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Free & Easy

A regular topic of debate in many circles is piracy, not the sea going type either but that of music, software, computer games and more or less anything that can be downloaded in a digital format. This feature isn't meant to discuss piracy, but is it any wonder that peoples' perception of value has been eroded when a quick Google search reveals a treasure trove of freeware applications? Indeed, provided you don't need the professional level of features provided by programs such as Adobe's Photoshop CS3, it's entirely possible to get everything you really need without spending a penny.

Thus, what follows is a quick and easy to digest guide to all of the best and most useful freeware applications out there. Many of them you will no doubt be familiar with, though at least some will probably be new to you too. So without further ado, let's begin with the first category….


For many a PC is just a workhorse, a machine restricted simply to activities such as word processing and other mundane but often important tasks. Boring it may be, but this is the essence of the Personal Computer and though we can do all sorts of exciting things with modern PCs, simply writing a document is still an essential function. Moreover, unlike many of the other categories that are to follow there's only one serious candidate: OpenOffice.org.

A comprehensive suite that includes a great number of components, OpenOffice.org is completely free and cunningly designed to mimic the basic look and feel of Office 2003. It's also compatible with 2003 format documents, so you can open Word documents using its Writer component, Excel spreadsheets in Calc and PowerPoint presentations using Impress. There's also Math for creating equations for documents and Draw that enables you to create diagrams to annotate presentations and documents, along with Base that mimics the functionality of Office's Access database component.

All in all it's a superb collection of programs, all of which feature the functionality that most people require. Doubtless there are limitations, in particular the spell checking component is noticeably inferior to that found in Word 2003 or 2007. However, when you're paying absolutely nothing for the privilege its few idiosyncrasies can be easily overlooked, especially when you could pay near £300 for Office 2007 Professional.

One thing it does lack is any kind of email client such as Outlook - easily the best part of Office 2007 for me. Thankfully, there are alternatives here too. Mozilla's Thunderbird is a popular choice, while Mozilla is also in the process of developing its Sunbird calendar application, which can be embedded into Thunderbird as part of the Lightning extension that's also in development.

Alternatively, if you use Gmail one could just as easily rely on its excellent online email and calendar system. With mobile phone handsets utilising Google's Android open mobile platform due in 2008, synchronising this information onto a mobile phone could get a whole lot easier too.

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