Broke for the holidays: WalletPop's Freeware Holiday Roundup

santa thumbdriveI learned long ago that gift giving doesn't have to cost a fortune, especially when you are the family computer support guru. In fact, Thanksgiving and Christmas celebrations in my family normally end with me fixing someone's computer. I learned long ago that a USB thumb drive with copies of my favorite applications was a holiday must have, particularly for my relatives still on dial up.

Since I don't get to spend as much time at home as I used too, I end up with fewer house calls in the days following Christmas, making PC repair gift certificates less practical. Not to be dissuaded, this year I plan to revive my role as the tech support Santa and give friends and family a collection of free software that should make their lives easier. Shh, don't tell them, I want it to be a surprise.

The software categories include:
  • Office package
  • Photo editing
  • Instant messenger
  • Anti virus
  • Spyware removal
  • Web browsing
The following collection of software is all free and fills the holes left by the trial software installed on so many new computers. That's not to say this software is any less useful or valuable, the collection of programs below include some of my personal favorites which provide a rich user experience and in many cases let users grow into their features.

OpenOffice is a full featured office productivity suite which can easily tackle many of the same duties as Microsoft's expensive bundle. OpenOffice can open the files created in Microsoft's programs with ease so you don't need to worry about being unable to open a file that a friend or family member sends you.

Photo editing:
There are two great free photo editing options out there right now. The first, GIMP, has the power of Photoshop but comes with a decent learning curve. The second, Picnik, is an online photo editing tool that quickly handles common photo needs such as auto retouching, resizing and cropping in a very user friendly package. Hand out GIMP to the power users in your family, but for Grandma and Grandpa, Picnik will more than meet their needs.

Instant Messaging:
Even with the low cost options for long distance voice communication Instant Messaging is still one of my favorite ways to keep in touch. Unfortunately there are as many different IM services and clients out there as Smiths in the phone book. My favorite program, Digsby, is free and handles all of the major services as well as ties into email and social networking sites! Its user friendly enough that even Grandpa can get around in it.

Anti Virus:
If IT professionals who know how to avoid a good portion of viruses and malware still use anti virus programs, why would you let your uncle Cary go without? Almost every new computer nowadays ships with an installation of Norton or McAfee anti virus programs but the subscription is often limited to 30 days. Once that subscription runs out, the usefulness of the anti virus software diminishes greatly. Thankfully you can give them AVG Free, which is possible the best free anti virus software out there, and provides free virus updates to users.

Just like you can't have Thanksgiving without turkey, you shouldn't have a computer without some type of spyware software. There are two excellent programs out there which I take with me to any family outing; Lavasoft's AdAware and Safer Networking's Spybot Search and Destroy. Both of these programs provide excellent spyware identification and removal. Showing your friends and family how to use these tools will keep their data safer and hopefully keep them from clicking on pop-ups claiming their computer is infected.

Web Browsing:
A safe and friendly browser is paramount to a good computer system. I recommend Firefox to anyone who gets online, even if they are only checking email. Firefox is a free browser that is user friendly and secure. If you don't give this to your friends and family at least get them to upgrade to Internet Explorer 7.

All of these programs are available free of charge and offer you the opportunity to be a hero this holiday to all of your friends and family. You can easily burn the collection to a CD for an extremely cheap but useful gift this holiday season. If you feel like splurging and giving them a gift they can reuse, a cheap flash drive will bump this gift out of cheap and into frugal in the eyes of your recipient. You can download the programs and learn more from the links above or you can download all of the files in WalletPop's Freeware Holiday Roundup with one click for easy gifting!

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