Free Software News

By Rob Cheng

Welcome to yet another edition of the Free Software News. One of the reasons that I love the Windows world is the availability of lots of high quality and totally free software. I love using free software and here are some tips and advice from the world of free software.

Office 2007 extensions

Starting with Office 2007, Microsoft started doing something that really grits my teeth. Office 2007 brings a new file format that ends with the letter X. Therefore, a Word document now has the file extension docx instead of doc. PowerPoint is pptx, and Excel is xlsx. Although Microsoft made a few attempts to add a few new features, the primary reason for this change is to create an incompatibility between Office 2007 and other versions.

Therefore if someone sends an email with a docx attachment, you’ll double click and older versions of Office will not be able to open the file. In my view, it is a hard ball technique to get users to upgrade more quickly to Office 2007. Personally, I don’t appreciate these kind of marketing techniques. If they want me to upgrade and spend more money on Office 2007, then they should add features that we find useful.

I bought my latest computer in April 2009, and it came standard with Office 2007. To be honest, I hated it. Microsoft changed around the user interface and left no simple way to revert to the prior, more familiar user interface. I figured I could spend a couple of hours learning the new interface, but instead I spent about 20 minutes and downgraded to my old trusty friend, Office 2000.

That left one problem. I get an occasional email with an attachment that Office 2000 can not read. So I found the Office 2007 compatibility pack, and things have been great ever since.

Paint.Net extensions

I love It is very powerful, yet easy to use. Not a day goes by when I don’t use for something. One of my key activities is modifying a screen shot and then sending it via email. It’s a great way of showing someone exactly what you are seeing when you are browsing the web. One of the key reasons that is so powerful is that it has a multitude of FREE plugins. Here are three that I have found very handy.

Skype Extensions.

I don’t use Skype a lot but I installed it about a month ago. It is handy when you are in a hotel and want to make an international call. But through this process, I discovered a major annoyance. In addition to installing Skype, the installer also placed down something called “Skype extra features”. One of these features is that in my browser, where ever there was a phone number, Skype would make a clickable link and I could call that number via Skype. The problem was that it made my browser a lot slower. Pages took longer to load, and even simple things like scrolling up and down took a split second longer. It had me scratching my head for a while, until I uninstalled the extensions and I am back to speedy browsing.

PDF Reader

Based on a LOT of feedback on prior issues of Free Software News, I have removed Adobe reader from my system and replaced it 100% with FoxIt Reader. I am a satisfied FoxIt user. The loadtimes are substantially faster. In my work, nowadays, I get a lot of PDF’s, and it is very noticeable how much faster FoxIt loads than Adobe. I have yet to see a a feature that I am missing with FoxIt Reader. I also found a handy little tool to send a series of images (JPG’s) into one PDF. For example, I had to scan a series of papers the other day, and then I wanted to assemble them all back into one PDF so the user knew the order of the pages. I found a quick and cool utility called JPG to PDF.

Top Free Software

Last but certainly not least is our latest compilation of the World’s Top Free Software. The popularity is calculated as the percentage of computers that have that particular application installed. Keep the comments coming about what people like and dislike and we will keep on tabulating.

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35 thoughts on “Free Software News

  1. Brad I second the motion on SyncBack for backup. Outperforms other file sync programs I’ve tried, free or pay.

    I use & recommend Real Alternative, Ccleaner, Revo Uninstaller, and Glary Utilities. Also, JKDefrag seems to work really well; got my cousin’s computer working faster when the Windows defrag wouldn’t.

    I also use another freebie not on the list: Reg Cleaner by Jouni Vuorio. It’s good for finding remnants of old applicatons you thought you uninstalled, though you may need additional help from the mfr. to get rid of them.

  2. Rob,
    1. I see no need for your “JPG to PDF” utility. If you use PrimoPDF, your scanner (using the scanner copy function) can directly create a PDF as output. Subsequent scans using PrimoPDF have the ability to append to any previously created PDF.

    2. Someone above mentioned that Foxit Reader isn’t printing properly. That was a bug that was fixed. The latest version prints perfectly.

  3. Anybody out there aware of third party System Restore set-ups.
    I despair of the Sys. Rest./Volume Shadow Copy set-up in Win Vista/Win7.They are turned off and I rely on back ups to disk.It saves an awful lot of HDD space.

  4. That annoying ‘notification’ pop-down under AVG 8.5 finally became usefull. Because if you’re paying attention it tells you right there that…
    “AVG 9.0 FREE edition is now available”
    And speaking of annoying AVG habits, them pop-up ads that show up whenever they feel like trying to get you to upgrade to the paid version can easily be disabled by going to the AVG program folder, finding the image file it uses for the ad and the just delete it.

    But back to the list above, I see all kinds of video players and only one video converter. I never heard of handbreak before but SUPER converter is true freeware (no trial period, in fact no paid version at all). Check it out at
    it will even convert streaming video (as long as you have a high speed connection) into any file format you like and save it on your PC.

  5. Seems AVG is telling Version 8.5 free users they will no longer receive updates. Probably pushing the chargeable new and improved Version 9. What they don’t mention is that there is a free Version 9; consequently many users of the older freebie are looking for alternates. Simply replace the older free product with the newer free product OR to to MS Security Essentials.

  6. I switched to Foxit some time ago but recently was forced to reload Adobe Reader because two websites that I needed to access would only allow the pdf files to be viewed using Adobe. What a disappointment! Because I truly agree that Foxit is a superior, quicker-loading program.

  7. It would be interesting if you could squeeze a column into your list called, “Previous Rank” so we could see how the various apps rise and fall in popularity.

  8. Check AVG again, JimD… Free version is still available. They do try to shove the paid version at you every chance they get but you can still get the updated version 9.0 for free.

  9. I have found that the “Aardvark” extension for Firefox to be my most useful and most used free programs. It allows you to remove and/or isolate portions of web pages for printing, saving or sending on.

  10. I use a little free program called PDF24. I love it. I didn’t see it on your list and maybe you already know about it, but if I want to turn something into a PDF, it does the trick every time! That and Irfanview are the two most used freeware programs on my system.
    Keep up the good work! You don’t realize how many people are reading your stuff!

  11. Number 63, Expert Free Registry Defrag is not free. It is an evaluation version. The only way to get it free is to download, install, and evaluate another program in the “Free trial program” (not sure of the name of the program).

  12. Re #19, the 7-zip file compression utility, your link appears to take one to = a spam/phishing site – rather than, the actual site for the utility. Um…that would seem to be a problem. Could you correct your link?
    Thank you.

  13. I downloaded and installed Ad-Aware and now it won’t un-install! When I click on the un-install option, it tries to re-install the software. And it keeps telling me that I need to update.

  14. Office 07 incompatibility?? What?? It’s amazing to me how much people resist change. Microsoft is a business. I should hope they would want to make more money that’s why um…you go into business. MOST IMPORTANTLY, all you have to do when creating a document is click the “Office ICON” “Save As” and select Excel/Word/Powerpoint 97-2003. Your statement Mr. Cheng is ridiculous. Not to mention, if you don’t have 2007 and open an attachment that as been saved in the docx, xlsx format, usually you will receive a message from Microsoft with a link to download the compatibility pack. Additionally, most new PC’s are shipped today with the compatibility pack pre-installed. Come on authors, state facts instead of opinions especially when they aren’t based on the ENTIRE truth.

  15. While I actually like the Office 07 much better, there are lots of compatity issues with legecy users I send files to. Thanks for the heads up, I will attach this link to all the older office users I know. FYI, I still use my Commordore 64, so I understand staying with things you like.

  16. i dunno… i kinda like office 2007, i managed to figure it out in a day while doing a school paper on it. i think it makes a lot of things simpler, like adding equations for example.

  17. Kirk, Microsoft isn’t using the open-source XML format, it’s another proprietary format appropriated from Toronto firm i4i. M$ is appealing the judgment, but may have to disable it and default back to Office 2003 format in the end.

  18. Thanks Rob Cheng a fine job you did with your list and with the heads up on MS once again trying to stiff the consumer. I have not used the MS office 2007 or any other MS office as I have been using Open Office, works great. I also don’t use IE, Opera is my first choice followed by Firefox. I use several OS on various machines and am pleased to say Ubuntu is doing a great job. I was surprised not seeing XnView up there on the list. I do use quite a few that are on it.

  19. I did the Foxit move, too … removed AR from the system … BUT, because Foxit could not print many of the files I needed to print (need to set the print size to about 94% to get all of the pdf page on the printer page), I had to reload AR [sigh].

  20. Just take the “x” off the extension in Office 2007 and it works fine in earlier versions.

    Picasso 3.5 work fine in VISTA 64. Great face recoginition capability. It has already done 13,000 faces in my many photos. Just prime the pump and off it goes.

  21. Kirk, you’ve been drinking the KoolAid again. The only reason a publisher erects more proprietary obstacles is to entrench his ‘exclusivity.’ Most of the world, reasonably, looks at the facts and moves to Open Office. The ‘major chuck’ of Office sales is well-deserved punishment for a major sinner.

  22. For Office 2007, author states “Office 2007 brings a new file format…the primary reason for this change is to create an incompatibility between Office 2007 and other versions.” Huh? Did the author research this at all? Microsoft wanted to stay in business and was facing the loss of a major chuck of its ‘Office’ sales due to many businesses (and governments) moving to common, XML based file storage. It was a ‘marketing decision’ to stay relevant in a changing world.

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