Free Software for Your Computer
- Word Processing and Spreadsheets
- Anti–Virus and Anti–Spyware
- Editing Digital Images
- Encryption and Password Protection
- Web Browsers
There’s plenty more free software listed at www.osalt.com.
Word Processing, Spreadsheets, etc
If your new computer doesn’t come with Microsoft Office already installed, don’t panic. Rather than contribute to Bill Gates’s next yacht, you can get something very similar for free.
Open Office includes software for word processing, spreadsheets, slide show presentations, databases and more. It recognises both open–source and proprietory formats, including Microsoft’s .doc Word format and .xls Excel format, and allows users to create PDFs. For the vast majority of users it is as good as Microsoft Office, if not better.
Anti–Virus and Anti–Spyware
The internet is crawling with dangerous viruses that will infect your computer, steal your secret passwords, and empty your bank account. Or so the newspapers tell us, in stories fed to uncritical journalists by sellers of anti–virus software.
In reality, even on a Windows computer nothing serious will go wrong provided you stay away from obviously dodgy websites and refuse to open email attachments from people you don’t know. Nevertheless, it is worth having anti–virus protection, especially for a shared computer.
New Windows computers generally come with one or other brand of anti–virus software installed, complete with a 30 day free trial and constant reminders to sign up. Many people sign up just to stop the reminders appearing.
Paid–for anti–virus software from companies such as Symantec and McAfee is generally very good and doesn’t cost a fortune, but you can get something just as good for free: AVG anti–virus.
Two reliable, free anti–spyware programs which we can recommend are:
- SpyBot Search & Destroy, which can be downloaded from www.safer–networking.org;
- Lavasoft’s AdAware, which can be downloaded from www.lavasoft.com.
Some programs which are claimed to be anti–spyware are either useless or actually sources of spyware. Check out www.spywarewarrior.com/rogue_anti–spyware.htm.
You can find out more about internet security.
Editing Digital Images
The industry standard is Photoshop, which is ridiculously expensive and contains far more features than most users need. Stripped–down versions of Photoshop are available, and you can sometimes find old versions given away free with devices such as film scanners.
There are many free programs, including:
- Irfan View (Windows only)
- Paint (Windows only)
- Image Well (Macintosh only)
- GNU Image Manipulation Program, known as GIMP (Windows, Mac and Linux)
Most of the images on this website were processed using GIMP. The program doesn’t have all the features of Photoshop, but it is more than adequate for preparing digital images for websites, or for trimming and tweaking your holiday snaps. We have compiled some basic instructions for using GIMP.
Encryption and Password Protection
You can create an encrypted area on your hard drive or external device (USB stick, recordable DVD, etc.) with TrueCrypt. Whether you are taking a laptop across a national border, or whether you just want to keep a list of passwords secure, you can do it easily with TrueCrypt, which works with the Windows, Macintosh and Linux operating systems.
We have compiled some instructions about how to instal and use TrueCrypt.
Every new Windows personal computer comes with Internet Explorer, which as well as having well–documented security problems has always been a couple of years behind the rest in displaying the latest design techniques. Luckily, there are several superior, free alternatives:
Macintosh computers come with Safari, which is very good. There are alternatives here too:
You can find out more about the varieties of web browsers.