On Computers

Some Freeware (or Free Software) You Should Check Out

By Jack Imsdahl

11 July 2004



Open Office v1.1.2


Some of you are probably sick of my droning on endlessly about Open Office but, frankly, this is the software bargain of the decade; A free office suite offering more functionality than the Microsoft Office 97 (which is still in wide use) for the price of the rather large download is too good to pass up, in my opinion. If you can't download it, there are CDs available at a reasonable price, too.

Open Office contains a word processor capable of reading and generating output in a wide variety of formats, including Microsoft's .doc format. (When saving in .doc and some other formats, OO gives you strident messages about possible data loss, though I've not found that happening at all.) There is also a fully functional spreadsheet capable of reading and generating files in all popular spreadsheet formats, a drawing program with good capabilities and a presentation program similar to Microsoft's Power Point.

Jayna and I use it here on Windows and Linux machines and find it all we need. The text/word processor function of the application is my favorite way to generate text. (This article is being typed in it.) Printing in Windows and Linux is good. I've no experience in Mac OS X upon which to comment. All installed fonts (even my obscure ones) are available displaying and printing well from the applications. And on my machine, at least, I find OO to be more stable and robust than MS Office, though on almost all machines there is apparently no significant difference in that area.

There ARE some drawbacks for real power users of either WordPerfect or Microsoft's Office. Your macros won't transfer to OO. Open Office uses Java for those, not VBA or another scripting language. To get really full functionality out of OO, you will have to install Sun's Java Runtime Environment (JRE) and let the OO installer link to it, then re-write your macros. This is true in Linux and Mac OS X, also. Real power users might miss some features in more established, proprietary suites, but they compose a minority of users, in any event. Research shows that most users utilize a rather small subset of available features. So, for the rest of us who are not power users, it's great. Why should we pay for an office suite when all we need is right here?

You'll find Open Office rather slow to open, I'm afraid. About the same as later versions of MS Office on our machines, though your mileage may well vary. There is an option to keep part of the OO executable in memory given in the options and if you have the RAM to pull it off, this is the way to go as it speeds opening times considerably.

The OO download is rather large, at 60 to 70+ Megabytes, depending on which platform you're using. And the Sun JRE adds another 13-14 MB to that and should be downloaded and installed first. Still, it's doable on dial up, especially with a good download manager like “LeechGet 2004”.

LeechGet 2004


Previous versions of LeechGet weren't all that much punk and I gave up on it. The developer has kept at it, though, and the last couple versions were much improved. The current version is all I need in a download manager. It runs excellently and it contains no spyware or adware, like many other such applications. There is a freeware version and a shareware version. I'll concern myself solely with the freeware version, called “Personal Edition”, here.

LeechGet 2004 Personal Edition lets you queue up to 8 downloads. The shareware version lets you do more, should you need that. While geared to work with Internet Explorer, there is a plug in to allow LeechGet to capture urls from Mozilla and Firefox, also. Or, you can just let LeechGet take urls from the clipboard, which is what I do.

I've found this application to be just what I need. I do a LOT of downloading and most of it using LeechGet. (There are some sites which don't allow download managers to be used and for these, I fall back on using my browser's download capabilities. Servers which support resumed downloads work exceptionally well with LeechGet. In several hundred uses, I've suffered NO file corruption on resumed downloads at all. As a recommendation, that's pretty high. Remember; I download 700 MB files on dial up!

Matrix Y2K


Okay; I admit I'm prejudiced on this one. I've been a Matrix user since 'way back. Martijn vanIJperin, the developer, is a friend and mentor and has been since I started writing him about the application a few years ago.

Matrix Y2K is not a WYSIWYG editor. It requires some knowledge of HTML to use effectively. That said; Matrix is a fine, semi-automatic generator and validator of HTML code. It runs faultlessly on all Windows variants and has enough features to keep anyone happy. HTML Tidy and a fine file manager are among it's features. It's written in Borland's Delphi language and is in some part composed of publicly available modules. I am continually impressed by how carefully this app is put together and it's function is without fault, even in the beta version I am using.

PHP, CSS, Perl and a host of other web page extensions are supported, though I tend to code Perl in another editor.

A word about the file manager in Matrix; I have become a fan of applications like Macromedia's DreamWeaver for management of extremely large sites. However; I have found the file manager in Matrix capable of monitoring and managing sites much larger than I once thought possible with freeware tools. It's a good tool and extends the functionality of Matrix by a large margin.

For those among us who might be said to be beginning or intermediate coders (I count myself among these) Matrix extends our capabilities without getting in the way of understanding. I use Matrix relentlessly. I keep bugging Martijn about a Linux version in Borland's Kylix, which is basically Delphi for Linux, but so far he has not given us one because of licensing issues with some of the code modules he uses. With such a fine tool at my disposal in Windows, I cannot complain. In fact; the ability to use Matrix is one reason I stick with Windows as closely as I do.

Everest Home Edition


In keeping with my freeware theme; I'll just say there are freeware and shareware versions of this program and that we're concerning ourselves here with only the freeware one.

Everest Home Edition is the current incarnation of Aida32, the respected system information and monitoring utility. I never much liked Aida32, finding it problematic on some machines and less than completely accurate, though others (Gail in particular) found it useful and informative. Everest Home Edition, however, is a much improved version, though I'm sure the core code is the same. It seems all my complaints with previous versions have been addressed and EHE is now a permanent part of my toolkit.

EHE is a fine utility which gives a wide variety of system information. Whether you use it out of curiosity or need, it performs and performs well. It's also possible to fine-tune a system with EHE in such a way as to improve performance and longevity of the components through such things as temperature monitoring. In use the application is pretty much self-explanatory and automatic. The help files leave a bit to be desired, but are not truly necessary.

Two weeks ago; I used EHE to diagnose a hard drive controller failure, or rather to confirm my suspicions of one. EHE has continually saved me time and headaches since I took up using it and for that I am grateful.

Everest Home Edition is particularly welcome now that other tools like it are less desirable and/or unavailable. Motherboard Monitor's developer has ceased development of the 8 year old tool, citing lack of cooperation from manufacturers and a lack of time to devote to it. Some other potentially useful utilities of this type are now reported to contain spyware or adware. EHE has none of that and performs well. I recommend it highly.



There are archiving programs (usually known as “Zip” utilities) all over, free for the choosing. Winzip, Power Archiver and more. I've settled on Filzip, now at version 3.01.

Filzip handles as wide a range of file types as any other program of which I am aware, whether free or paid for. It runs perfectly, albeit a little more slowly than a couple of it's competitors. That's why I've grown so fond of it. I do a lot of software installations on a lot of machines and have found most archiving programs just a wee bit picky as to what machine they like running on. (A few of the less popular ones are downright unstable.) Not so Filzip. It runs on everything from Windows 95 to XP to Server 2003! I have yet to find a machine it has trouble on, though I have occasionally had a failure to install, in which case I simply reinstall over the first attempt and go on.

Because Filzip handles such a wide array of file types, I can unzip all sorts of strange files I never could before. Japanese game files, for instance, often come in a zip format some other archivers can't handle. And I can extract all those strange Linux binaries, regardless of format, for transfer to floppies and installation on my laptop. It's an incredibly well done and handy application. Making compressed archives is as easy as can be, too. There's nothing not to like about this application.


© 2004 Jack Imsdahl

Back • Home • Up • Next

© 2002 - 2004 by On Computers and the Videotex Services Coalition.VSC -- Videotex Services Coaliton