Please don't mind me giving the advice to upgrade to Windows Millenium Edition. I can tell from experience: this is the Windows 98 "final edition", and from what is being told the ultimate version for home use too. All of the instabilities and multiple rounds of patching and updating seem to have vanished all in one step. The hype that it has increased security and ease of use is true, since they now protect system files from modification, and just in case the system is messed up at a given point one can roll back to the times when everything was working well. This is a blessing for anyone like me who enjoys trying all kinds of software.
The Microsoft update page is a utility for all users of Windows. It analyses the user's operating system to determine which updates are recommended. I go there often to check whether some new thing like a security patch is available and download without delay. Keep your system healthy!
In case you do not want to upgrade, visiting the download page for windows is a necessity. This page is also useful to get utilities such as the Windows Powertoys and Kerneltoys , for example (no, Windows ME does not include those!). The Tweak UI Powertoy has gone through a number of improvements, a separate download of the latest version is available.Since Internet Explorer 5.5 (the one bundled with Windows ME) do I agree that Microsoft's browser has become fully effective. The Internet Explorer 6 version is now released as a "Public Preview" as is due to be bundled with the XP operating system.
This is called the alternative to Windows, it is growing to a user share that approaches the Apple operating system, but definitely it is not (at least yet) a true competitor to Windows. What Linux offers best is control over the network connections, and all hackers of the world seem to be based on some Linux version (not Windows 2000 or NT) to sneak inside others systems. But that kind of control is for knowledgeable users, a minority as everybody knows. Some companies are selling distributions that are very easy to install and use, but another problem remains to be solved: the software available for Linux may be good but the choice is by no means any diverse as that for Windows (in time this may change probably). The free distributions available are less friendly but should be the most powerful. The current kernel is 2.4.x.
Anything you might want to know about Linux, free from commercial ties, is at Linux Online . This is a huge site. And Linuxplanet is extremely helpful on every aspect.
Among the user-friendly installations that retain power, one should count on SuSE , RedHat , and Mandrake .
Somewhat more specialized are WholeLinux , the different versions of Lineo (formerly known as Fireplug), Caldera and Corel Linux .
A few distributions, like Phat Linux and DragonLinux go to the point of installing Linux in the same partition as Windows.
Others ("thin" or "mini") are designed for slow computers: for example Tiny Linux and Fireplug's ThinLinux (do not throw your old box away!).
Debian is one of the not so easy to install but extremely powerful distribution. The University of Évora holds a Debian mirror (ftp access). Another in the same rank is RockLinux .A nice documentation site for all readers in Portuguese is associated with the Linux Manual magazine.
As a devoted user of Corel graphics products I can only recommend them, but one should mention the fact that the true pioneers are programmes for MacIntosh, such as those from one of the software giants, Adobe. And, when it comes to 3D graphics, MetaCreations (which has sold out most of its software to other companies, for example the notable Bryce 4, now with Corel) is a great reference.
Graphics Unleashed gives a vast coverage of Corel Draw and Corel Photo Paint, with lots of tips & tricks, tutorials, reviews, you name it...
GrafX Design hosts great tutorials for Corel Draw and related design software.
The scripts for Corel Draw written by Alexander Vakulenko should be looked for.
The i/us site, as a gathering of real knowledge on graphics products and their usage is gone. Taken over by Getty Images, its sections are split into a forum called Talkgraphics, the tips page at Eyewire, with many helpful advice on graphics design, the TechDrawingTools for isometric graphics, the Kewlpack for imagepacks and tutorials etc., the plugin head for plugins and filters, and the Dingbats Fonts, to name a few. Two that I miss: the Web Weenie workshop (dedicated to tools for every aspect of publishing graphics on the internet) and the tutorials on CorelDraw and CorelXara. ColorPilot provides a plugin for web-directed colour correction in Photo Paint. Last but not least, everyone with a desire to make the most of HTML for publishing should look closely at Eyeland Studio, formerly NavWorks.
Of similar rate is The Internet Eye Magazine.
Will Harris is a designer with good taste, fresh writing and good ideas to share. Check for example the Typofile magazine relating to font choice in web graphics, with emphasis to the Esperfonto link, a collection of great web pages analysed, and the Wire with some news design-related.
To build animated GIFs, jump to Four Corners Banners. Also check out tutorials for certain graphics aspects of web page design by RL Vision.
Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) made easy at the C|Net Style-o-Mattic interactive site.
Build online photo albuns!
At freegraphics one finds a great catalogue. The links and the ratings are all there, for example they sent me through to the (he)art of Ann-S-Thesia site...
The unique charm of monospaced font graphics (animated as well!!) is best served at Josh's ASCII Art Creator.
ArtToday contains a fine online image and font archive to download. Or one can jump directly to Fonts & Things, instead.
But the typeface range seems endless, as proven in 007fonts & logos. A few more fonts sites: PC Fonts, Free Font, Freakware, FONTain, the amazing freeware and shareware collection at Emerald Fontwerk, and a site with fractal-based fonts.
Wallpaper colections are at digitalblasphemy.
Check out the following sites providing clever solutions for authoring with multimedia: Stardock, Media Builder, Bannershop and My Imager.
Ivy's Graphics is a great collection of fine web-ready graphics and layouts that one can use in exchange of inserting a logo in the relevant webpage, go there and see for yourself! At Plugins.pt, itself a great resource, the Mosaic Filters from Ilyich the Toad are a great set of tools. A great deposit of graphics for the Web can be found at BoogieJack. Gros' Web Art site has among many things a set of Celtic tile graphics. Another site worth the visit is essence of graphics.
For backgrounds, there is a Java-based solution at Comunitech, and another funky graphics site.
By the way, it might be a good idea to check legal matters about usage of others's materials in webpages, one can get the needed information at Bitlaw.
If you want to see what DHTML (Dynamic HTML) can do for a graphics-rich web page, check Ganodesign, it is beautiful.
Do not miss two spectacular Screen Savers by Synthesoft! A more recent and amazing software is DreamRender, it's all in the name! Ratloaf provides a nearly complete and updated catalogue on screen savers (and links to digital cameras on the Web...).For on-line photographs and other images, probably the largest collection available is to be found at CORBIS or Corbis Images
Some of the software available online for free is highly competent and will help enjoy the possibilities of the computer system without having to spend extra money in most cases. One can meet with shareware, demos, adware and freeware.
Shareware is software that can be obtained for free, so that it can be evaluated, but has a way of reminding the user that a license payment is expected. Some examples of this software remain limited in use while unlicensed, resembling demo versions, while others take the risk of letting out a full version. The most successful downloadable software has taken this risk and reaped the benefits from user confidence and massive licensing.
Demo software means crippled programmes and, worse, lack of trust. I refrain from trying those.
Others have followed an intermediate strategy, called adware, trading full functionality for the right to displaying advertisements on the screen. This strategy is a follower to the once trendy banner exchange idea, and was pioneered by Radiate. Some find the interactivity of the adware suspect, calling it spyware, but this is claimed to be unfair. Anyway, how can one be sure of being otherwise free from monitoring by others on the WWW? Spyware or not, I do not think it is worth giving up the use of really good software.True freeware comes in two flavours: "light" versions that do the essentials just like the licenseable "full"/"pro" versions, or definitive giveaway software. The latter is sometimes very good and surely, as Lockergnome would not mind saying, it comes cheaper than a free lunch!
There are many portals for finding software online, arranging it by categories for increased effectiveness in lookup and decision making:
The standard for audio players was set by Winamp by Nullsoft, now a freeware thanks to "uncle Steve". Sonique is a nice freeware rival, made by a team connected with Lycos. Almost everything about it is completely freeware, including DSP audio enhancers, skins, visuals. Currently at version 1.90, it is promised that upcoming version 2 is based on a totally new technology.
CDEx is a fine CD ripper, freeware by Albert L. Faber, extracting tracks from CDs to WAV or MP3 format, with a handful of options to make it a flexible and reliable process, including in the open source Ogg Vorbis format. The CD'n'Go Suite is a very ambitious freeware project by Jose Mejuto, integrating an all-in-one set of utilities and pushing the standard quite high. FreeRip MP3 is another good programme, authored by MG Shareware (it is adware in spite of this name).
At Real.com one can find the basic versions of the leading software: The Player, The Jukebox, and a Download Manager. Because of Quick Time, Sonique/MusicMatch, and the Opera browser, respectively, I only keep the player for the exclusive file formats that come over the net frequently, but one can be assured that this is top-notch software.
MusicMatch Jukebox tops the class in being capable of encoding MP3 directly from audio sources such as vinyl or tapes. Its freeware basic version has a stylish interface and excellent sound quality.
One should not forget about the immense effort Microsoft is making to sweep all this software clean by convertig every user to their built-in Windows Media Player, in a well-known strategy that has fared well for them on many fronts until now. The WMPlayer is now at its post-Millenium edition version 7.01 (it appears not to be in the list of Windows Updates), with the availability of a bonus pack and the On Demand Producer (co-authored with SonicFoundry)for free download. My music page features some more media-related software.
The hottest thing anywhere in the Internet recently has been the MPEG-4 format, better knwon as DivX. Achieving much better compression rates than DVD, it promises to be the medium that will unleash a quite intensive exchange of video content online. It was created by DivXNetworks but the lessons from the past in other areas appear to be well-assimilated since the software development is now open source as the Project Mayo, but also, as can be read at DivX.com, aims "to protect and maintain the copyrights and interests of content owners and producers". The following is a list of other sources of information and software related to DivX: the ISO/IEC overview of the MPEG-4 standard is quite formal, while the very comprehensive DivX Digest, Global DivX, and DivX.IsFun sites, as well as the relevant section at URS (UltimateResourceSite.com), are portal-designed; the DivXToday is more for learning about it; Jaspov's DVD to DivX conversion site should be very useful, and at least for the Be operating system there is a freeware conversion tool available.
Apple's freeware QuickTime basic has been for long the leader in video content, despite the efforts by Microsoft (Direct X) and Real.com (Real Player).The DVD player I got with my computer is powered by Mediamatics and I can't complain, quite on the contrary.
I use a bunch. Slow View by Nikolaus Brennig is, contrary to its name, for rapid viewing. This freeware supports enough formats for regular use and is most useful with slower computers. It is a standalone programme, so a little desktop work (shortcuts, namely) should be done to have it handy. In this regard one might prefer the CoffeeCup Free Viewer, about as fast, well integrated into the desktop and excellent for web authoring, in the sense that it prepares an HTML page with a table of all images in a directory!
The XnView by Pierre-e Gougelet is heavier but handles over 200 file formats and integrates very well with the Explorer -- one can say it is among the most complete. Of similar value is Image Navigator by VIMAS Technologies.However, the most successful freeware in the category, and by far, is Irfan View, a programme by Irfan Skiljan serving many viewing purposes, using separate plugins to view graphics and other media, such as audio or video.
Created by Isao Maruoka of Tacmi Co., the painter programme Pixia is excellent freeware for creating images with all drawing tools one needs. The site also has additional filters, help and sample files.
3-D Canvas is a modelling and animation programme by Amabilis. There is a freeware version and a commercial "Pro" version, this one with more features of course.To create diagrams, Dia is supposed to provide the open source freeware XML-based equivalent to commercial programmes like Visio. It was initially designed by Alexander Larsson and is now maintained by James Henstridge and a whole bunch of contributors.
Icontoy is one of the wizardries by desktop skinner Arkadii Istomin. It is shareware, but it comes included with the rest of his desktop beauty products in a CD that is worthwhile.Not to forget the fact that the Active desktop, available since Windows 98, allows inserting any content into the desktop, learn how to from Microsoft.
Almost all so-called browsers available are Internet Explorer add-ons, a trend that was championed by Neoplanet but tends to be messy in case they are uninstalled. A safe freeware with many built-in features is CipherNet by SantaRulz. Voyager 6000 can be extremely convenient: it browses fast, maximizes the viewing space, is extremely thin and features a built-in page translation utility. Made by Smartalec2000 Corp., it requires a little more skill both for installing (it is a standalone and one should be careful to use the web2.exe version) and initial using.
To pre-visualize search results as thumbnails and preload them, as well as other visualization uses, one can use freeware Girafa by Girafa.com Inc., a freeware add-on that installs as a button toolbar in Internet Explorer. To check updates in known web pages, C4U is a great tool, extremely simple and effective, freeware by Nick Smith. The authors of download manager NetVampire have created an adware extension for Internet Explorer, the Site Viewer, enabling on demand the analysis of the folder architecture in each site visited. Another strategy is to browse pictures in a site and download them at will, produce picture galleries, etc., stuff for programmes such as the very effective 1ClickWebSlideShow by Rudenko Software or Aaron's WebVacuum. For MP3 search, if one does not like the peer-to-peer approach for any reason, ultimateMP3Search can be a good solution.
To author web pages, any decent word processor must feature an HTML converter. But these tend to be clumsy except for the basics and some information may be lost. My best advice for those who like setting up a web site like a directory of "normal" documents is to use Netscape Composer, which comes bundled with Netscape, either in the Communicator or the Netscape6 versions (note that the ftp addresses are a way of bypassing infamous difficulties in downloading). By the way, a concurring development project for the development of Netscape browser is Mozilla, a good example of what Open Source can work like.
Authoring cannot be done without uploading, and that is the stuff for FTP (file transfer protocol) programmes. One can do it the hard way by typing ftp [server name] in the run box of the start menu in Windows, and often I must use that; but FTP client software is preferrable. Among all the nicest and most effective I know (and use) is Crystal FTP, adware by Crystal Art Software. An early favourite of mine was FTP Explorer, freeware for non-commercial users.
Xenu's Link Sleuth is a freeware web spider: it checks all kinds of hiperlinks in a page or site, is lightweight and has a nice user interface (how useful this one is to keep a track of dead links in my pages!!!). The autor is Tilman Hansherr, from Germany.
Times are getting a little harder for download managers nowadays, but they can be useful under certain difficult circumstances: I suggest GetRight by Headlight Software, extremely reliable and adware. Another tool that tops its category is Dimension 4, a freeware clock synchronizer by Rob Chambers. An internet toolkit that can be of great value is Naviscope, freeware, complete with realtime monitoring of each transfer and its rate, atomic clock synchronization, traceroute, ad blocking, page prefetching... A popular ad-blocker is Web Washer, freeware by Siemens.
On the lighter side, such that one can carry it in a 1.38 MB floppy to install anywhere and use within 5 minutes of setting up, without having to boot or anything, is the Phoenix E-mail Client by german programmer Michael Haller. It still is the best compromise keeping complete functionality with great economy of means, bearing high on the control and... ease of use. The site gives away the ultimate version (still as a pre-release) and explains the piracy story that halted the further development of this fine programme.
The lightest of all is Popcorn by Ultrafunk, a remarkable freeware programme that works as a standalone, very useful to take with on the road.
Anybody wishing to use a ssh (secure shell) command to connect to the server in safety will enjoy the freeware SSH Windows Client by Cedomir Igaly. The author recommends downloading the Cryptlib by Peter Gutmann, for creating a key generator library, or one can simply rely on the library provided with the programme. Kuninori Nishizawa explains some important aspects of ssh logging-in, generating keys, etc.
The Gnutella network is almost as old as Napster and may hold more future because of its decentralization that evades blocking efforts and continues to improve in performance very fast, to the point of satisfying its critics. In this network, each personal computer is both a client and a server (hence the name "servent"), and its huge promise can be completely fulfilled only if most networked peers update their softwares regularly and the community grows big enough. At present the average is to have about half of the 1-2K online hosts with decent updating, and the whole thing can work better than WinMX or even Napster if using a good Gnutella software. At present the cutting-edge Gnutella programmes are Bearshare by Free Peers Inc. (adware), Limewire (adware), and Gnotella (freeware). They all implement different programming strategies to achieve similar functionalities, and until now Limewire, a Java-powered application, has remained my favourite.
More information about music searching can be found on my Music Links page.By the way, watch out for InfraSearch, also known as JXTA, a systems architecture designed to improve the functionality of peer-to-peer applications, as explained at OpenP2P.com.
Windows Explorer Turbo Navigator by Marko Vodopija allows two directory trees instead of one, and every detail for which the Windows Explorer seems to fall short is considered and definitely well built-in (file encryption, batch operations, file splitting/merging, players and converters are only a few). This is donationware, which means it is freeware that looks forward to donations. When software comes with such high quality it deserves this sort of attention.
Character Map Windows Accessory Map of Chars by Daniel Hoppe offers some enhancements. The author has other software at the same site, called CoolWinTools
Desktop beauty ScreenThemes, the ultimate (shareware) desktop theme manager, by Vision X Software. Panorama32 is an intelligent wallpaper manager, freeware by Shaun Ivory, EUA. Arkadii Istomin, the author of Icontoy, has maintained his edge at producing beautiful costumizations of the whole desktop, with his shareware programme Talisman.
Compression since Microsoft Plus! 98 that Windows offers its own ZIP compression/extraction tool, naming the zip files "compressed folders". This fulfills most but not all ZIP file handling and has been incorporated into Windows ME (many are not aware of that!). Expander, by Alladin Systems, is freeware with a cross-platform (namely with MacIntosh computers) capability and a very large breadth of formats that it can handle, but only serves for extraction. PowerArchiver used to be, until version 6.11, a fine freeware replacement for the hugely famous file compression programme WinZip, but now has become shareware. Try UltimateZip by Oliver von Schleusen, Filzip by Philipp Engel, or MonkeyZip by Murat Kiliçarslan instead, they are all freeware and as complete as Winzip or Power Archiver. Another one that is very interesting because it adds tha capability of managing the whole collection of zip files in a drive, with search tools and all, is ZipE.D. by T.G.L. Software Solutions. PKWARE, the creators of the ZIP format, have the DOS version of PKZIP currently at version 2.50.
Computer Associates InoculateIT Personal Edition is a fine freeware tool and it runs on Windows ME. Once you register and receive the key you can download and install any of the (very frequent) updates. Adjusting the options in this very powerful programme is essential (there is a wizard for that). However, it appears not to be freeware anymore.
Trend Micro, the creators of PC-cillin, have an online scanning and cleaning utility named House Call that installs fast and works from the browser for free.
Integrity Master, happening to be an antivirus programme, extends the concept of file protection to system integrity checking (in that sense it might fit better in the next section). It even allows backing up essential disk information (partition, boot, cmos) that can be stored in a bootable floppy in case of hard drive failure - calling the programme after booting from that floppy allows the replacement of all that information in case that would be the problem (this can save a lot of worries, and money for servicing!). As the author, Wolfgang Stiller, states, it is not a matter of whether the disk might fail, rather of when it will. To use it as antivirus software, it works extremely fast but one must realize that the virus definitions do not become updated and lots can be missed. The site is also a great source of information about viruses, trojans, and hoaxes as well!Last but not least, some important anti-virus information on the Web: besides Stiller Research mentioned above, and the Virus Encyclopedia at Trend Micro, one can visit the antivirus software page at About.com and especially the Think Research site in connection with the IBM research projects, with interesting reading such as the article on the wishful immune system analogue strategy for future antivirus programming, among others.
Acrobat Reader is the unavoidable resource for viewing distributed publications (Portable Document Files or simply PDFs), namely over the Internet, freeware by Adobe.
Chainsaw is freeware by Gerhard Schmeusser. Cute standalone programme that has impressed everybody for its combination of simplicity and effectiveness for splitting files into small pieces (for example to fit into floppies). See Turbo Navigator above as an all-in-one solution that splits files too.Xecutor by Andreas Spang is programme that gives more control to what happens at system startup and shutdown. Scheduling or asking first for the launch of an executable are possible here.
Memory-Trax II by Garrett Hylltun is a very elegant RAM manager. It needs a second download, the MS Scripting 5.5+ VBS.
Ashampoo WinOptimizer is a very reliable and user-friendly adware tool to remove wasteful system entries that may slow down the computer and, in certain cases, take up sizeable space. Safety is never guaranteed with such manipulations deep into the system, but this programme makes sure that one has time to think over any cleaning step. RegCleaner by Jouni Vuorio looks much different and is very powerful (but be conservative in its usage!).
Miniapps by Theodore Fattaleh is definitely a set of valuable freeware tools to facilitate many system tasks and others.
Xteq Systems are the authors of the most comprehensive system tweaker for Windows, the X-Setup, freeware for non-profit use. Everything that one needs to improve or customize the performance of Windows and is not managed by Microsoft's Tweak UI (mentioned above) can be done here. Version 6 has introduced an online update routine that makes it extremely easy to add new plugins. This programme is pretty safe to use, but once again care must be exercised when dealing with such tools.
The freeware Intel Power Monitor can be helpful in tracing an application that is taking too much system or processor resources. In sequence, either the FaberToys by Fabio Vescarelli or the ProcessViewer programme by BLE Enterprises, both freeware, will be of use for killing processes selectively.