Free: It's the magic word for an ever-expanding wealth of downloadable software and online services. Free doesn't necessarily mean good, however, and hunting for freebies can mean sifting through a lot of junk.
That's where we come in. We surfed, clicked, and installed to find sparkling free gems capable of planning your time, keeping you in touch, and tuning and securing your PC, not to mention glitzing up your desktop, helping you stay productive, and entertaining you with music, videos, photos, and games. We paid special attention to programs and services you may not have heard of before.
We also singled out two free offerings--one download and one online service --as the best of the bunch. We want to hear your picks for the best freebies, too, whether they appear in this article or not. Please let us know by joining our forum discussion.
Tired of expensive, slow, bloated word processors? Download this surprisingly powerful freebie, which includes sophisticated features such as mail merge and advanced layouts. The program handles a wide variety of document formats, including those of Microsoft Word, Rich Text Format, OpenOffice.org, and other programs.
If you place orders often via the Web or phone, here's a site for you. When you get a shipping notification, forward the e-mail to email@example.com. The service reads through your message for the tracking information and keeps it in one place for all of your orders. Log in to the site to see the progress of your shipments, including a map showing their progress.
You have plenty of free Web-based word processors to choose from, but most aren't as slick as this one. The design is tasteful and elegant, menu items slide in and out of place, and it's incredibly simple to use. But don't let the pretty face fool you, because Buzzword is feature-packed as well. Inserting tables and graphics is a breeze, you can easily select background colors, and the document manager is a standout too.
ThinkFree Online (service)
Don't want to fork over several hundred dollars for Microsoft Office? Try this Web-based productivity suite, which covers word processing, spreadsheets, and presentations. The service can create files compatible with Microsoft Office, so you can download files to your own PC where you can work on them offline using Office applications, if you wish. You can also edit your Office-created documents in ThinkFree, though you have to be connected to the Internet to do that. But if you're always connected, you can't beat free.