Sunday, October 12, 2008

Free software: everyone's favorite subject!

Everyone loves a freebie, and if you're reading this ... you're on a computer by default, and since computers only come to life when you kickstart an application, software is the heart and soul of the system. (I'm blogging in a vacuum today, and what's on my mind is software ... so that's where we're going.)

The good thing is, there's a wealth of great software out there, that comes free, with no strings attached. The even better thing is, it's not rubbish: some of the best applications to get the job done are free -- and they're right across the spectrum of software, virtually filling every niche.

I'm not going to look at browsers,because they're free anyway ... IE, Firefox, Opera, Chrome. (Watch out for Google Chrome: it's a beta and still has some font problems they need to look at.) Email programs likewise. And Adobe Acrobat is a giveaway. Take these as read. The fun starts when you want to get clever...

All the software on this post is genuinely free (no trial versions, no shareware). And all have been destruction-tested locally, so we can offer recommendations from personal experience. Here goes:

Want to build your own webpages? There are several free authoring programs to save you the high prices of progs like Dreamweaver, and the learning curve of things like Front Page (which is a segment of Microsoft Office and, to many people, something of a compromise). If you just want garden variety web pages without hassle, and an interface that's so simple, a chimpanzee could use it try Kompozer:

(If you want very complex webpages, it'll cost you one way or another, but for entry level work, Kompozer is the way to go. A six year old can use it.)

With the website finished, you'll want to check it out for dead links. The days when you had to do this manually are gone. Xenu Link Sleuth is the way to go:

The link sleuth is brilliant ... saves many hours of work, and, again, the interface is so simple.

Now you've got the site done, you need to upload it. That means FTP ... file transfer protocol software. There's a beauty called FTP Commander:

This one, we use all the time. DreamCraft recommends it, and so does Keegan. The interface is so simple, it's like moving files around on your own computer.

Need to get the website contents ready before building and uploading? You're going to need an imaging program and something like a word processor. Now, most people surrender and resort to Microsoft Office for the WP part of the job; other folks baulk at the pricetag. At $849 from Dick Smith Electronics, which is a discount store ... yurk ... who's going to blame you for not wanting to (or being able to) pay so much? Try Open Office instead:

It's an open-code program ... but by 2008 it's very nature. Meaning, they've got most of the bugs fixed. A few years ago it was somewhat rough -- it needed work! Open Office is getting very slick and smooth now, with a nice interface and a lot less problems. I don't think you'd find any more difficulties with it than with Microsoft itself -- which will gridlock slower systems with monotonous regularity. (Tell me about it.) Open Office will do virtually anything Microsoft Office will do; they are in most ways very comparable now.

Since your word processor is up and running, you need fonts, right? Go here:

Fantastic fonts, absolutely free. They have an enormous collection ... buy some if you want to, but you don't have to. The free range is magnificent.

Other website elements? Backgrounds, textures, icons? Try this:

Search no further. You just found the lot. Fantastic range and quality -- even sound effects. And, uh, free.

Want an imaging program? The ABSOLUTE BEST is free. Not just the "best free prog." It's the best in the business. They do have a "pro" version for commercial work, but you don't need it unless you're going to lay out a professional magazine, or something along those lines; everything you need and then some is in the free package:

This one comes with the highest possible recommendations. The "filters" which are used to resize images cannot be bettered anywhere; the cropping tools -- same. You can also "swap colors" and enhance the image in numerous ways, plus so much more, there's no sense in even trying to cover it here. Go get it, and spend an hour playing. The interface is very easy, and the program is superb. (Note: it's not a retouching or painting program -- it won't replace PhotoShop for you.)

What about making PDFs? Adobe Acrobat retails for around $450 (you can get web specials and downloads for less, but it's pot luck: give it a shot, see how you go). If you're looking for a great free plug-in to replace the real thing:

This one is perfect. PDF 995 plugs into your printer manager, and it works seamlessly with progs as old as Lotus Word Pro (which is still my own word processor), and with stuff as new as Serif Page Plus 10 -- probably the newer Serifs too, though since we haven't yet updated, we can't make guarantees there. To make a PDF, you just choose "PDF 995" from your printer manager dialog, and assign a file name for it to "print" to. Done.

If you need a painting or retouching program, go for this:

...however, be ready to learn. The job itself is far from easy, and even Pixia -- which was a huge free favorite in Japan before the English version came out -- has to have more learning involved.

Right now, I'm not going to get into sound and video editors and converters, because that's a whole 'nother range. If you're interested in sound and video, and which applications we recommend, let me know and I'll blog about it!

For now, back to work!



Anonymous said...


You have a cool blog here. I really liked your post, interesting perspective. I was looking out for the same kind of information. Thanks a lot. :)

Free Software Directory

Anonymous said...

yes, it's cool, and useful for me
Pdf 995

Post a Comment