The Best Free Software

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Find and Fix PC Problems

Death to Viruses

Antivirus software is like car insurance: Gotta have it, hate to pay for it. But there's little you can find for free with no strings. AVG Anti-Virus System Free Edition is as close as it gets--AVG requires Web site registration in exchange for its antivirus app.

Free for one year, the EZArmor suite puts Computer Associates' antivirus program and a version of the ZoneAlarm firewall into an 18MB package. Automatic virus updates are included, but be aware of one catch: You will see some dialog boxes nagging you about renewing the service.

Tech Support Utilities

Knowledge is power--particularly when it comes to knowing what hardware is installed in your PC. Lavalys Everest Home Edition, a system diagnostic and benchmark tool, delivers details about your hardware, down to the component level.

Everest provides technical data about almost every aspect of your PC's hardware.
Everest provides technical data about almost every aspect of your PC's hardware.

Belarc Advisor delivers a thorough inventory of all the bits and pieces of software and Windows components installed on your PC, as well as some key hardware details. It's a handy tool to have if you ever need to call technical support about a malfunctioning software or hardware product.

Protect Yourself

If you're willing to take pains to keep e-mail confidential, consider PGP Freeware's ability to encrypt messages and more. PGP is a little geeky, but it's the gold standard for free personal encryption software.

Want more information about a Web domain, an e-mail address, or an IP address? Sam Spade can sleuth it out. You can find similar tools elsewhere on the Web, but this program is especially easy to use.

Sam Spade capably ferrets out information about domain names and networks.
Sam Spade capably ferrets out information about domain names and networks.

Pop-up blockers are almost everywhere, including right in the Google or AltaVista search toolbars. But Panicware's Popup Stopper Free Edition gives you a "privacy report" on the contents of the browser history files, cache, and cookies stored on your hard drive.

WebWasher Classic controls Web advertising content; manages cookies; and, maybe most notably, blocks access to specific Web sites (or makes only certain Web sites accessible)--functionality parents or small businesses will likely find useful.

Losing a download oh-so-close to completion is like having dessert snatched away before you've finished dinner. If you don't use Mozilla, which has a download manager built in, try Internet Download Manager, which can pause a download midstream or pick up a partial file where it left off.

When you want to go browsing without dragging along extra baggage, CachePal offers a way to dump your IE cache files, browser history, and cookies quickly. A single click on the toolbar icon dumps any trace of where you've been in seconds.

ScrubXP cleans out temp files and Internet Explorer cookies and history, and also flushes Windows XP's list of files you opened or searched for either on your hard drive or online.

Keep your browsing history and habits to yourself. Spybot Search & Destroy 1.3 and Ad-aware 6.181 can get rid of spyware that tracks your surfing behavior and adware that pops up ads (sometimes even when you are offline).

Still the top choice among free firewall utilities, ZoneAlarm blocks unwanted Internet intruders while at the same time keeping close tabs on applications--a good way to prevent spyware from phoning home.

Devious Web sites will be unable to pull a switcheroo on your home page once you've installed Browser Hijack Blaster, a utility that prevents other applications (mainly spyware) from making changes to your Internet Explorer settings.

With its mascot Scotty the Windows Watchdog on guard, WinPatrol 7 can alert you when a spyware program tries to set itself to start up alongside Windows (or when other apps, like QuickTime or RealPlayer, try to do the same), giving you another weapon in the war against annoyances.

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