The problem with computers, like most technology, is that the more involved you become with them, the more stuff you feel the need to buy to make yours work better. Before you know it, you’ve dropped hundreds if not thousands of dollars on accessories and software. That’s why we decided to come up with a list of the best free software tools you can get for free online, without having to spend a dime.
Microsoft (Stock Quote: MSFT) made waves recently when it announced that there will be a free online release of its newest version of Office, its signature software collection. Microsoft Office 2010 includes familiar programs like Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook, with some new features. The newest version of Word lets you make more visual designs and diagrams and Outlook now lets you manage multiple e-mail accounts at once. Next month, consumers will be able to download a free web version the Office package online, which will allow users to work on Excel, Word and Powerpoint projects online from any computer. No, it’s not the full Office suite, but personally, these three applications are all that I ever use Microsoft Office for anyway. If you’re wondering why a big company like Microsoft would give away much of their premier product for free, there is a simple answer: Google.
Google (Stock Quote: GOOG) currently offers its own package of free office software called Google Docs, which allows users to create word documents and spreadsheets much in the same way that Microsoft Office and Excel do. Users can upload the documents they already have on their computer, then edit and store them on Google, even if it was originally created on Office. In this way, Google can actually be seen as a good compliment to Microsoft Office rather than direct competition. And best of all, Google allows users to collaborate with each other on these projects online, so if you work in an office, multiple employees can have access to a spreadsheet and make changes. It remains to be seen whether Microsoft can surpass this.
If you’re an aspiring musician or just looking to make an audio recording of any kind, you should definitely try out Audacity. This free software allows you to record and edit sound bites in an easy-to-use interface. The program works on both Windows and Macs, and all you have to do is download it online here.
When it comes to editing photos, Photoshop is the gold standard, but you do have to pay for it. The newest version of Photoshop Elements (a stripped down version of the program) currently lists for $82 on Amazon and can go for $100 elsewhere. The newest edition of the full featured Photoshop Creative Suite 5 goes for more than $650. Fortunately, there are a few other good free options that will do many of the same tasks. The best option is probably Picnik, which works on Macs and Windows and allows you to edit your photos online. Best of all, Picnik can link up with popular photo-sharing sites like Flickr, Picasa and Facebook so you don’t have to move your photo files around. But if you want to stick with the name you know best, try out Photoshop Express, a free and simplified online version of Photoshop Elements.
Evernote is the ultimate digital scrapbook. This free online tool lets users post memos for themselves and save snapshots of articles they’ve read so they can look back on it later. You come across a lot of information when surfing the Internet day to day, so Evernote is a great tool to keep track of it all. Evernote is also available on the iPhone, Blackberry and Android phones.
Dropbox essentially functions as a floating hard drive. Users can store up to two gigabytes of files in their Dropbox account and can access it from any other computer that has Dropbox installed. The service also boasts other cool features like the ability to easily share music and picture files with friends, and users can even go back in time and retrieve an older version of a file that has been saved. Dropbox works on Macs and Windows.
These days, everyone and their mother has at least one blog. The reason for this isn’t just that online users all have the gift of gab (although that’s certainly true), but also because there are a few excellent free blogging platforms. Having used my fair share of these, I can say with certainty that the best online blogging tool is Wordpress, thanks to its easy-to-use interface. Wordpress allows users to manage multiple blogs, track traffic to your site and easily upload images, audio and video to your page. Plus, they have a nice variety of page designs that you can use to make your site pop.
If you’re more interested in making videos rather than blogs, you should check out Ustream.tv. As the site advertises, all you need is a camera and an Internet connection and you can broadcast a video of yourself or an event to the world. And it’s not just bored teenagers who use this site; news stations have relied on Ustream.tv to get their broadcasts out there.
Unfortunately, the site does not allow you to edit the movies. For that you should check out VideoSpin, which not only allows you to edit clips, but also lets you upload them directly to popular video sites like YouTube. If you have a Mac, you don’t even need this software. Just use the iMovie tool that comes pre-installed on the computer.
Once you’ve got all these great applications on your computer, you’ll want to make sure that your computer is safe. So I recommend you download the free version of ZoneAlarm, which can provide excellent firewall protection to stop hackers and viruses from ravaging your machine. And while you’re at it, you might as well download AVG’s free anti-virus software, though it’s only good for PCs. If you’re on a Mac you’ll want to try ClamXav, which is also free.
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