There's never been a better time to be a cheapskate. Free utilities? We've got 'em. Want a full-fledged image editor? A few gigabytes of mail storage? How about an entire office software suite? We can top that, easy. Take the whole earth and solar system. Free!
If you thought that the golden age of free stuff ended when the dot-com bubble burst, guess again. The past few years have seen an explosion of giveaways--both Web-based services and free software--that make the anemic home-page building apps and first-generation Web mail services of the late 1990s pale in comparison.
In part, we have the open-source movement to thank. Initially the province of uber-geeks only (think Linux), open-source projects have recently produced several outstanding consumer-oriented programs. The Mozilla project has spawned not only a terrific browser (Firefox) but also an e-mail client, an HTML editor, and more. Sun's OpenOffice.org suite has finally matured, with Microsoft Office-compatible programs that are fully the equal of their commercial competitors. And the list goes on.
The other developments putting smiles on the faces of the tightfisted are advertising-supported software and Web services. As online advertising gathers momentum, it no longer seems so silly to give away endless gigabytes of hard-disk storage and server bandwidth, as free video-hosting services like Putfile and Revver are doing. As a consumer, all you need is the willingness to put up with some banner ads while you watch the videos these services host. Revver is so confident in its ability to make money from ads that it's willing to share ad revenue with anyone who posts videos.
In the following pages, we uncover the best free software and services you can find. These are the real deal--no hobbled half-products or demos that time out after 30 days. To launch straight into this sweet stuff, check out our online directory, which links you to all the downloads, services, and Web sites. Read on, and load up.