14 fabulous freeware tools to simplify your work and life

Sometimes I wonder why I ever pay for software. After all, clever people keep turning out great new programs and giving them away! Here’s my latest collection of cool finds that will cost you absolutely nothing to download, try, use, or keep.

File Management

Windows Explorer doesn’t do everything. That’s where free downloads come in handy. Here are some extras to fill in the gaps in your file-management chores.

Check file contents fast. Let’s face it: File names don’t always tell the whole story about what’s inside a file. Sure, you can open files in the programs that created them. But who wants to open a half-dozen huge programs when all you need to know is the basic contents of a document? Vista lets you add a preview pane to its Explorer, but what are XP users to do? Alexey Torgashin’s Universal Viewer to the rescue.

This free utility lets you peek inside a variety of common file types (graphics, PDF, HTML, and many more) just by right-clicking and choosing the Universal Viewer command. Install the plug-in for Microsoft Office (a separate free download), and you can view Word and Excel files as well.

Navigation buttons make it easy to skim through all files in a folder. To get more features (such as an Explorer-like tree pane for navigation as well as rudimentary file-management capabilities), you’ll have to shell out US$20 for the personal version.
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Recover deleted files. Everybody makes mistakes. You emptied the Recycle Bin without thinking, or some other person or even a program deleted the file you really wanted. Now what? The easiest answer is Restoration, which attempts to recover all or parts of deleted files whose bytes still lurk on your hard drive.

The more recent the deletion, the better your chances, since Restoration can’t help you if other files or programs occupy the location of your now-deleted document. But it’s always worth a try.

Restoration can also be used as a shredder to completely destroy the files it does find. The entire utility is very small (4 files totaling 4K), requires no installation (just unzipping), and can even be run from a floppy or USB flash drive. Restoration is the creation of Brian Kato.

Eliminate duplicate files quickly.

Are duplicate photos, tunes, or other files wasting space on your system? Big Bang Enterprises’ DoubleKiller is a fast way to find out. Its Options tab gives you plenty of control over what files are compared or ignored, as well as letting you choose the criteria for finding duplicates.

After it completes its analysis, the utility’s results list provides helpful buttons to simplify selecting the first or second duplicate plus others to move or delete selected items. DoubleKiller can also check files on networked drives. The product is free for noncommercial use. A version for commercial use and with more features, DoubleKiller Pro, sells for $40.

Navigate your folders instantly.

One of the more annoying aspects of Windows is the time it takes to navigate to frequently used folders. One powerful solution is XFilesDialog, but that shareware tool will cost you over $40. So for a free alternative, try the easy and elegant Folder Guide, from Freeware365.com.

You can add your favorite folders in its Settings window, or just right-click a folder in Explorer and choose Add to Folder Guide. Once you’ve set up your list, just right-click in any Explorer window or Open and Save dialog box. Choose your destination from the Folder Guide submenu, and you’re instantly redirected to that folder.

System Utilities

Are you looking for a better way to keep your files safe and private? To protect yourself against baddies? Or to customize your system for more efficiency? There is no end of free tools that will help you out. Here are a few.

Free and easy encryption

To add a little extra security to your sensitive files, Androsa FileProtector lets you password-protect files with up to 256-bit AES encryption. Just drag the files (or whole folders) into the FileProtector window, assign a password and specify other settings, and you’re all set.

FileProtector can also compress files as it’s encrypting them and create self-extracting archives. You can also scramble the names of the encrypted files for added privacy. This useful tool comes from AndrosaSoft, which also makes a portable version that can run from USB flash drives.

Put your shields up with Hazard Shield

Looking for an antimalware tool with a little something extra? Orbitech describes its Hazard Shield as a fast antimalware program that can do both manual scans and real-time monitoring for ongoing protection. Hazard Shield definitely completed its scan faster than my normal antispyware program, Webroot Spy Sweeper.

What’s more, it found several items that Spy Sweeper appears to have missed. Hazard Shield has a few other nifty features, such as the ability to delete pesky, hard-to-remove files that are locked or in use, plus an uninstaller, and more. Hazard Shield can scan both local and network drives.
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Give Windows a sleeping pill.

Of course you want to do your part to save energy while lowering your electric bill, but how? Keeping your computer in standby or sleep mode is a great start. Unfortunately, Windows sometimes interprets network activity or other signals from peripherals as reasons to keep your system wide awake.

To nudge Windows toward the land of nod, try CO2 Saver from Snap.com. The Custom Power Saving dialog of this freeware tool has a checkbox that does just that. It also sits on your desktop and shows you just how much CO2 you (and others) have saved this way. CO2 Saver includes a configurable Web search bar, but I avoid it, since it routes search data through Snap’s servers for Snap’s own uses.

Soup up your Send To menu.

The lowly yet handy Send To menu (which appears on the context menu when you right-click a file) makes it simple to do common tasks (like moving a file to a folder or attaching one to an e-mail message) without first opening an application.

Gabriele Ponti’s Send To Toys gives added power to this menu with handy functions that include a opening a dialog box to specify a folder for copying, moving, or creating a shortcut to the selected file, opening the Run box or command prompt window with the selected file or folder on the command line, putting the selected file on the Quick Launch bar or in your Favorites as a shortcut, adding the file’s name and path to the Clipboard, attaching the selected file to an e-mail message automatically addressed to a default recipient, and more. The product’s Control Panel makes it easy to add or remove items from the Send To menu. What’s not to like?

Mail and Internet

Some of us use our systems for little more than keeping in touch with the outside world. Freeware can help smooth out the bumps in your ride through the e-ways.

Keep spam at bay

Bayesian spam filters are all the rage these days with their ability to calculate the spam probability of mail. One such tool is Michael Kramer’s Spamihilator, which sits quietly in your taskbar tray, intercepting all incoming mail before it gets to your e-mail client (Outlook, Outlook Express, Eudora, Mozilla, and pretty much any POP3 application).

The product has its own “Recycle Bin” from which you can retrieve mails that are filtered by mistake, and a training area to help it learn what not to filter in the future. You can also specify friends never to filter, bad guys to always block, and what kinds of attachments (if any) to permit.

Put some muscle into Internet Explorer

Microsoft finally added tabs and other features to Internet Explorer, but to make it even more powerful, check out the free IE7Pro (by Daniel Fang and Chris Li). IE7Pro boasts a configurable ad blocker, mouse gestures (for scrolling, navigating, and more by right-dragging the mouse), tab management, crash recovery of your last-open tabs, dynamic spell checking of anything you type into a browser, options to save a Web page as an image file, the ability to open new tabs by dragging links, and more.

In addition, IE7Pro includes a number of user scripts, such as one that adds a Download link to YouTube videos. Many features are available from a pop-up menu whose icon IE7Pro adds to IE’s status bar, but you’ll have to learn others from the user guide or by browsing the massive, multipanel Preferences dialog box.

Keep your surfing private

The privacy of your personal data and surfing habits is an important concern these days. This is especially true if you need to use a computer at a library, Internet café, or hotel business center. One way to ensure that privacy is to surf the Web using Arche Twist’s OperaTor, a utility that includes (and simultaneously launches) the Opera browser, the Privoxy Web proxy (with advanced filters for guarding your privacy), and The Onion Router (a system for anonymous Internet communication).

OperTor (and its components) need no installer and store no information in the Registry, which means you can run it from a USB flash drive. This makes it ideal for surfing at public computers.


Computers wouldn’t be nearly as much fun without entertainment, sound, and graphics. Here are some freebies to help you enjoy dynamic media and create some of your own.

Watch PC TV without added hardware

If you’re not getting enough entertainment value out of your PC, give FDRLab’s AnyTV a shot. In theory, this freebie brings thousands of streaming Internet TV and radio stations from around the globe right to your computer.

In practice, your mileage may vary: Many of the stations I couldn’t view. But even if you find just a few stations or clips you enjoy, it doesn’t cost you anything. AnyTV lets you filter stations by a variety of categories (country, channel, genre, bit rate, and so on), as well as save a list of favorites.

A free sound studio with Wavosaur

If you need to edit short audio programs, sound effects, or loops, you could do worse than give the free Wavosaur audio editor a try. This little program (created by a team of French developers) has no installer and doesn’t write to the Registry, so you can easily run it from a flash drive if you need to use it on the go. It has all the basic audio editing functions (cut, copy, paste, crop, fade in, fade out, and so on), and some audio analysis features as well.

You can use it to record sound and do batch processing on a folder full of files. If you’re willing to download some free plug-ins, you can get additional effects, plus the ability to export to MP3 (instead of just the default .wav format). One limitation: Wavosaur can open most common Internet file formats, but not (unfortunately) Windows audio (.wma) files.

Get a ruler for your screen

Ever wonder how big that family photo is? Or how big it might be if you cropped out Auntie Jane? Wonder no longer after you download JR Screen Ruler from JR Free Tools. There’s nothing to install; just unzip and launch this tiny program to see a resizable ruler you can use to measure anything on screen. You can adjust the size of the ruler itself, rotate it 90 degrees, and set it to display pixels, inches, picas, or centimeters. JR Screen Ruler is a handy tool for Web designers, product developers, and others.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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