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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The dual-pane folder viewer and display filters provided in this Windows Explorer competitor can help speed up major file management tasks, and you can still use Explorer whenever you want.

News Readers

FeedDemon (download)

It's hard to beat the polished and newly free FeedDemon when it comes to desktop news-reader features. And you can sync it with the Newsgator site to stay on top of news even when you're out and about.

RSS Bandit (download)

Some nice interface touches, such as attractive colored tabs and panels that keep their names when they collapse, make RSS Bandit a useful tool for keeping up with the news.

Feedreader (download)

In Feedreader you can create custom Smartfeeds that pull together news posts from all of your subscribed feeds matching one or more e-mail-like filtering rules. For instance, you can capture all posts that contain "Apple" or "MacOS" in the title or body.

Awasu Personal Edition (download)

This program offers you several nice features, such as a quick full-screen switch for easy news reading on your desktop. The free personal edition, however, updates the content only once an hour.

GreatNews (download)

Six different feed presentation styles, including Essay, Newspaper, and Firefox Sage, make this news reader (in beta) worth checking out.

FreeRange FreeReader (download)

Bring the RSS love to your BlackBerry, J2ME, Nokia, Palm OS, or Windows Mobile smart phone with this mobile news reader. The free version is limited to ten news feeds and relies on your phone's data connection.

Feedshow (service)

A simple and straightforward desktop-app-like reader in a Web browser, Feedshow can switch between resizable two- and three-panel layouts and accepts keyboard shortcuts. And you don't have to download anything to your computer.

RSS Ticker (download)

This Firefox add-on for serious news junkies scrolls updates for your Live Bookmark feed subscriptions across the top or bottom of the browser window. Mouse over a headline for a summary, and click it to bring up the whole article in the browser.

Games

Splume (service)

When you launch a green ball across the screen onto a red or blue ball in this instantly likable online game, the incompatible balls give each other the stink eye. Attach a green to another green, however, and the balls share a gaze of adoration. Add in imaginative level designs and splooshy sound effects, and you have an engaging time sink.

Excit (service)

A fun spreadsheet. No, really. In this online game you lead a sprightly cross-hair cursor to the exit--without hurtling it off the edge of the spreadsheet game board--in order to advance to the next, progressively harder level. And each level of success you achieve provides a password you can use later to restart where you left off.

Command & Conquer Gold (download)

Electronic Arts released the classic Command & Conquer Tiberian Dawn real-time strategy hit as a free download for the game's twelfth anniversary. To install the game, first burn the downloadable .iso files to a CD or access them with a free utility such as Virtual CloneDrive. Then follow the instructions.

Airport Security (service)

Pull an ever-changing list of prohibited items--canned cheese, a worn shirt, candy bars--from passengers' bodies and luggage quickly enough to keep the line moving in this online Shockwave game.

Dungeon Runners (download)

Free players in this tongue-in-cheek, Diablo-esque MMOG (massively multiplayer online game) can't use the full range of items available to paid-subscription players, but they can still have a great time romping through the dungeons and building their own characters. Five dollars a month gets you the whole shebang.

Little Fighter 2 (download)

Up to four people on the same computer, or up to eight in a network, can battle it out with fists, flung items and fireballs, and other flashy special moves in this anime-like, manic fighting game.

Disaffected (download)

This satirical "anti-advergame," in which players help customers in a dysfunctional FedEx Kinko's, takes a swipe at the genre of games meant to market a company or product.

Freeciv (download)

If talk of Sid Meier's classic game Civilization II evokes fond memories of hours lost to "Just one more turn," try this excellent free clone, which supports up to 30 network players and a host of optional mods for new sounds, rules, and nations.

flOw (download)

Everyone wants to be an aquatic worm-creature, lazily chewing on microorganisms and evolving into something completely different, don't they? Grab a copy and get transformed.

Best Download

FreeReader Brings the News to Your Mobile Device

With scores of free programs now available on the Web, an application has to have more than just good looks to get the nod for our favorite shareware product. Our winner brings your news to places other free news readers can't.

FreeRange FreeReader brings the speed and convenience of RSS feeds to a wide array of mobile phones. Install this clean and fast feed reader, and the fun little games on your phone will soon suffer from neglect as you instead go straight for all the latest news reports from your favorite sources.

You can set up everything through your phone, but the better bet is to create your account and feed subscriptions through the Web site on a PC. As with any good news reader, you can import or export OPML lists from other readers, though you're limited to ten subscriptions in the free version. You can also create custom feeds that track news on particular topics or that watch market activity for one or more stock symbols.

After a quick download to your phone, you'll be reading your news in no time in a customizable and well laid-out display. FreeReader starts with article headlines and summaries and downloads the full articles only when you choose, and a typical update for ten feeds is small (around 80KB). But remember to watch your data usage if you don't have an unlimited data plan for your phone.

Best Web App

Slacker Works Hard to Find Music

Over the past year, music "taste sharing" sites have increased in visibility and popularity. They're not only a good way to get hip to new music, but they're good places to meet new people, too.

Despite its name, is no slouch. Rivals such as Last.fm and Pandora garner well-deserved praise, but don't compare to Slacker in ease of use. No matter what your music tastes may be, within about 30 seconds of first arriving at this Internet radio site you can be listening to your pick of a huge number of potential stations.

It gets even better. Slacker helpfully displays the full list of artists that play on any given station, but you don't have to stick with the list. If you start with one of the premade genre stations, you can toss bands you don't like from the lineup. Pick an artist station, which adds similar bands to an artist you search for, and you can also mix in your choice of crooners. You can choose favorite songs to hear them more often, and skip those you don't like (up to six songs per hour for the free level of use).

Add in more fine-tuning options for each station, such as whether to lean toward lesser-known music or top hits, plus a downloadable software player that can run without a browser, and you'll like this hard-working Slacker.

This story, "The Web's best free stuff" was originally published by PCWorld.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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