four free antivirus products listed (AVG Free, AntiVir personal edition Classic, Avast! Home Edition, and BitDefender Free Edition); three free firewalls (Sunbelt Kerio Personal Firewall, Safety.Net, and ZoneAlarm), three rootkit detectors, and a variety of other protective but free utilities.

Music lovers who want to edit, rip, copy, and burn music will find a detailed list of such programs in the “Audio / Music / MP3 / Real / Wav” section. A lot of us use word processors, spread sheets, PDF files, and other office utilities; the category covering business and office utilities contains over 25 specific utilities, all free to the user.

Other categories of freeware include communications software, several dozen desktop utilities, file and folder utilities, financial programs, graphics utilities, fun items, internet helpers, performance enhancements, productivity software, video and DVD utilities, uninstallers, and other categories, totaling over 450 titles in aggregate.

A companion site, containing a canonical list of free “open source” utilities is “Open Source Freeware: 400+ free applications and utilities” found at http://www.econsultant.com/i-want-open-source-software. The categories are somewhat similar to the 450 freeware utilities listed above, but this list only includes programs written in open source code. The page describes it thusly, “Extremely useful open source applications and utilities available free under various licenses.” Between these two companion websites are well over 850 utilities to handle almost any computing task. They can be an excellent place to check for software ideas, without any financial obligations or expenses.

A competitive site is “The 46 Best-ever Freeware Utilities” at http://www.techsupportalert.com/best_46_free_utilities.htm. This site, which has been around since 1998, is the brainchild of Ian Richards (known as “Gizmo”), a computer professional who is the editor of this site. Here on the “46” site are his best-of-breed recommendations, ranging from the best free browser, best free antivirus software, best file manager, and 43 other best in class free software products. In addition to listing the best in class free software products, Gizmo also has companion sites that list the best free support sites; best sites for tips, tricks and tweaking; best troubleshooting sites; best computer security sites, and a variety of other recommendations. With the variety and high quality of some of the freeware available, freeware can be a very viable alternative to expensive commercial software. Several of the programs that I use on a daily basis are freeware, and I am very satisfied with them. I would recommend that computer users review some of the freeware titles available, and read their reviews to determine their functionality, features and quality. The user may be pleasantly surprised at what is available for free. It should be noted that while all of these utilities listed have a freeware license, there are often restrictions on the licenses that restricts the free use to personal non-commercial use, while others are totally free to all.

To paraphrase a TV commercial, “I am not going to pay a lot for that software!”

There is no restriction against any non-profit group using this article as long as it is kept in context with proper credit given the author. The Editorial Committee of the Association of Personal Computer User Groups (APCUG), an international organization of which this group is a member, brings this article to you. There is no restriction against any non-profit group using this article as long as it is kept in context with proper credit given the author. The Editorial Committee of the Association of Personal Computer User Groups (APCUG), an international organization of which this group is a member, brings this article to you.

Click here to return to top