The best free software and services on the Web

It’s the F-word that always gets people’s attention. And whether it’s to enhance your office systems or just keep you busy during down time, the Web, it would seem, has the answer to it all.

The best part: A bulk of this veritable treasure trove is ‘Free’. But how do you decide what will stay true and serve its purpose? And how do you avoid something that will crash and burn, taking your expensive system along with it? Luckily you don’t have to. We give you a list of the must-have software and the best services on the Internet.

Security

AVG Anti-Virus Free Edition
This ever-popular antivirus has stood its ground over the years and is still a favorite with most computer users. It is light on system resources and for an app that is small in size, it packs in most of the features that other expensive apps offer to give you rock solid protection.

It runs in the background and only springs into action when needed and is very unobtrusive. An e-mail scanning ability other than the normal hard drive scan, automatic updates, schedule scan, Windows Explorer integration, and real-time protection through AVG Resident Shield make this a very impressive anti-virus tool. It even has an option for creating a rescue disk to scan your computer in MS-DOS mode for a situation when you cannot boot into Windows.

Spyware Terminator 2.1
Spyware Terminator stands out among the free antispyware apps because of its comprehensive features and it has been giving other expensive antispyware apps a run for their money. Think of any feature that an antispyware should have and you will find that Spyware Terminator has it all, which is impressive for a completely free antispyware tool.

Besides providing normal protection for detecting and removing known spywares, it even has a tool, Host Intrusion Prevention System (HIPS), for protection against unknown threats. It has an antivirus (ClamAV) integrated into it for scanning and removing viruses. The web Security Guard protects you from potentially dangerous websites.

The most remarkable thing is that it provides real-time protection against spyware and other malware which other free antispyware apps don’t include. The other essential features like scan customization, auto updates and scheduled scan are included which make this a fully-featured antispyware tool.

Spyware Doctor Starter Edition is another impressive tool for weeding out spyware from your PC, providing you efficient protection without putting too much of a burden on your system.

Comodo Firewall
A firewall is a must for all those who use the Internet. Windows has a firewall but if you want more advanced firewall, you don’t need to resort to expensive versions. You can opt for Comodo Firewall 3.0 — a very popular and comprehensive yet free alternative.

It is a highly advanced firewall with a ton of settings available for expert users. It is also suited for the novice with an easy-to- understand interface. It doesn’t slow down your system and filters incoming and outgoing traffic. It also monitors components used to initiate network connections and other running processes.

The stealth mode (makes your P.C. completely invisible to hackers and port scans), HIPS, Powerful and intuitive Security Rules, Automatic ‘Firewall Training’ mode, Windows Security Center Integration, etc are some of the notable features included.

Office

OpenOffice
This office suite is a worthy competitor to the widely used but expensive MS Office suite and even manages to come up trumps in some key areas. It is a robust and full-featured suite that is compatible with MS Office 2003 files format.

Its cross-platform support for Linux, Mac OSX, Sun Solaris, and Windows makes it score over MS Office which supports only Windows. It has almost all the features that MS Office supports and more. With an interface similar to MS Office, you won’t have trouble shifting to it.

Another advantage OpenOffice has over MS Office is its support for plug-ins and extensions like blogging add-ons, report building, exporting to Google docs, templates, etc. A really cool feature is its ability to save documents as PDF files directly from the application.

EssentialPIM Free
A good Personal Information Manager tool is a must for someone looking to manage and organize daily schedules, contacts, maintain to-do lists, and keep tab of notes. All these can be done easily with a few mouse clicks by using EssentialPIM Free, a simple yet powerful PIM that has almost all the features that other paid versions offer.

An intuitive interface with color-coded sections is the first thing that attracts you to this unassuming yet feature-packed program. Everything you will need to organize and manage your schedule and contacts is easily available to you. It consists of four main sections — Scheduler (Tasks), To Do List, Outliner (Notes), and Contact Manager — that manages a bulk of your personal information.

Mozilla Sunbird is also another good Personal Information Manager application that provides all the essentials for easy and quick organization of your schedules and contacts. As with other open-source applications, the extisionability of its features makes it a very versatile PIM.

Foxit PDF Reader
The overly bloated Adobe Reader has long been the preferred choice for reading PDF files. When you just want to read PDF files, using Adobe Reader is a real pain with all the unwanted enhancements making it heavy and annoying to use. That is where Foxit PDF Reader leaves Adobe lagging behind. The program’s focus is mainly on reading PDF files and this version, fortunately, comes without all the extras and frills and manages to get the job done well.

It opens PDF files fast and without fuss because of its lightweight nature. The annotation tools (draw graphics, highlights, text typing, and make notes) are among the extra features that add extra pizzazz to this useful little application. Other features include the ability to save fillable forms and a text converter to convert PDF documents to plain text files.

E-mail

Express E-delivery
Email providers are following this simple three word mantra these days to rope in users: Bigger, faster, more. With Gmail’s arrival, Hotmail, Yahoo and AOL have got their act together and are providing increased storage, larger attachment sizes, integrated chat and rich and intuitive interfaces.

Gmail is still the leader of the pack offering more than 6,000 MB of free storage. In some countries, users can avail paid additional storage from 10 GB (US$20/year) or up to 400 GB (US$500/year), shared over Picasa and Gmail.

Gmail also lets users search their inbox. Look for Undocumented search operators like “language: Hindi” listed at The Google Help Centre. Related messages are grouped as conversations making it easy to follow a sequence. Gmail also saves contacts automatically and they can be imported from any list capable of being exported as a CSV file. Gmail currently supports 40 languages, including Hindi and Marathi. It offers a mobile-application based version for phones running Java applications.

Yahoo!’s revamped service was rolled out last year. The new service with a snazzy new interface integrates features like Yahoo! Calendar, Yahoo! Messenger, Windows Live Messenger, SMS messaging, keyboard shortcuts, unlimited storage and improved search. It also integrates an RSS feed.

The revamped Hotmail or Windows Live service has a host of new features. It supports rich text signatures, virus scanning, an audio player to play voicemail and mp3s. It is also integrated with other Windows Live services like Windows Live Spaces, Windows Live Contacts and Windows Live Calendar. Hotmail also supports bi-directional language support for Hindi. The latest entrant on the Indian scene is AOL mail. Its features include unlimited storage, 5 GB attachments, Spam protection, a new AIM Panel with a full Buddy List and indicators to show presence of online buddies.

Internet

Mozilla Firefox
Since its inception in 2004, Firefox has captured the imagination of Internet users and has been the preferred net browser cutting into Internet Explorer’s monopoly.

Innovation has been its driving force and the level of customization available for it through its various add-ons and extensions has made it the preferred choice. This light and nimble Web browser is cross-platform and supports Windows, Mac, and Linux and it brought tabbed browsing into the mainstream.

It comes with anti-phishing support which helps the browser differentiate between genuine websites and those intended to store and retrieve your personal information.

Other features include enhanced tabbed browsing (each with their own close option), the ability to un-close tabs, search plug-in/add-on manager, and much, much more. One of the most useful features is the predictive search function within the Google toolbar that give suggestion of potential phrases and popular search terms as you typed. The automatic session retrieval option is helpful when your system crashes. And the most impressive feature is the availability of thousands of third-party extensions to make Firefox more powerful.

Trillian
If you are on the Net, then it would be no surprise if you spent most of your time chatting away with your friends online. But the problem with chatting is that if you have a Yahoo account you are not able to chat with your friend who has an AIM or any other account. This drawback can be overcome by using Trillian – a fully featured, stand-alone, skinnable chat client that supports AIM, ICQ, MSN, Yahoo Messenger, and IRC.

It supports standard features such as audio chat, file transfers, group chats, chat rooms, buddy icons, multiple simultaneous connections to the same network, server-side contact importing, typing notification, direct connection (AIM), proxy support, encrypted messaging (AIM/ICQ), SMS support, and privacy settings.

Trillian provides unique functionality such as contact message history, a powerful skinning language, tabbed messaging, global status changes (set all networks away at once), Instant Lookup (automatic Wikipedia integration), contact alerts, an advanced automation system to trigger events based on anything happening in the client, docking, hundreds of emoticons, emotisounds, shell extensions for file transfers, and systray notifications.

If you want to explore other options, Pidgin is a very good choice because it also supports multiple clients and comes with a very amazing feature sets for such a small app.

Mozilla Thunderbird
Think e-mail clients — MS Outlook comes to mind. You can now change your outlook with Thunderbird. It offers many options and the benefits of an open source application. Automatic updates ensure that you have the latest version and you can import your mail and contacts and setting up POP3 or IMAP is a snap.Thunderbird also features an RSS reader. It offers various levels of message encryption, a spam filter and support for valid certificates. It also turns off Javascript and does not load remote images.

Photo sharing

Flickr — the reigning king of photo sharing
Flickr has one reason to exist –image hosting. And at that, it excels. For starters, the interface is clean, and searching using multiple tags is quick. You can view images in multiple sizes or download them. No wonder then that it is by far the most popular photo-sharing site for professional photographers and amateurs alike. There exists both a free and paid version, and the former suffices for most people. However if you are space-hungry and upload full-sized high resolution pictures by the dozen every week, you might want to explore the latter option.

The home page lets you access recent activity (uploads from friends, comments to your photos, group activity, etc.), search for images using tags and organize your photos. The Flickr Uploadr tool lets you upload multiple images. You can specify different Creative Commons licenses for each or all of your photos, useful for enthusiasts who can specify where and how their pictures can be reproduced. Another popular service is Webshots.com. Many features are similar to Flickr, including the ability to make albums private or public. You also get updates about activity on your album as well as those of your friends.

If most of your contacts are on Gmail, you may find sharing photos on Picasa easy. Once you upload your photos, one click gets you started selecting email ids from your Gmail address book. This integration makes it easy to send album invites. Add to this the clean no-fuss interface, and Picasa makes for another visit-worthy website.

If you want a one-stop shop (or Web site, in this case) for sharing photos as well as printing them, you can to head to zoom.in or itasveer.com, which are Indian websites offering basic photo sharing.

They will even print your pictures at affordable prices. They don’t offer the goodies that Flickr or Webshots do, but they let you create albums for your photos and provide a link that you can email to your contacts.

Photo

GIMPshop
The GIMP has been a popular alternative for photo enthusiasts who couldn’t afford to install Photoshop on their system. It has almost all the features that Photoshop provides. The only gripe is that it is difficult to use and transition from Photoshop is not easy. GIMPshop addresses these issues by providing an interface similar to Photoshop with all the powerful features of the Gimp included.

If you don’t have a problem with the way GIMP works, you can carry on using it with all its powerful editing features. It may be confusing if you have been using GIMP before because of the changes. The tools have been renamed and reorganized, and the Options windows and Menus have been altered. Other than that there aren’t many changes and it remains as powerful as ever.

It shares all GIMP’s advantages, including a long feature list. Almost all the features one finds in Photoshop like filters, effects, masks, layers, etc are available here. It has the ability to expand with more than 100 add-ons and extensions. This gives more functionality to the already impressive list of features.

Picasa
This one comes from the Google stable and is a very well constructed image organizer for transferring, finding, organizing, editing, printing, and sharing images. It sports a simple interface that includes some clever animation and fade effects. Managing and organizing photos is easy with features like the initial image scan that helps you locate images and arrange them into albums by date. Retouch photos on the fly with its powerful editing tools. You can also create beautiful collages and audio supported slideshows.

It is easy to publish photos to the Web and you can email images via Outlook or Gmail. The star rating system helps you mark favorite images for further reference. There is even an option to backup to CDs/DVDs/Hard Drives.

Adobe Photoshop album Starter edition 3.2 is another remarkable image organizer that has lots of useful features.

Audio

Winamp
No audio player has been as popular as Winamp. There seems to be no competition when it comes to listening and managing audio files. Winamp started out as very basic but has grown into a fully feature-packed media player. Its main feature is that it is simple to use with a skinnable interface and it is completely customizable with a vast number of plug-ins. The player supports a wide range of file formats and plays streamed video and audio content. It has a customizable media library, and allows you to rip and burn your music.

It has strong support for portable devices, including iPods. There’s also an Auto-Tag feature which lets you download metatags. The player gives access to thousands of free songs, videos and online radio stations.

Audacity
With so many audio editors available, Audacity stands out among them because of its many cool features packed into a small frame. Audacity has been a worthy rival to Adobe Audition, offering almost all the features that the expensive app offers.

Audacity features a large selection of filters and effects. Each has its own setting options. A full complement of basic effects such as reverb, delay, and compression are included. Other effects such as bass boost, wah wah, and noise removal add more functionality. Audacity can also be expanded with the help of plug-ins which are available in plenty. Another handy feature is the Beat Analyzer, which helps you peg the beats per minute in a phrase. Audacity supports uncompressed audio standards such as WAV and AIFF in addition to OGG and MP3 files. It also has functions to import and export these files.

MusicBrainz Picard
If you have thousands of MP3 files stored in your system then you could definitely use a good audio organizer. MusicBrainz Picard is a fabulous tool for doing that and it does the job without too much of a hassle. It’s a great program that helps you find accurate information for all of your music.

MusicBrainz Picard is basically a MP3 file tagger that can identify track information by comparing an audio track’s “unique digital thumbprint” to the information in the MusicBrainz database. It is based on a tagging concept that is organized around album or release information for groups of tracks (and will identify individual tracks within that framework).

MusicBrainz Picard creates a “unique digital thumbprint” for audio files that it processes and compares it to the MusicBrainz database in order to identify it. This database is completely user generated, maintained (you can get your own account and contribute information) and contains information of about 306,369 artists, 483,324 albums, and 5.7 million tracks. It can also work with various other formats like OGG Vorbis, FLAC, MP4, Windows Media Audio, etc.

Operating system

Opensource choices
Almost all major paid software have “Free” alternatives which are almost as good as the paid versions. So what about the most important software of them all — the OS? Is there a free alternative to the MS Windows OS stable? Not exactly but if you are not afraid to jump completely to a new OS environment, using a Linux OS is the best answer which gives you everything you will find in a full-featured OS.

One of the advantages of Linux is its flexibility. For the novice user it is straightforward to use, and it gives more experienced users the kind of control over their computers which is not available in other operating systems. Also there is a huge variety of high quality, free software available for Linux. And using a package manager it is easy to choose among thousands of applications and install it in a matter of minutes.

Another significant advantage with Linux is that, unlike in Windows, there is no need to worry about security since viruses on Linux are very rare. A virus has yet to spread successfully on the platform. And with powerful desktops such as KDE and Gnome with stunning visual effects, it is able to look even better than Windows Vista and Mac OS X.

Ubuntu (Gutsy Gibbon)
Ubuntu 7.10 stands out as the best because of its user-friendly and comprehensive nature. Installing it is fast and easy with the help of the graphical installer, unlike other Linux versions which are complicated at most times. The interface looks good with a desktop that is clean and tidy, no desktop icons, and a default theme that is easy on the eye.

Other than the basics – utilities, graphics, office suite, a variety of multimedia applications, free games, etc Ubuntu 7.10 also packs in lots of killer features like Compiz Fusion (generate cool desktop effects), Fast User Switching (allows multiple users to switch while staying logged in), Bulletproof X (a mode that will be used if X fails to start up), Gnash (a free version of the flash player), etc. And if you still want to use Windows OS, some settings can be ported over easily.

Fedora 8
Fedora is another impressive Linux distribution with a ton of features. The look and feel of the OS is really impressive with a polished, professional look. The desktop looks very nice, with its unique new theme “Nodoka” and its default wallpaper changes colors depending on the time of the day.

It is packed with a slew of exciting features such as Pulse Audio (new Linux Sound System), Codec Buddy, Online-Desktop, Compiz and Gnome 2.20, etc. Pulse Audio features the ability to have different volumes for each running application, interrupting music playback for a VOIP call, and “hot” switching of playback streams between devices on USB headsets. Online Desktop is a new Gnome application to integrate popular online applications into the Gnome desktop.

Video

Make Videos go Blip Blip
For most people, video sharing is almost synonymous with YouTube. Agreed, it has the widest possible audience, but did you know there are better alternatives on the Internet? Sites like Blip TV provide better quality video, allow downloading of the original file and also share advertising revenue with you on a 50-50 basis. It lets you upload video via its website, FTP, or a utility called UpperBlip. You can also upload a clip from your cell phone by attaching the video in an email. Blip.tv has a number of HTML code options when it comes to embedding videos into your Web site or blog, giving users more flexibility. Also, it lets you make available video optimized for iPod and cell phone playback. There is also the option of creating your own thumbnails or the website will do it for you.

The website even allows you use Creative Commons licenses that let you decide whether you want attribution, restrict commercial use, or allow modifications and reuse under specified terms. There is a 100 MB size limit per file, but no restrictions on video duration (YouTube has a 10 minutes / 100 MB restriction per video).

DivX Stage6’s also gets high marks thanks to the excellent video quality it offers. As expected, you need to convert your videos to the DivX format before uploading, which is one extra step in the process. But once done this reduces the file size significantly without affecting the quality. Viewers will be required to download the DivX Web Player plugin, but thankfully this takes only a couple of minutes on a 256kbps connection. Stage6 is currently the only service hosting 720p (high-def) videos for free. DivX specifies 450kbps as the minimum bandwidth required for viewers to be able to stream this.

Desktop

Vista Transformation Pack
For who can only dream of having Windows Vista installed because they can’t afford it or their system is not powerful enough, the Vista Transformation Pack comes as a boon. It makes XP look and run like Vista. This pack can transform your ordinary looking operating system to what could be called a brand new Windows Vista, changed from scratch to give your desktop a futuristic cool look.

Vista Transformation Pack comes with more than 20 Vista themes. Some of the themes resembling Vista offer beautiful combinations of dark (gray or navy blue) colors for title bars and menus. This give windows and dialogs a very user-friendly look. Another important element is the set of icons as Vista Transformation Pack will replace most of your system’s important icons, such as My Computer, My Documents, Recycle Bin, My Music, Calculator, Outlook Express, Internet Explorer and even the folder icon.

Yahoo! Widget
A widget is basically a small application that provides you with easy access to a particular function like a simple clock or a weather forecasting tool. There are thousands of widgets that can prep up your desktop with useful functions. But searching for all kinds of widgets and installing them would be arduous and having all the useful widgets in one compact place would be a welcome blessing. Yahoo! Widget does exactly that by providing you with thousands of widgets that you can easily get access to. You will find almost everything you need here making this a very nifty tool to prep up your desktop with a variety of functions that will help you simplify your computer usage.

Launchy
Launching a program from the Start menu or the desktop icon can sometimes be inconvenient and the limited features for starting or launching programs is a big letdown. Launchy is a very useful application that makes launching any program, file, folder, or even a website possible with just a few keystrokes. A notable feature is that when Launchy is called from the background with a shortcut, a small, skinnable box pops up. You can start entering the first few letters of a file or program and Launchy displays a list of programs matching your text.

System

7-Zip
Winzip or Winrar have always ruled the roost when it comes to compressing and extracting files. A very good but free alternative is 7-Zip, an unassuming yet powerful tool that combines the best of WinZip and WinRar. It has WinZip’s selection of tools with WinRar’s versatility.

7-Zip extracts and compresses files as fast as WinZip and Winrar and handles the main archive formats like ZIP, TAR, RAR, ISO and various other formats.

Its compression ratio is very high compared to other archiving tools. The archiving process is where 7-Zip differs most from its rivals. Where WinZip only lets you compress to ZIP and WinRAR to RAR or ZIP, 7zip offers you up to 5 different archive formats to choose from. The application lets you choose the update mode, depending on whether you want to add and replace files, refresh the archive or just synchronize files. If you don’t want somebody opening up your archive, you can set a password to protect your archive.

For a situation where you want to cut down large archive files into smaller chunks, there is a split tool which lets you do just that. Other notable features are self-extracting capability for 7z format, Integration with Windows Shell, Powerful File Manager and a command line version. It also supports WinZip-compatible AES-256 encryption for .ZIP archives.

CCleaner
If a lot of unwanted junk has been congesting your system, CCleaner might just be the tonic it needs. It offers a plethora of features that not only helps you clean up but also helps optimize your PC. CCleaner searches through a number of programs and removes useless files. Highly configurable, it allows you to select which problems to look for and which items to ignore.

Many cleaners scrub out just your browser cache or your temporary files folder, but CCleaner goes further. It cleans temporary files from common third-party applications as well. CCleaner is so much more than the basic wash and polish with extra mini-tools. A registry scanner removes old and unused entries, including ActiveX Controls, fonts, installers, shared DLLs, fonts, help files, application paths, icons, unused file extensions, and invalid shortcuts. CCleaner also includes an uninstaller and a list of deletable startup entry keys.

The most impressive thing about it is the speed at which it carries out the various scans and fixes. And another good thing about it is that it will always ask for your confirmation before it carries out any action.

Google Desktop
Google Desktop is a nifty program to search your desktop content quickly and easily. However, it is much more than a search application.

Social networking

Social-networking solutions
Staying connected was never this easy. A multitude of services out there promise to connect you to everyone from that pesky kid you studied with in the Fifth Grade, to that all important contact whose business card you lost with your wallet. Everyone it would seem is on a network and there are sites to cater to every profile. In India, Orkut is one of the more popular sites despite controversy and security concerns dogging it. Unlike Facebook, members can visit any profile unless you are on their “Ignore List”. Following criticism owing to this open policy, members can now restrict access to their pictures and scrapbook. A scrapbook is where people who visit your site can leave you messages, glitter stickers and other fun elements.

The site has introduced many innovations and new scrap alerts, glitter text, image scraps etc are all part of the deal. However, a site that is fast catching up with Orkut, in terms of popularity is Facebook. What started as a site exclusively for students is now open to people of all ages. Offering higher security and customization levels than Orkut (you can also decide which of your friends sees what on your page, the site also offers many more features and allows many fun third party applications. These include a news feed giving updates on all your friends, photo albums, virtual gifts, events and even virtual pets. While Orkut is entirely dependant on interactivity, Facebook has scope for the user to be online just using the various applications without sending a single message.

Even games like chess, Scrabble Hangman and trivia games are available. As of January 31, 2008, there were more than 14,000 applications available to Facebook users. Facebook also lets you share videos. Users can add their videos by uploading them, through Facebook Mobile, or using a webcam recording feature. Users can “tag” their friends in videos just like in photos.

Worldwide, both Orkut and Facebook have over 60,000,000 users registered with each of them. A lot of Indian social networking sites also exist like bigadda.com with a userbase of just over 1.24 million users and Sunsilk Gang of Girls which managed to get 100,000 members within a month of starting 2 years ago.

Video

KMPlayer
There are plenty of good free video players like VLC Player and GOM Player that offer functions to enhance your viewing experience. But KMPlayer takes the cake because of its impressive features and its ability to support most video file formats.

Its greatest strength is the vast number of options available to fine tune it. Adjusting color spaces, oversampling, and deinterlacing are some of the Options available to enhance or reduce the noise level. There is Subtitle support, and the audio adjusting options are as versatile as those available for video. KMPlayer supports incremental frame movements, both forward and back.

It includes a vast array of video- and audio-capturing options, as well as skins, a treasure trove of playback controls and tweaks, and on-board DVD support. This comprehensive player supports streaming TV and HDTV, play lists, and the ability to select which codec to use.

VirtualDub
VirtualDub has been the favorite free video editor for a long time and still holds its ground. It is light yet stands out as a very powerful and versatile editor with lots of feature packed into its small frame.

This wonderful file for video processing geeks serves as a kind of free, open-source “Photoshop” application for video. At a basic level, it can capture video and enable you to save it. But beyond that, it’s a very good tool for cleaning up and trimming video — especially if you want to use it with a more full-featured video editing program. It lets you crop or compress video, remove and replace audio tracks without changing the video, and use filters to sharpen and blur. You can even delete individual frames. It also has batch-processing capabilities for processing a large numbers of files.

The feature list is extensive for such a small application. Integrated volume meter and histogram for input level monitoring; real-time downsizing; noise reduction, and field swapping; keyboard and mouse shortcuts for faster operation; removing and replacing audio tracks without touching the video; previewing of results along with live audio — are some of the impressive features integrated into this amazing video editor. A range of Filters including blur, sharpen, emboss, smooth, convolution, flip, resize rotate, brightness/contrast, levels, deinterlace, and threshold are also included to make this a must-have for every video editing buff.

MediaCoder
For converting and transcoding all types of media files, the highly versatile and powerful MediaCoder is the right tool providing you comprehensive feature sets for your various transcoding needs. It stands out among the rest because of its extensive collection of audio/video codecs and powerful tools.

It comes with a simple interface which will make anybody start converting media files in a jiffy. It supports almost all media file formats you can think of. It is not only confined to converting files but it can also be used to compress audio/video files. It can even let you extract audio from video files easily and quickly. Another impressive feature is that it can even repair corrupted or partially downloaded video files.

Entertainment

When boredom attacks…
So it’s another slow day at the office and you have played Solitaire a gazillion times. Admit it, you’re bored. Which is why the good people at www.bored.com have come to your rescue with a ton of goodies to help you while away down time. The site has everything from online videos and games to pranks that you can mail to your friends. If your tastes run to the intellectual, there is a link for free e-books that you can browse through. Neatly classified, the categories include Literature (World, American and British), Cooking, children’s fiction, History, music and philosophy).

If you don’t have the time for books and silly games, then sites like http://emol.org/movies/ let you watch full movies online. These free movies are digital copies of original classic, full-length, motion pictures produced over the last century. All of the movies on the site are legal to download, and legal to transfer to a mobile device or PC and free to watch online from anywhere in the world. You don’t even need to register to watch or download these movies.

The catalog has nearly 200 classic films: comedies, cartoons, dramas, romance, westerns and dozens of video clips and movie trailers. New titles are added weekly. Other sites offering similar services are http://www.moviesfoundonline.com/ and http://www.peekvid.com. Another video site that falls more in the category of infotainment is http://www.videojug.com. This is one of the most comprehensive DIY sites that exist on the Internet. The site has instructional videos that cover the gamut of dancing, cooking, repair work. It even tells you how you can charge your iPod with Gatorade and an onion or impress your date with your social skills. The best part is that detailed step-by-step instructions are also printed near the video. Videos can be downloaded to iPods, PSP and other portable devices.

Blogging

Authors of the E-age
When Stephanie Klein started her blog Greek Tragedy, little did she know that it would elevate her to the status of celebrated author (read Very Rich) and trendsetter. Blogs have generated book deals, challenged governments, and unfortunately even become a forum for people to regurgitate pointless prattle. They have indelibly marked their presence on our cultural consciousness and show no signs of dying out.

Now you can join this community as a lot of sites offer you this space for free. But not all blogs offer the same services or are suited to everyone. One of the most popular sites offering free blog space is Blogger (www.blogger.com).

Founded by Pyra Labs, the site was taken over by Google and users sign in using Gmail IDs. Google then purchased Picasa; and integrated it and its photo sharing utility Hello into Blogger so that users could addimages to their blogs. A further revamp saw CSS-compliant templates, individual archive pages, comments, and posting by email being added as part of the service.

With the migration to Google servers, features like label organization, the ability to create private blogs, Web feed options and drag and drop features were added. The Google Toolbar included a feature BlogThis!” which lets users post links directly to their blogs. The inclusion of Google’s AdSense service also allows users to generate revenue from their blogs. The site also allows multiple author support, which has led to the birth of many group blogs.

Another popular site is WordPress (www.wordpress.com). Launched as an invitation-only service, although at one stage, today there are over 1,115,004 accounts on WordPress. While the basic features are free, some premium features like CSS editor, domain mapping, and storage upgrades are paid services. Some of the main attractions of the site are a What You See Is What You Get post editor, a templating system, link management, nested and multiple categories for articles, TrackBack and Pingback typographic filters for formatting and styling text, static pages, multiple authors and tag support. The site also lets you store a list of people who visit your blog and even lets you block certain IP addresses.

A site that is primarily a blog but integrates some social networking features is LiveJournal. Each journal entry has its own web page, that also carries comments left by other users. In addition, each user has a journal page, listing recent journal entries and their comments.

What sets LiveJournal apart is the “friends list,” that provides various syndication and privacy services. Each user has a friend page, that collates their recent journal entries.

The S2 programming language allows journal templates to be modified by members. Member are allowed to use graphical avatars, or “userpics,” which appear next to their name.

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