There’s no such thing as a free lunch – but clearly that old adage doesn’t apply to software, because “free” is most definitely the way forward.
I’ve been downloading/using/evaluating a number of free apps for both Mac and PC recently, so here’s my two pence worth.
1) If you’re a Firefox user (and why the hell would you not be?!) then I’ve discovered a rather fine plugin for handling FTP called FireFTP. It basically turns Firefox into a fairly nifty FTP client. Type your remote FTP details into the interface, and you’ll be uploading in no time at all. Beats having a separate app in my opinion, and great for the occasional time you need to access your webspace when you’re out and about away from your desktop machine.
2) When I’m away from home and forced to use someone else’s PC, I like to know I’ve got my tried-and-tested applications with me rather than having to use “standard” (i.e. sh!te) software. This is where PortableApps comes in. Install this to your USB stick and you’ll have a fairly comprehensive selection of free, open-source, decent software at your disposal.
The standard install gives you Firefox, Thunderbird, the full OpenOffice suite and Pidgin, amongst other things. You can then select additional software to install – I’ve opted for the VLC player, GIMP and 7Zip. The install is persistent, so, for example, you can install Firefox add-ons (Xmarks and FireFTP naturally!) and have all your bookmarks at your fingertips, as well as email settings etc.
For times when you can’t use a Linux LiveUSB, this is the next best thing as it’ll run on any XP machine and won’t leave any trace once the stick is unplugged. I’ve got this installed on an 8GB stick, and there’s still loads of space for documents, photos and even a few music tracks. Works very well indeed.
3) I really like the OpenOffice suite and recommend it at every opportunity – it almost always gets a favourable reaction, particularly because it’s free. Family, friends and colleagues are consistently amazed that it’s every bit as good as Microshite Office, but has a price tag of precisely nothing. And now there’s a great option for those Mac users who want to get in on the OpenOffice action, and it’s called NeoOffice. It’s essentially a spruced-up rebuild of OpenOffice, with some extra little Mac-specific tweaks and a welcome speed boost over the PC version.
I see no reason for the VAST majority of people to use Microsoft Office at all when there’s free software that’s this good – and in case you’re concerned, it even saves your documents as .doc or .xls files if you need cross-compatibility with Microsoft’s overpriced bloatware.