provide useful tools
by Alan Zisman
(c) 2003 First
published in Business in
, Issue #699 March 18-24 High Tech Office
Few four-letter words lead to more debate these days
Internet than ‘free’. You’d think it would be a simple concept but
that’s far from the case.
Free open-source operating systems and applications like Linux or Open
Office are good if you want to break Microsoft’s quasi-monopolies in
these areas. According to Microsoft, widespread adoption of open-source
will destroy business as-we-know-it. Of course, free is good, if you’re
Microsoft releasing Internet Explorer to undermine Netscape’s $50
Free MP3 music is good if you ask any teenage music downloader, and bad
if you ask representatives of the recording industry.
And free downloaded programs and utilities are good until you discover
that they have filled their hard drive with adware and spyware that
reports home on every place you visit on the Web, sapping computer
performance at the same time.
Nevertheless, there are some programs available that are simply free
and useful with have no bad side. Here are some that I use for working
None of these freebies make any claim to replace power-hitters like
Adobe Photoshop. Then again, most of us don’t need the power (and
complexity) that Photoshop provides. (Open source fans may promote the
oddly-named, but free The Gimp
(www.gimp.org) for Windows and Linux, boasting much of the power (and
complexity) of Photoshop).
Most of what I do with graphics is much simpler; I rotate or resize
images convert from one format to another and so forth. Irfanview (www.irfanview.com) does
all that and much more. The name comes from its creator, Bosnian Irfan
Skiljan. He keeps tinkering with his creation; new versions can now
create slideshows and screen savers from sets of photos, for example,
and it boasts the ability to print images in any size you want. Unusual
for a freebie, Irfan personally answers e-mailed questions, providing
prompt technical support as needed.
Digital cameras and scanners often produce images that are too dark or
too light, too red or too green. Digital
Camera Enhancer (aka Free DCE from www.mediachance.com) is the free
version of the company’s more powerful DCE AutoEnhance. As the name
suggests, it’s a simple way to enhance your digital photos (and scans).
It lets you compare your original with the results of any changes
before saving, making it easy to improve (rather than ruin) your
Increasingly, people are using the Web to display sets of photos,
whether their vacation or wedding shots or their new product line.
Since loading large photos slows down web pages, a standard technique
is to make a page of small thumbnails, with each mini-image linked to a
larger version of the photo.
Microsoft has released a free PowerToy to make what they call ‘HTML
Slide Shows’ but it’s for Windows XP users only. More flexible, and
available for users of any Windows version is the free Web Album Generator (www.ornj.net).
the photos you want to display, answer a few quick questions, click a
button, and you’ve got mini-thumbnails, larger versions of your photos,
and the HTML pages that link them all together, ready to upload to the
Web or to edit, adding your own text and design.
While these three are for Windows users, Apple has rolled most of the
features of all three and more into its freebie iPhoto, pre-installed
on all new Macs, available for download, or included on its new $75
iLife CD. There’s a catch, however. As Apple is encouraging Mac-users
to migrate to its new-generation OS X, iPhoto runs only on that new
operating system. (Imitation being a sincere form of flattery, Adobe
has done its best to copy iPhoto for Windows users with its
just-released Photoshop Album. Definitely not for free. More on that in
a few weeks).
Irfanview, Free DCE, Web Album Generator, and iPhoto. All free, with no
harmful side effects. Worth everything you pay for them, and more.