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Free / Open Source

 Giveaway of the Day

There are some very good open source alternative office suites that match most features of Microsoft's product line, such as OpenOffice.org and AbiWord - as well image manipulation programs such as Gimp instead of Adobe's or Corel's offerings. Also, when it comes to browsers, you really should be looking at Mozilla, Firefox, and Opera, which are very go alternatives to Internet Explorer. Also, Thunderbird is a good replacement for Outlook. You also might try Blender  if you need a 3D software program similar to Bryce 3D or 3D Studio MAX, or Audacity if your are looking for something similar to Cakewalk or Sound Forge. Instead of PC Anywhere, try RealVNC, or Filezilla instead of WS_FTP. You can find even more alternatives here, here, and here.

Another new category - or combination of categories - is Live CDs. These CD's are for the most part Linux or BSD UNIX based operating systems that run a full environment of the OS directly off the bootable CD. Basically, with a live CD all you need is a CD drive, no hard disk is necessary - which is why they are great for diagnosing crashed systems, or for bringing your computer with you, in your shirt pocket! And, there are MANY different (several hundred) versions - called "flavors" or "distros" based mainly on Knoppix - that come with different themes of programs. For example, a distribution that has a large collection of chemistry programs, or computer security programs, or mapping programs. You name it, and someone may already have a portable operating system that is "hand rolled" to include a bunch of related programs to help someone in a certain field of work to have all those tools at his fingertips.

All you do is insert the disk in your CD-Rom, reboot your computer (making sure that the BIOS is set to boot off the CD first), and you are running the new operating system - and usually online - within 5 minutes! It makes no changes to your system hard disks, so when you are done and restart, your computer is just as it was the last time you ran Windows. This is also a great way to "test-drive" an alternative OS without doing irreversible changes to your file systems.

Another recent development along the same lines as the Live Linux CDs is a small group of Windows-based Live CDs that are referred to as "PEs" which stands for "Preinstalled Environment". Microsoft has since around 2002 had what is called WinPE for its OEM customers as a tool. A genius from the Netherlands named Bart Lagerweij was able to try a copy, and found out how to not only make a similar system, but also how to improve it greatly - allowing a full GUI environment, not just command line access. His system - BartPE - is a "roll your own" program that allows you to choose what you want as far as programs, and then run the compile program and it builds an ISO image that can be burned to CD. Other related projects are The Ultimate Boot CD for Windows (which uses all open source programs) and 911 CD Builder

I personally have several versions of BartPE that are configured for disaster recovery to remove viruses, spyware and adware, read and manipulate files, format and create partitions, burn files to CDR, and get online to find drivers if necessary. I have Open Office, Partition Magic, Spybot S&D, Adaware, Internet Explorer, several virus scanning tools, and Nero all there if I need them - rather than hacking around blindly with a boot disk trying to find out what is wrong with a system that won't boot.

It is only fitting to save the best for last - free Internet multi-person voice chat, instead of per-minute phone charges. Skype is a free VOIP (Voice over IP) program that lets you for free initiate and take part in up to 5-way conversations. I myself routinely have 3 and 4 way conversations from here in Maine to Cambridge, Mass., Tokyo, Japan, and Albuquerque, NM, and these conversations can last for hours. (Someday try to set this up over the phone system!). Skype also has add-ins you can pay for, such as to call in or out to the phone system. Camfrog is the best webcam chat program (we have been using it for the video portion and Skype for the audio which seems to work out better - probably by not overloading one particular server, and also seems to stay in-sync better). They offer a quite high quality small video window with unlimited usage to one other person at a time. For a fee structure, you can have multiple - up to 100 (how you could see them I have no idea) video windows at once. Also, you can have nearly full-screen video on 1 to 1 chats. 2 very neat, and free, programs.

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