For audio and video chat, I recommend Skype from www.skype.com.
Al Fasoldt's reviews and commentaries, continuously available online since 1983

T e c h n o f i l e
Finding the best free utility software for Windows, Part 2

Jan. 13, 2008

By Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2008, Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 2008, The Post-Standard

   The Internet started out as a way to share information and programs without cost. The tradition continues today, especially for programs that solve both little and big problems. These are called "utilities."
   You can give Windows a much-needed boost by downloading and installing some of the free utility programs I've featured here in the last two weeks. (Last week's article is at www.technofileonline.com/texts/tec010608.html.) Today's list includes virus-fighting utilities and helper programs for handling photos, among others.
   All of these are free.
   Antivirus: Comodo from http://antivirus.comodo.com and Avast from www.avast.com/eng/download-avast-home.html. Both programs have a lot of good features, the best being the price. I'm personally offended by the antivirus software companies such as Dell stuff into a new PC -- fellow columnist Walt Mossberg calls it "crapware" -- because you end up having to pay for this "free" service after a number of months. But Comodo and Avast are free, period.
   Anti-spyware: Spybot Search & Destroy from www.spybot.info and Ad-Aware Free from www.lavasoftusa.com. These two are the original spyware fighters and they're still good. (You might see versions of either one that you have to pay for, but get the free ones instead.)
   Firewall: Comodo Free Firewall from www.personalfirewall.comodo.com. Windows XP and Vista have firewalls built in, but many users apparently don't have this data-blocking feature turned on. The Comodo Firewall is easier to set up and use than the firewall in Windows, and it's just as effective.
   Video conversion: The Film Machine from http://members.home.nl/thefilmmachine. How do you convert video you've taken with your new camera to something you can put on your iPod or your Zune? This free software handles those tasks and more.
   Image management: Picasa from http://picasa.google.com. Picasa is the Windows equivalent of Apple's iPhoto for the Mac. It finds all your images and sorts them, lets you edit them, gives you easy ways to print them and does a lot more.
   Image viewers and converters: Irfan View from www.irfanview.com and FastStone from www.faststone.org/FSViewerDetail.htm. Both viewers are much better than the feeble viewer that comes with Windows. And conversions from one format to another (JPG to TIF, for example) are a snap.
   Audio and video chat: Skype from www.skype.com. I use Skype a lot. If you have a computer with a built-in microphone (just about all laptops have one) you can make free voice calls to any other computer running Skype, anywhere in the world. If you have a webcam, you can add video to your call. Best of all, Skype is very easy to use. There's a Mac version, too, so all your friends who switched to Macs can chat with you.
   Registry cleaner: EasyCleaner from http://personal.inet.fi/business/toniarts/ecleane.htm. The weak link in Windows is the Registry, a database that keeps a realtime record of everything that happens. The Registry gets corrupted far too easily. EasyCleaner can help fix it.
   Video and audio player: VLC media player from www.videolan.org. If you can't play an audio or video file someone sent you, it's probably because you don't have VLC. It's magical. Tell your friends to get this, too.
   Password recovery: Snadboy's Revelation from www.snadboy.com. Forget the crazy name; this program rocks and rolls. You know those rows of asterisks Windows shows instead of displaying passwords? Snadboy's Revelation turns them into real passwords. (So much for security, right? So why let the bad guys use this sort of program on their own? Arm yourself, too. If you forget your password, this utility will prove invaluable.)