Software for Policy Wonks…and Others
I bought my first computer in the early 1980s. It was a Kaypro II. It had no hard drive, just a couple of slots for 5.25″ floppies. It was a “transportable”—think of a 26 pound sewing machine-size steel box with a handle. It was on the cutting edge, and I loved it. My, how times have changed.
So much for reminiscing, however, I still spend a lot of time on the computer writing, and in the last decade I have spent many hundreds of hours on the internet doing research. I am constantly on the prowl for inexpensive software and services, or better yet “freeware” and free services that help me do my work. Perhaps you are too, so I thought I would share some of my finds with you.
Gmail is the new, free e-mail program offered by Google. It features one gigabyte of free email storage (including attachments). It has several other interesting and useful features, but the one I find most useful is that it keeps a copy of all mail I send through it, for example when I use Outlook on my computer, or send e-mail via the web from Gmail. Finally, Gmail offers the opportunity to upload all my contacts from Outlook, and I have hundreds of them. The value I see in all this is that no matter where I travel in Alaska or in the world, I have access through the internet to a huge, searchable database of my e-mail with attachments, and my contacts. By the way, if you want a Gmail account, send me an e-mail (ldweiss at acpp dot info) and I will “invite” you to have one. This is a silly marketing gimmick by the Google folks, but it is the only way to get a Gmail account.
Streamload is a new service with both free and paid components. The free part is pretty straightforward, and potentially very useful. Streamload offers an immense 10 gigabytes of space on its servers for you to store anything. I have been using it as a backup for some documents and databases, and of course, it also has the added advantage of making these available whenever I travel and have access to the internet.
TreePad Lite is the free version of a range of TreePad software products. The TreePad people describe their product as “Organizer, PIM / Database, Personal Information Manager and Word Processor,” and that is a good, concise description. The free version is entirely text-based, but other than that, has many of the same features as the paid versions. Think of it as a word processor with a highly flexible, built-in, hierarchically structured, filing system. I use it for a “to do” list, and for writing drafts of newsletters and blog articles. It is a little difficult to explain, so just download the free version and play with it a bit.
I have found Net Snippets to be extraordinarily useful software. I discovered it a couple of years ago, and purchased it, however now the version I purchased is available for free. Net Snippets allows you to quickly and easily download onto your hard drive the results of all research you do on the Internet. Like TreePad, it allows you to build a logical, hierarchical file structure so you can find your stuff when you need it. In addition, Net Snippets provides an easy way to send your collected research to friends and colleagues, to make tables of contents of links of your collections, and to make bibliographies.
Spurl and Furl are two, free, web-based services that are similar to Net Snippets. They allow you to save a copy of anything you find on the Internet, to their respective servers. This makes these collections available over the Internet, no matter where you travel. There are some other interesting “group” and “community” aspects to these services, but you can explore that on their websites.
I highly recommend Mozilla Firefox as your day-to-day replacement for Microsoft Internet Explorer. In my opinion, it is more user friendly, more customizable in ways that are actually substantive rather than simply cosmetic, it is free “open access” software, and it is more secure to use than the Microsoft product. What else is there?
I do not use OpenOffice on a regular basis, but I would like to pass on to you information about it because this software usually gets very good reviews. OpenOffice is a free replacement for Microsoft Office. OpenOffice is a suite of products including a word processor, a spread sheet, a PowerPoint replacement, a database, and a program to create sophisticated graphics and special effects. Development of OpenOffice has been going on for years, and has been supported in part by Sun Microsystems (a Microsoft competitor). By the way, there are two Mac versions of OpenOffice.
Finally, a couple of comments on the question of computer security from viruses, hackers, and spyware. I run two anti-spyware programs on my computer. Both receive good ratings in the reviews, and both are free. I run them both once a week, more or less, because they complement each other in terms of effectiveness. These are Ad-Aware SE, and Spybot Search and Destroy. ZoneAlarm makes a highly rated, free firewall I have been using for years. I have access to commercial antivirus software at no charge through an organization, however if you are looking for a solid, highly rated, free antivirus program, I would take a serious look at “Avast!“
One last comment… The best site I have found for a broad collection of useful, free software is Nonags. The site has a minimum amount of advertising, it is well organized, the software is rated, and it is guaranteed to be virus and spyware free. Happy hunting!