The Web's best free stuff

Check out these great finds for productivity, security, photo and video, maps and directions and much more

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If you encounter an undecipherable error message and want to find a solution to the problem, head to this Web site and type in the error message. If any of the site's previous users have found the answer to your problem, it will be listed there. It's about 100 times better than waiting on hold to talk to a support rep.

Clip2net (service)

Here's a clever tool for people who want to take screen captures and use them on the Web. After you download free software from this site and use it to capture a screen, the software uploads the capture. Clip2Net then sends you the URL to the hosting location, so you can link directly to the images from your blog or Web site.

iDrive (service)

You can back up 2GB of data for free to this Web site, using associated software that sets up a virtual drive. When you copy files to that virtual drive, you're actually storing your stuff at a secure iDrive server on the Internet.

CCleaner (download)

This utility offers the best way to clean the gunk out of your PC, including waste from Windows, the Internet, Microsoft applications, and plenty of third-party applications.

AppSnap (download)

Want to make sure all of the freeware on your PC is current? This program scans your system, locates freeware that's out of date, and then upgrades the applications that you tell it to.

Eusing Free Registry Cleaner (download)

Your Registry is filled with outdated and bad entries. Clean it with this free utility, and keep your system in tip-top shape.

CO2 Saver (download)

This free program puts your PC into sleep or hibernation mode at appropriate times, which conserves energy and reduces carbon dioxide emissions. You'll save money and help the environment.

Maps and Directions

WeFi (download)

With WeFi, you can connect with the world in more ways than one. It not only finds Wi-Fi hotspots but also maps other Wi-Fi users' locations by triangulating among hotspots. It then displays them on a map, so you can see who's near you.

Zillow (service)

What is your home worth? How about the home of your neighbor down the street--or a house in Tuscon, Arizona? At this real estate site you can find out the worth of almost any home in your neighborhood, as well as buy or sell a home, scope out new neighborhoods, and chat with people who already live there.

TerraServer (service)

This Microsoft-run site gives aerial views of any location in the United States, and displays topographical maps too. You can print any of the maps yourself or order a high-resolution copy.

FreeMind (download)

Finding maps of the world is easy--how would you like to make a map of your ideas? That's exactly what this software promises to do. With it, you connect your ideas, works, and projects; its visual representation can help you devise new ideas and keep track of old ones.

Discovery Earth Live (service)

Interested in the current state of the planet? This Web site from the Discovery Channel shows a globe that presents multiple layers of information, including clouds, water vapor, and rainfall.

MizPee (service)

There's no delicate way to describe this site, so we won't try. You use it when you are in a public place and need to find a clean toilet--something that's not so easy in most metropolitan areas. You can either check the service on your PC before you travel somewhere or use your cell phone's browser.

Stellarium (download)

This open-source astronomy app displays all the celestial objects you could ever want to see, including stars, planets, nebulae, and constellations. It displays the night sky in various grids and from different points of view, and can show the movement of heavenly bodies in slow- or fast-motion.

Flightstats (service)

Want to check for delays, learn the current status of flights at airports, and track planes as they fly to their destination? This site offers an exceptional amount of detail, such as whether certain airports are de-icing aircraft.

Communications

Pownce (service)

On this social networking site you can send items to friends and receive items from them, including messages, links, files, and event notices. Pownce is also a kind of meta-networking service, since it imports all your friends from other social networking sites and e-mail programs, such as Facebook, Hotmail, and Twitter.

Pidgin (download)

Why can't instant messenger programs get along? With the open-source IM client Pidgin, they can. Within this single application, you can chat with people on all of the big instant messaging networks--including AIM, Google, ICQ, MSN Messenger, and Yahoo Messenger--plus many others you may not heard of, such as QQ and SILC.

Pbwiki (service)

Creating and maintaining a wiki is a great way for people to collaborate. With Pbwiki, you'll find it a breeze to set up a wiki of your own, for free. Whether you use it for a workgroup, for an entire business, or for a nonprofit or social group, it's ideal.

Make Me Sustainable (service)

Want to do good for the planet while connecting with like-minded others? Specify an activity at this site, and it calculates the amount of greenhouse gases the activity produces, in units of carbon dioxide. It then suggests how you can reduce your impact and shows you how much less carbon dioxide you'll generate as a result. You can also see what other people in your geographic area have done, or create sustainability discussion groups.

Gizmo (download)

Tired of paying massive phone bills? Cut them down to size with this free Skype-like software, which allows you to talk for free with other Gizmo users through your computer. You can make inexpensive calls from your PC to landlines and cell phones, too.

Dopplr (service)

If you travel a lot and want to share your travel plans with family, coworkers, and friends, try this site. You can put in your itinerary and have your friends enter theirs, and the site will create a map showing where everybody will be. If you discover that you and a friend will happen to be in the same city, for example, you can make arrangements for dinner, even if it's in the airport.

Talkshoe (service)

Here's a free way to participate in group voice chats with people who share your interests. Head to the site and click a chat to join, and you'll be able to talk using the Web-based app. You can create your own chats, as well. Talkshoe integrates directly into other social networking sites, such as Facebook, so you can converse with your friends from those sites too.

TeeBeeDee (service)

Tired of social networking sites aimed at people whose idea of ancient history is the Clinton administration? This service caters to folks 40 and above. Whether you're interested in work, play, relationships, or just about anything else, TeeBeeDee can help you find others who share your passions.

Time Management

Voo2do.com (service)

Much more than a to-do list, this project management site helps you track how much time you spend on tasks grouped into different projects. You can share tasks and projects, and create new tasks by sending the site an e-mail.

TimeBridge (service)

Need to schedule meetings with scattered colleagues on assorted e-mail and calendaring networks? Head over to TimeBridge, which can pull in your Outlook or Google calendar availability and allow participants (who don't have to be TimeBridge members) to choose from up to five proposed meeting times.

30Boxes.com (service)

The interface of this calendar site lets you quickly create events with tags, invites, Google map links, and more. You can also import up to 100 contacts from Gmail, Hotmail, Outlook, Plaxo, or Yahoo to take advantage of all the sharing that the site emphasizes.

SyncMyCal (download)

This app can synchronize your Google, Pocket Microsoft Outlook, or 30Boxes calendar with your Outlook XP, 2003, or 2007 calendar. The free versions can handle multiple online calendars but they won't automatically sync (you'll need to click a button in an installed Outlook toolbar).

Lightning (download)

This program adds a great-looking, full-featured calendar and task list to Thunderbird, Mozilla's excellent free E-mail application. You can create multiple color-coded calendars and pull in events from other online calendars such as Google Calendar.

Scrybe (service)

If you want to see just how much an online application can feel like a desktop program, sign up for the ongoing beta of Scrybe's calendar and note-taking app. Its slick display, with zoom effects when you drill down from month to week to day, will make you quickly forget you're in a browser window. It also has an offline mode, an Outlook-like reminder pop-up, and lots of other nice features.

Ta-da List (service)

If you just want a simple and easy list for tracking tasks, check out Ta-da List. It has few features, but you can get it up and running in no time.

Music

Winamp (download)

The latest version of the venerable free music player can sync with iPods and fixes a serious security bug in earlier versions of the software. Its new companion download, Winamp Remote, allows you to listen to non-DRM-protected music on your PC from anywhere through a Web browser.

Audacity (download)

This capable open-source download can edit and record .mp3, .wav, and other digital audio files. You can use the program to convert file types, record podcasts, and mix special effects into your favorite songs, as well.

iTunes Library Updater (download)

If moving or deleting songs has thrown your iTunes library into disarray, grab this handy tool. It can easily clean up duplicates and orphaned entries, as well as add new music from specified directories that iTunes doesn't yet know about.

Soundsnap (service)

Find almost any type of royalty-free sound sample at this well-designed site, whether you're looking for trumpeting elephants, synthesized drum loops, or the perfect "boing" sound effect.

iLike (service)

With a plug-in for Windows Media Player or iTunes, iLike installs a sidebar displaying artist news (recent albums, local concerts, and so on) based on music already residing in your library. It also recommends new music that you might like, offering song samples. You can share playlists and preferences with other iTunes-using friends, too.

Slacker (service)

Start with your pick of Internet radio stations in Slacker's in-browser player--from 90s Alternative to Outlaw Country to Big Band/Swing--or type in the name of a band to get a station covering that sort of music. Afterward, you can customize the station with your choice of artists, and fine-tune options such as song popularity and age. You can also download a stand-alone software player.

Lala.com (service)

If you take the time to upload all or part of your MP3 collection to Lala.com, you can then play those songs anywhere through a Web browser. Though you can't download the songs to another PC, you can use a downloadable applet to sync your Lala music (both uploads and music purchased from Lala) to your iPod.

Wavosaur (download)

When you need to edit short audio programs, sound effects, or loops, give the free Wavosaur audio editor a try. It has all the basic audio editing functions (cut, copy, paste, crop, fade in, fade out, and so on), and some audio analysis features, as well. You can use it to record sound and do batch-processing on a folder full of files.

Desktop Customization

WinMatrix (service)

This customization clearinghouse serves up a dizzying array of guides, links, and posts for the serious tweaker who wants to change the look and feel of Windows XP or Vista. If you're new to the XP customization game, start with the site's excellent beginner's guide.

WindowBlinds (download)

For "skinning" the various Windows interfaces, Stardock's WindowBlinds theme manager is the tool to use. After you pick up the program, head to Wincustomize.com for a kid-in-the-candy-shop feeling as you browse through 522 pages of free and for-pay skins that beautify the taskbar, window borders, Start menu, and other elements. The free trial won't skin Internet Explorer and has a few other limitations; the full version runs $20.

Wincustomize (service)

Here you'll find a wealth of free wallpaper and screen savers, as well as themes and packages, for Stardock's excellent Windows customization programs. You can nab 50MB of downloads right away, or register (at no cost) and bump that up to 500MB.

SlickRun (download)

If you're a Windows power user who constantly heads to the Run command in the Start menu, SlickRun can save you some time with its floating on-screen command window. You can also create "MagicWords," one-word aliases that quickly launch programs when you type them into the command window.

Vista Start Menu (download)

Despite the name, this beefed-up Start menu runs on Windows XP as well as on Microsoft's newer OS. The much-larger menu can make getting to programs easier if you have a bunch installed, and it also provides quick access to autorun programs that are set to start with Windows.

RealWorld Cursor Editor (download)

Replace any of the 15 Windows pointers with this do-it-all app. You can download ready-made pointers or use the built-in editing tool to create new ones, from scratch or based on existing images.

RocketDock (download)

This launchpad for files and programs brings some Mac OS flavor to Windows, introducing a bit of the Apple operating system's signature great looks and ease of use.

AlfaClock (download)

Windows' taskbar clock is boring and limited. Replace it with this highly customizable display, which shows (or even speaks) the date and the day of the week along with the time.

Xplorer2 (download)

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