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Free and Easy

Sometimes you can get something for nothing.

In this day and age, the old adage “you get what you pay for” holds true more than ever. If you buy a cheap car, for instance, you’re almost certain to have more repair bills and breakdowns than you would if you purchased a brand new car off the lot. By the same token, that “free” cell phone may end up costing you a lot more in per-minute charges than a cell phone and service plan purchased from a reputable company.

Based upon the examples above, you might think the same holds true for software–that you get what you pay for. But that isn’t always the case. Sure, the pay versions of programs like Avast virus scanner or Real Media Player have more features than their free cousins, but some freeware programs out there (think Firefox and Thunderbird) beat the competition hands down despite not costing you one red cent.

Putting Your Editor to the Text

For quick and dirty text editing, I wouldn’t trade my copy of Crimson Editor for anything. I mean, sure, I’m writing this column in Microsoft Word, but when I need to edit an HTML, PHP or ASP document, or a configuration file, I turn to the little red text editor that could.

Crimson Editor is a wonder of a utility and comes with features not found in many commercial editors, yet it’s also light on system resources. And in addition to supporting ASCII, HTML, PHP, and ASP, it also supports syntax formats such as CSS, JAVA, PERL, C++, SQL, and more, which enables you to use the program for practically anything you need to edit.

The utility, which is easy for novices to learn while packing a solid punch for veteran users, offers such extras as programmable macros, a comprehensive search and replace function, the ability to search specified documents in a directory and copy from them into the current open file, and more.

For me, one of the best features of the program is the ability to highlight characters in different colors depending on the type of command or code used in the source file. If you’re writing code, this is pretty handy as the program always displays the lines in different colors and makes finding the lines you need to edit a snap. You can also choose to display line numbers, which helps when debugging Perl and Java scripts.

No matter what you use it to edit, from simple ASCII text files to complex C++ programs, Crimson Editor can easily do the task and more than fits the bill in terms of options and extras. And, best of all, it’s 100 percent free. Take that, Microsoft Word.

Opening Up

Are you tired of having to keep several different compression utilities on your Windows PC to support a variety of archive formats? With IZArc, you no longer have to. This nifty little freeware program supports not only ZIP, RAR, and ARC, but also GZ, ZOO, JAR, BIN, TAZ, TAR, and a bunch of others you’ve probably never even heard of and may never use.

The program is very easy to use and sports a nice drag-and-drop interface that interacts seamlessly with Windows Explorer. Just click on the archive you want to open, drag it into the program, and you’re done. Of course, you can also use the utility to create archives as well as view and search archives without first opening them. And in addition to handling all the different flavors of compression available (nearly 50 in all!), it also supports ISO CD and DVD images.

And if that wasn’t enough to make this freeware program a valuable addition to your PC, you can also download and design your own “skins” and give the program a custom look and feel. If you’re tired of having a handful of compression programs taking up space on your desktop, this is the one you need to replace all of them.

The Right Image

IrfanView (pronounced Ear-Fan-View) is named for Irfan Skiljan, a programmer from Bosnia who invented this powerful little image viewer that’s taking the Internet by storm. The program is less than 1MB in size but contains features that rival commercial viewers such as ACDsee and, through the use of plugins, even supports video and audio files.

All in all, the utility supports nearly 60 image formats, including mainstays such as JPEG, GIF, BMP, TIF, and WMF, as well as more obscure formats like RAS, SFF, and DNG. Moreover, the program comes with limited editing options (crop, rotate, flip, resize, etc.) which enable you to edit files quickly without bringing in Paint Shop Pro, Photoshop, or one of the other big guns.

My favorite feature is the full-screen right-click browsing option, which lets you create a de facto slide show, quickly cycling through all of the images in a directory. If you’re in a hurry and just need to find that one particular image but can’t remember the file name, this capability can be a life saver. Add to that the built-in multimedia player, support for Adobe Photoshop filters, and batch conversion (change all the images in a directory to, for example, 800×500 GIFs,) and you’ll quickly find this freeware gem to be an invaluable addition to your suite of utilities. Because, remember, sometimes, you really do get what you don’t pay for.

Contributing Editor Joe DeRouen writes Windows Advisor monthly for ComputerUser.

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