Sometimes I wonder why I ever pay for software. After all, clever people keep turning out great new programs and giving them away! Here's my latest collection of cool finds that will cost you absolutely nothing to download, try, use, or keep.
Windows Explorer doesn't do everything. That's where free downloads come in handy. Here are some extras to fill in the gaps in your file-management chores.
Check file contents fast. Let's face it: File names don't always tell the whole story about what's inside a file. Sure, you can open files in the programs that created them. But who wants to open a half-dozen huge programs when all you need to know is the basic contents of a document? Vista lets you add a preview pane to its Explorer, but what are XP users to do? Alexey Torgashin's Universal Viewer to the rescue. This free utility lets you peek inside a variety of common file types (graphics, PDF, HTML, and many more) just by right-clicking and choosing the Universal Viewer command. Install the plug-in for Microsoft Office (a separate free download), and you can view Word and Excel files as well. Navigation buttons make it easy to skim through all files in a folder. To get more features (such as an Explorer-like tree pane for navigation as well as rudimentary file-management capabilities), you'll have to shell out $20 for the personal version.
Recover deleted files. Everybody makes mistakes. You emptied the Recycle Bin without thinking, or some other person or even a program deleted the file you really wanted. Now what? The easiest answer is Restoration, which attempts to recover all or parts of deleted files whose bytes still lurk on your hard drive. The more recent the deletion, the better your chances, since Restoration can't help you if other files or programs occupy the location of your now-deleted document. But it's always worth a try. Restoration can also be used as a shredder to completely destroy the files it does find. The entire utility is very small (4 files totaling 4K), requires no installation (just unzipping), and can even be run from a floppy or USB flash drive. Restoration is the creation of Brian Kato.
Eliminate duplicate files quickly. Are duplicate photos, tunes, or other files wasting space on your system? Big Bang Enterprises' DoubleKiller is a fast way to find out. Its Options tab gives you plenty of control over what files are compared or ignored, as well as letting you choose the criteria for finding duplicates. After it completes its analysis, the utility's results list provides helpful buttons to simplify selecting the first or second duplicate plus others to move or delete selected items. DoubleKiller can also check files on networked drives. The product is free for noncommercial use. A version for commercial use and with more features, DoubleKiller Pro, sells for $40.
Navigate your folders instantly. One of the more annoying aspects of Windows is the time it takes to navigate to frequently used folders. One powerful solution is XFilesDialog, but that shareware tool will cost you over $40. So for a free alternative, try the easy and elegant Folder Guide, from Freeware365.com. You can add your favorite folders in its Settings window, or just right-click a folder in Explorer and choose Add to Folder Guide. Once you've set up your list, just right-click in any Explorer window or Open and Save dialog box. Choose your destination from the Folder Guide submenu, and you're instantly redirected to that folder.