Mardi Gras, where the good times roll freely, is February 16 this year. Experienced New Orleans visitors quickly become familiar with the Cajun version of Carnival and the custom of lagniappe – the “little something extra” like the trinkets tossed to the crowds attending the parades or the extra beignet tucked in your bag at the bakery.
A little internet searching will provide you with a bounty of lagniappe in the form of abundant free, useful software from a wide variety of sources. A simple Google search for “free software” yields 265,000,000 matches. The sources below are ones I regard as reliable and which I use and recommend frequently.
Microsoft offers and promotes widely Windows Live Essentials (free Photo Gallery, Movie Maker, Mail, Messenger and more) and Security Essentials (free virus, spyware and malware protection). These were first targeted at Windows 7 users to fill in some deliberate omissions with these supplemental programs , but XP and Vista (and now Windows 8) users can use the same software. Office 2010 is now expected in June this year and will offer a simplified version of Office available as a free internet only product — advertising cheerfully included.
The Google Pack (http://pack.google.com/) includes Chrome and Firefox (web browsers), Picasa (photo editing), Earth (global exploration), Google Apps (e-mail, calendar, document processing) and more. All are free and fully featured – and arguably the best in their respective categories!
Open Source Windows (http://www.opensourcewindows.org/ ) is a list of the best free and open source software for Windows intended to be a handy reference and a useful tool for people beginning to explore free and open-source software. Open Office (document processing comparable to Microsoft Office), Audacity (sound recording) and GIMP (comprehensive photo editing) are notable examples.
Computer magazines will often provide links to recently reviewed software on their web sites. The reliability of the reviews is highly variable, as a single author may have reviewed 12 to 50 programs in less than a month. Among the better sources are PC World (http://www.pcworld.com/downloads/downloads.html) and Computer Shopper (http://computershopper.com/downloads)
The most adventurous freeware seekers can find thousands of additional programs, but need to acknowledge that caution is a prerequisite. Major sites will have so many offerings that only a small sample will have been carefully evaluated. Voluminous selections can be found at Major Geeks (http://www.majorgeeks.com/), Tucows (http://www.tucows.com/) and ZD Net (http://downloads.zdnet.com/)
Some programs will be excellent, some of questionable value and some will have that “little something extra” you might not want — spyware or worse. Have adequate virus and malware protection before trying, and a way to restore you system if things go awry!