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Garth Callaghan

Napkin Notes Dad

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Five Freeware Alternatives

WGarth Callaghan

The average computer user has a handful of tasks that they regularly perform, such as surfing the web, creating documents, and editing photos. Unfortunatly, some of the programs most commonly used to carry out these tasks have problems. They can be bloated, slow down your computer, or just be too expensive. This is why it is important to know that you have many free software, or freeware, options at your disposal. Try some of these programs if you become frustrated with your current choices.


1) Web Browser: Windows computers come equiped with Internet Explorer as the default browser, which is ok for brief surfing sessions but leaves a lot to be desired in the long run. The newest version, IE9, has actually made improvments on previous versions, but still does not match the speed, safety, and customization available with its chief competitors, Mozilla Firefox and Google Chrome. All three browsers take you to the same internet, but Firefox and Chrome generally offer a more pleasing user experience and offer a slew of add-ons which let you customize the appearance of the browser and perform specialized tasks, like downloading YouTube videos or blocking advertisements, just to name two. Once you become acquainted with these browsers it's hard to go back to Internet Explorer.

2) PDF Reader: Like Internet Explorer, Adobe Reader comes pre-packaged on new computers and is designed to be the default program used to read PDF documents. As many people who use PDFs will attest, Adobe Reader often takes a long time to start up and needs to perform large updates on a regular basis. It doesn't have to be this way. Foxit Reader and PDF-XChange Reader are two excellent alternatives to Adobe's bloated reader which allow annotations, bookmarking, and a ton of other features. They also use up fewer system resources. If you're concerned about hard drive space these are also great: for example Adobe Reader X takes up 470MB on my hard drive, while Foxit Reader is using only 25MB for the same purposes.

3) Antivirus:
There are a few good subscription-based antivirus programs on the market like Norton and Kaspersky, but you also should be aware that there are quite a few free antivirus programs that will also keep you safe. Avast and AVG have free versions that are very good and are quite popular. However, we recommend Microsoft Security Essentials to our customers. It will not slow your computer down, and who better to take care of your Windows computer than Microsoft? Security Essentials is relatively new to the antivirus market, but it continues to get excellent reviews and is a great alternative to the paid programs.

4) Office Suite: Microsoft Office seems to have cornered the market on office suites, but having to purchase a license for each computer that uses it can get pricey. A solution to this problem can be found with Open Office. Open Office allows the user to make word processing documents, spreadsheets, databases, presentations, and more, and can read from and write to documents created with Microsoft Office and other similar programs. It has many of the same features as Office, so those who have had experience with Microsoft's programs will not be totally overwhelmed.

5) Photo Editing:
Adobe Photoshop is so popular that it has become a verb. "There's no way you met Stephen Colbert -- you photoshopped that picture!" Not everyone has $699 (the price of the full home version of Photoshop CS5) to spend touching up photos, though. For casual users, GIMP is a much more reasonable alternative. It offers many of the same basic and advanced touch-up and drawing features of Photoshop for a much better price: free. GIMP's website even offers tutorials so that you can brush up on your brushes without using the eraser tool on your bank account.

These great freeware programs are all excellent programs by themselves, but the fact that you can use them all free of cost makes it even better. Does anyone have any other free programs that they like to use which were not mentioned? Tell us about it in the comments: maybe we'll use it in a future submission!