Arts & Entertainment

Technobuddy: Great Software Is Even Greater When It’s Free

ATLANTA — During the years I worked for national advertising agencies I learned two things: (1) Expense accounts were the best fiction I’ll ever write and (2) the word "free" adds magic to any ad.

Today’s column is all about the second rule. I’ll tell you my very favorite free computer programs.

Belarc Advisor

It will tell you almost everything you’d ever want to know about the hardware and software in your computer. And if you’re like me and tend to lose license information needed to install some programs, Belarc will tell you that too.

It’s great for beginners because it will give you the answers you need when tech support people ask about video cards and RAM. But professionals love it, too, because it displays every bit of information – down to the Microsoft patches you’ve installed – in amazing detail.

Gibson Research

I first visited this site years ago to check my computer’s security with the excellent ShieldsUP that scans your computer and tells you how safe it is from hack attacks.

That’s just one of dozens of free programs that you can either use online at the site or download. You’ll find programs that let you turn off some Windows features that can compromise security, that check your computer for hidden security breaches and that let you check Web sites you visit for potential security problems.

Plan on spending an hour or so at the site, located at www.grc.com, [or click on the link above].

Zone Labs

I’ve recommended this company’s free firewall for many years. But there’s a lot more to Zone Labs than a single product. For instance, its anti-virus program (not free) gets raves from Consumer Reports in its September issue.

So you’ll find a mix of free and for-pay programs at this site. But the free firewall program makes the site a worthwhile mention on today’s list. To get to that program you’ll have to navigate past a lot of commercial products (many of them excellent, by the way). From the home page at www.zonelabs.com, click on the link toward the bottom labeled Free ZoneAlarm and Trials. Then select the program on the top, far right, labeled Zone?Alarm Free Download.

Grisoft

I’ve switched all my home computers to Grisoft’s free anti-virus program. Is it better than the Norton Anti-virus program I once used? No, Norton is at least as good, maybe better.

However, Grisoft offers an excellent anti-virus program (along with commercial versions) that is free. The real bonus here is that you will never pay – as you do with Norton – a yearly subscription fee for updates. They’re free, too.

Updates are essential for an anti-virus program since that’s how the program finds newly created viruses.  I have way too many computers at home and I just couldn’t afford to keep the subscription up for all of them.

Microsoft Defender

Don’t be surprised to find this icon of commercial software on a list of free programs. Lately I’ve been recommending its free adware and spyware program called Defender.

It replaces my old favorite SpyBot Search and Destroy as my recommended adware program. Ironically I’ll continue to use SpyBot at home.

But there are so many scam programs that take advantage of the SpyBot name that I no longer feel comfortable recommending it to you. Too many readers have tried to download SpyBot and ended up with a fraud.

That’s a shame, but I’m finally giving up. The potential harm of getting the wrong program outweighs the benefits of SpyBot for casual home users.

You can download Defender at www.microsoft.com/at home/security/spyware/software/default.mspx. That’s my list of free programs that I use and recommend.

Now it’s your turn. Let me know about free programs that you love. The best place to do that is on my TechnoBuddy blog at www.ajc.com/blogs/content/shared-blogs/ajc/technobuddy/.

Copyright 2006 Cox News Service.