Pdf995, available as a free download at http://www.pdf995.com/, lets you create documents in the popular Adobe Acrobat pdf format. This is immensely useful for many situations. A companion program, PdfEdit995, lets you edit some attributes of the pdf files. For basic usage, though, Pdf995 works just fine. After you download and install the software, you’ll be able to “print” any document to pdf format, and then do with it as you wish. When using Pdf995 you have to watch a small advertisement, but this is what keeps the program free.
What’s so great about pdf files? They’re a good way to send documents by email or web without worrying about viruses, compatibility, and formatting. Many people send Microsoft Word documents to one another. But what if the recipient doesn’t own Microsoft Word? Did you also know that there’s a programming language built into Word (and Excel and other Microsoft Office document types) that can transmit viruses and worms? Pdf documents retain the original formatting, which is important in many cases (but not all). Pdf documents are also a good way to save a copy of a web page.
Save as “Web archive, single file”
What if you’ve read an article on a website and you want to save it? Do you print it? You can, but then you’re stuck with paper with its attendant drawbacks. Can you save the website on your computer? If you’re using Internet Explorer, there is is the “Save as” command on the “File” menu, which will save a copy of the web page. But there’s a catch to be aware of. If you use the default value for the “Save as type” setting, which is “Web page, complete” you’ll end up with many small files on your computer. A better setting is “Web archive, single file,” which saves the web page in a single file. This is a much cleaner and neater option. Printing the web page as a pdf file (see above) is also useful.
How do you keep your notebook computer’s files synchronized with your desktop computer’s files? The best answer is offline files, a feature built into recent versions of Microsoft Windows. With offline files, it’s almost as if your notebook and desktop computers were acting as one, even when you’re away from home or office.
Offline files is not easy to configure and not always easy to use, but it works and performs an indispensable service. Without it, it would be much more difficult to manage using two computers.
Suspend and Hibernate
Windows has two useful features that are an alternative to turning off your computer when you’re finished using it. Suspend puts your computer in a state where it uses very little power, but will come back to life almost instantly. Hibernate saves the state of your computer to disk and turns off the computer so that it uses no (or just a little trickle) power. It takes a little longer to bring your computer to life after hibernation, but it’s still faster than starting from scratch, and as with standby, all your programs will be running as you left them.
Each of these two options can save a lot of time and electricity, too. Plus, when your computer is in standby or hibernate mode, it isn’t going to be attacked by hackers.
Currently my Google Mail, or gmail, account tells me that I have 2470 MB total space available for my use. I pay nothing for this space. It was not along ago that my Internet Service Provider, to which I pay $40 monthly, granted me 10 mb total space.
Google mail works very well, although it has a few quirks and peculiarities when compared to traditional email services. I use gmail to receive email newsletter subscriptions and other similar email.
Google Alerts let you “save” a Google search and have the results emailed to you as new web pages that match your searches are found. This is an invaluable way to keep up-to-date on topics you are interested in.
Your Own Cheap Website
For less than $50 a year plus about $8 for a domain name, you can have your own web site with perhaps 2,000 mb of storage and a lot of bandwidth. What can you do with all this? For one thing, you can host a website like wichitaliberty.org. Some other things: Create email addresses, manage a mailing list, store backups of your personal data offsite (with cautions), host a blog, host a website using any number of content management systems such as Drupal that runs wichitaliberty.org, host a discussion forum, use image gallery systems for photo albums, use project management systems to coordinate a project, host a wiki for collaboration, and many other things. Most of these systems make use of open source software and work very well. But, a lot of these things are not for the inexperienced computer user. There are times I have had to manually edit various Linux configuration files and mySQL databases to make things work. But it’s a lot of fun to learn, and some of the open source software is amazing in its capability and quality.
Online Newspapers and Magazines
Did you know that you can read the content of many of our nation’s important newspapers for free? Each day I read (well, at least I have the potential to read) the New York Times, Washington Post, Washington Times, Chicago Tribune, Christian Science Monitor, and Los Angeles Times. Around the state of Kansas, The Wichita Eagle, Wichita Business Journal, Topeka Capital-Journal, Lawrence Journal-World, and The Kansas City Star are available for free. I pay to subscribe to The Wall Street Journal, but that newspaper stands out as an exception.
Many national and local magazines have all or some of their content available on their websites for free, too. Furthermore, many of these publications will send me an email about each issue.
Strunk: The Elements of Style
This important reference work is at http://www.bartleby.com/141/. Strunk is a little old-fashioned in some ways, such as advocating the use of the Oxford comma, but I think that’s good.
I became disenchanted with several commercial anti-virus program because they seemed to be doing too much, integrating firewall and other protections, and they seemed to be making my computers run slower than they should. So at home I investigated AVG anti-virus, from grisoft.com. It works just fine, and for home users, there is the “Free Edition.” You have to look pretty hard on the website to find it, but it’s there. For work I use the professional edition, which I pay for, but it is less expensive than many competing products, and is less intrusive.
I recommend a firewall in addition to anti-virus software. Recent versions of Windows have a built-in firewall. For older versions of Windows, of if you want to use something else, I recommend ZoneAlarm, from zonelabs.com. You have to look pretty hard on the website for the free edition, but it’s there.
Sbybot — Search & Destroy
Besides anti-virus and a firewall, I recommend an anti-spyware program. Sbybot — Search & Destroy, available for free at http://www.safer-networking.org works very well.
Skype is free Internet telephony that works very well. You need a broadband or high-speed Internet connection, but after that it’s free, and the quality of voice call is usually much better than that of regular telephone service.
Audacity, available at http://audacity.sourceforge.net, is an open source software product that provides you with many of the features of a professional recording studio. At the minimum, you could make a recording of your voice, edit it, and save it, perhaps as an mp3 file. With additional effort, you can alter recording to remove noise, add enhancements, and other tricks.