Software and Graphics


I basically live on my computer, it's where I make my living and do research and suchlike on the web. Computers are absolutely useless without software, so I have a fair amount of interest in the topic and am constantly on the lookout for things that will make my working life easier--and my surfing safer. Here is a selection of software, mostly freeware, that I downloaded and use. Unless otherwise noted, all the software is free.

My hands-down favorite word processor is Rough Draft. You can't do graphics, charts, graphs, spreadsheets, presentations, columns, or any of the plethera of other things that the Big Name word processors and "Office Suites" do with Rough Draft. All you can use it for is to write. Rough Draft has three "modes"; normal, screenplay, stage/radio play. It saves in either .rtf or plain text, either of which can be read by just about any word processor. It does all the formatting I need for the novels and stories I write.

Speaking of writing, the Note Pad that comes with Windows is just about worthless. I replaced it with a little freebie called EditPad. You can get other free software there as well.

The HTML editor I use is Arachnophilia. Arachnophilia isn't a commercial product, it's not shareware, it's not even freeware. It's Careware. Arachnophilia is highly versitile, very easy to use, and I love the concept behind Careware. Check it out. Even if you don't download the software, the page is worth a visit. Developed by the man who brought AppleWriter and WebThing to the world. The Arachnophilia site also has backgrounds, bars, buttons, and other stuff for free download. I got some of the backgrounds and other graphics for earlier incarnations of this site from there.

If you write HTML documents, you've probably discovered that minor typoes can really mess you up. HTMLValidatorLite is a freeware version of a commercial product that checks your coding for errors. Somewhat awkward to setup, but easy to use.

Get Right is the best $17.50 I ever spent for shareware. Ever have a case of downloadus interruptus about 13mb into a 15mb file? Frustrating, ain't it? Get Right is a handy-dandy utility that takes care of that aggravating problem. If it's handling your download and you get interrupted, when you reconnect it can pick up the download where you got cut off and continue from that point. I've gotten lots of use from it. If you use Netscape Navigator or Internet Explorer, Get Right takes over the browser's download function.

Bored by the same old wallpaper everyday? Manually changing your wallpaper is too cumbersome? Wallmaster is a freeware wallpaper changer. Make a catalog of wallpapers and Wallmaster will change them at regular intervals or on startup. You can center, cascade, stretch-to-fit, and more. Will work with gifs, jpgs, and more.

Irfanview is a freeware graphics viewer. It's small and easy to use. It also makes thumbnails and slide shows and allows limited manipulation of most standard graphics formats. I made the text background on this page with it.

Tired of pop-up windows when you browse? Do you dislike having the sites you visit collect a lot of information about who you are and where you've been? Are you suspicious about the security of Java and Active X? Dislike having sites you visit dump things on your hard drive without so much as a by-your-leave? Hate bandwidth-hogging banner ads? Then The Proxomitron may be your ticket. It's got more filters and blocks than I understand. The Proxomitron is no longer being developed, but it's still available for download, and other people are writing new filters for it. The Proxomitron page includes links to some of the best sites to find filters and get questions answered.

Internet security and surfing privacy have become bigger issues recently, though the problem has always existed. We have Doubleclick's plot to identify and track everybody to thank for that. So thanks, Doubleclick! Maybe the internet will become more secure for people who don't want strangers looking over their shoulders while they surf, and don't want to be bombarded by "targeted advertising" (spam). I use a collection of utilities that give me some measure of internet privacy:
First is ZoneAlarm, a freeware firewall. It blocks outside access to your computer while you're online. Especially valuable to anyone with a cable connection. What do I mean? It's shocking how vulnerable your machine is to hacking while you're connected to the web. Go here, scroll down to the "ShieldsUp" link and click on it for what could be a real eye-opener.
OClick is a small, freebie utility that has only one reason for existance -- it blocks Doubleclick from your computer. When you have it up and running, Doubleclick cannot show you its banner ads, deposit cookies on your machine, or track your movements.
AdSubtract is a utility that can block banner ads, Doubleclick, and cookies. "AdSubtract SE," for individuals is freeware. Business users have to buy the commercial version, which is also available for individuals. The commerical version does more.
"Targeted advertising" spam isn't the only hazard of being tracked. Think about how other people, perhaps with nefarious intent, could watch where you go and what you do on the internet. Sure, you don't do anything illegal, you don't go places you wouldn't want your spouse, significant other, kids, mom, or pastor to know about (sure, you don't!). Give George Orwell's 1984 another read, and then tell me you don't mind anybody tracking you. Just on the advertising: How would you react to a store that assigned an employee to follow you around, take notes on everything you looked at, kept a record of it, and aimed advertising at you -- and maybe even sold that information to other stores? Okay, you want a store where you shop regularly to know you and be able to make recommendations. But a place you're visiting for the first time, and to which you may never return? A store that does that is one I won't return to.
There's another hazzard I ran into, to my grief. Browser hijacking. You've probably seen websites that ask if you want them to be your start page. You may even have run into sites that change your start page without asking. I think the first is awful nervy, and the second is outrageous. But there are worse browser hijackers out there; not only do they change your start page without your permission, they don't let you change your start page back to where you want. Your first line of defense against them is Spyware Guard, which prevents most hijackers from getting their slimey claws on your browser to begin with. But if you do get stung by one, there are several tools you can use to get your browser back under control. I recommend Hijack This, Buster, Hoster, and Peper Fix.

Cookies irk me. Sure, in some instances they are useful -- you enter a commercial site to do some shopping and they allow you to select items to buy without having to continually re-enter data. Shopping carts, for instance. If they automatically deleted when you left the site, I'd have no problem with them. But they don't. Anybody with access to your hard drive can access them, including crackers and other snoops. Some sites dump third-party cookies on your drive without telling you. Yikes! Whatever for? CookieCop, a freebie from ZDNET, automatically filters out third-party cookies. You can configure it to filter out other cookies as well.
Cookie Manager is another cookie cleaning utility. Run it after a net session and it deletes all the cookies you've told it to while retaining any cookies you want to keep.

MediaBuilder.Com and got some graphics and software from there. You can make graphical headings in a wide variety of typefaces, colers, and sizes. They can also rotate in 3D, but I find that annoying. A downright awesome site. Take a look at it.