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Freeware to the rescue!

It occurred to me that the number of additional small pieces of software I use in Windows is quite staggering. I rarely, if ever, use the built-in Windows apps (asides from maybe Calculator), as there's almost always something better in the freeware world. For those of you who don't know, 'freeware' means genuinely free software, of which there is a ton on the Windows platform. It's one of the reasons I stick with windows, because for everything I need, there's almost always a program which will do it, in the specific way I want it to be done. This is not always true for Linux or OSX.

I thought I'd share with you some of my favourite bits of freeware: all of these are lightweight applications which greatly simplify certain tasks. First up, Irfanview. This little bit of software replaces the Windows photo viewer and has the advantage of being blisteringly fast. But it is also able to view tons of image types which the Windows viewer can't. The only complaint I have is that the nice icons for photos get replaced by the rather ugly Irfanview icon; but that's a small price to pay.

Second bit of freeware is x2plorer lite, which I'm a big fan of. This is like the Windows File Explorer, but gives you multiple panes for viewing different folders in. This makes navigating folders and files a lot simpler, and if you do a lot of heavy file or image management, it's an absolute godsend. The default interface has a few ugly toolbars and whatnot, but you can turn all of those off and customise it.

Third is Agent Ransack. There used to be a decent file search tool in Windows, back in the days of Windows XP, but since then we've had relatively ineffectual search functionality. Agent Ransack allows you to search for filenames, part of a filename, or to search by the age of a file or by what the file contents are. And it doesn't screw up or miss files the way the Windows one does. Once installed, it's a simple matter of right-clicking on a drive or folder, clicking Agent Ransack and typing in your search terms.

Openshell is my fourth pick - initially this was designed to give Windows 8 and 10 users the old (Windows 7 style) start menu back, but it actually works on any version of Windows. Initially you can choose from one of three styles (XP, Vista or Windows 7), and from there you can customise things further if you so choose to do so.

Flux, the fifth bit of freeware, is only really necessary for Windows 8 and below. It changes the screen colour ("temperature") so that it emits less blue light in the evenings. Blue light stops your brain producing melatonin, which in turn can make getting to sleep difficult. Windows 10 has a similar feature built in (but turned off by default) called "Night Light". If you're still using Windows 7, Vista or XP you should upgrade to Windows 8 or 10, as the others have expired and do not receive security updates.

My last recommendation is a media player. The built-in players for Windows are slow and have difficulty playing certain types of files. MPC-BE does not have these issues, is tiny and easy to install. For older or slower hardware in particular, it can make video playback much better.

If you're needing a particular type of software to do a specific thing and you're struggling to find it, google with some search terms relating to the activity you're doing and the word "freeware". Chances are you'll find what you're looking for. But be wary: some forms of software masquerade as freeware while actually being trials for paid software. And of course, always make sure your virus scanner is active when downloading software off the internet.

- Matt Bentley, computer expert at Bentley Home PC Support.
Email info@homepcsupport.co.nz or phone 0211348576.

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