Inexpensive tools for thrifty webheads

“A penny saved is a penny earned.”
—Benjamin Franklin

Your host originally had expected to announce the triumphant opening of his Web log. Lamentably, life happened while I was busy making other plans, so there will be a brief interlude while I work out the kinks. In the meantime, my experiences wading through blogging software and the like gave me pause to consider some of what I’ve come across in my Internet travels. Since saving a buck is a core conservative principle and in the spirit of the season, here are some of my favorites, gratis.As of this writing, the following are all free for personal use and easy to use by even a relatively unskilled computer user.

1. Security Scan: Even if you already have firewall and anti-virus software, Symantec offers a free security scan. This gives you a nice backup to ensure that your system is free from viruses or prone to attack vis-à-vis the Internet. (

2. Anti-spyware: Spyware is software used to monitor your computer activity and report back to the bad guys. It can log your keystrokes, which means whatever you do on your computer is open to review. Spybot Search and Destroy is a nice little program that will easily eliminate them and vaccinate your computer from future attacks. (

3. Adware Blocker: If you surf as voraciously as I do, you invariably learn that many Web sites dump software and other things onto your system without notifying you. (Unless, of course, you read the fine print in the “terms of use,” where you actually agree to it simply by visiting the site in the first place.) Adware is similar to spyware although not quite as nefarious. It generally profiles your surfing and shopping habits or gathers other information. Ad-Aware SE Personal by Lavasoft will scan your system and let you delete them posthaste. (

4. Pop-up Blocker: A free pop up stopper from Panicware. It stops those annoying pop-ups from taking control of your machine. (

5. Anti-virus: AVG offers a free anti-virus program that works quite well. I used it for some time as a backup to my paid program and now use the free version exclusively. (

6. Firewall: A firewall is an absolute must these days—especially if you have DSL or a broadband connection. As with AVG, I used Zone Alarm as a backup to my paid program. (

7. Free Internet Browser: While Microsoft’s Internet Explorer is free on most PC systems, I personally don’t like the continued security risks associated with using it. Firefox is an open-source browser that looks and acts a lot like IE—without the headaches. ( or

8. Free E-mail Program: Thunderbird is a full-featured e-mail application that looks and acts a lot like Microsoft’s Outlook Express. (

9. Free Office Suite: Editor D. Brian Burghart turned me on to this one. A multiplatform open-source office suite that’s just as good as—if not better than—Microsoft Office. Did I mention it’s free? (

10. System Scan: Hands down my favorite program. Belarc Advisor provides you with a detailed profile of your installed software, hardware and status of your system. It is also great for checking software/hardware compatibility issues when upgrading your system. (

If anyone has any others they’d like to share, send them in, and I will collect them for a future column. By my account, the cost for equivalent programs would set you back a good $800—so dare I say it was worth the price of admission? Which perhaps also brings us back to Franklin’s wisdom.