We've got that help for you — in 14 great downloads.
General Networking and Internet Tools
Need to troubleshoot your network, manage your downloads, get a free alternative to the bloated Adobe Reader? Here's where to go. (And that's just the beginning of these nifty downloads.)
The simplest of all Internet tools is the humble ping command, which lets you use the command prompt to contact a Web site and see if it is alive and responds to your ping request. It also resolves host names to IP addresses--in other words, if you issue the command ping www.pcworld.com, it will tell you the site's associated IP address. And it also tells you the speed of the connection and response.
The free PingInfoView makes the simple ping command a lot more useful. It lets you ping multiple Web sites simultaneously, will ping the sites on any schedule you set, and displays the results in a graphical interface, rather than in a command prompt.
Is this an earth-shaking tool? Certainly not. But if you use ping at all, you'll find it a useful, worthy alternative.
Download PingInfoView | Price: Free
VisualRoute 2008 Lite
Here's another update of a venerable command line Internet tool, tracert. The command line tool displays the route you take to contact a Web server or other Internet device--every hop on every server or router along the way, plus the server's or router's IP address, and how long it takes to get to each one.
This program displays all that in a visually appealing way, not just through the command line. It shows a map of every hop, and graphs it against a background that shows response times. Highlight any hop, and you'll see important details, such as packet loss and speed.
In addition, the program displays a narrative of the route, detailing whether the route has fast, average, or slow throughput, and highlighting any problems.
This version of VisualRoute is free, but a variety of for-pay versions is also available, with many extra features that display the network names of devices, test DNS services, and more.
Download VisualRoute 2008 Lite | Price: Free
What's the most annoying Internet-related application of all time? For many people, that question has a simple answer: Adobe Reader. Countless documents online are in the Acrobat format, so there's no way around it: You need Adobe Reader. But it's bloated and prone to crashes, nobody's idea of a good time.
Foxit Reader is a far better solution. It's small and loads much faster, so it doesn't take up much memory when you use it. It also doesn't seem to suffer from the same instability issues as does Adobe Reader. The program has some nice extras as well, such as the ability to embed comments. (However, when you embed comments, the page you mark up will show that you're using an evaluation version of the software. You can pay for the Pro pack to get rid of those marks, and get some other extras as well.)
Note that when I installed the program, it integrated directly into Internet Explorer as the default PDF reader, but it didn't similarly integrate into Firefox. To make it the default in Firefox, you'll have to select Tools, Options, and then click the Manage button in the File Types area. Double-click each of the files that Adobe Reader opens, and tell Firefox to use Foxit Reader instead.
Download Foxit Reader | Price: Free
Advanced LAN scanner
If you're a techie and have more than one PC at work or home on a network sharing a single Internet connection, you'll welcome this freebie, which offers surprisingly powerful scanning capabilities. Use it for everything from troubleshooting Internet connections, to network configuration, to making sure your PCs are as safe as possible when they're on the Internet.
When you first run the program, you may encounter an error message, saying that a default configuration is being used. You can safely ignore that message. Simply click the scan button, and it goes to work. It looks across your network, finds all PCs on it, and then gives you quite a bit of detail about each. Besides the local IP address of each PC, you'll also find which ports on each PC are open. Armed with that information, you can use a firewall to close them down.
In addition to open and closed ports, you'll see lots more information, such as what services are running on each PC, the NetBIOS names (if any) associated with each, and even a list of users and groups on each system. If any machines have shared folders, you'll see those as well. All this data is immensely useful to those who want to keep their PCs secure, or need to troubleshoot networks or Internet connections.
Making the software all the more remarkable is that it's free.
Download Advanced LAN Scanner | Price: Free
If you live to download, this freebie is for you. It's a great download manager that will speed up the process, keep you safe, and help you organize everything that you've downloaded. Flashget makes downloads faster by using multithreading, and it lets you find downloads via many different protocols, including HTTP, FTP, eMule, and others. It's also terrific at file management, showing you all the files you've downloaded, including information about each. You'll even be able to delete downloaded files from directly in the program.
Making it even more useful is that it integrates with your browser, so whenever you download, it jumps into action. It will also pause and resume downloads, and works with your antivirus software to scan for viruses as it downloads.
Download FlashGet | Price: Free
One of the Internet's oldest file-transfer protocols--FTP--still lives. Contrary to popular wisdom, not all files are downloaded from Web sites. Many are still downloaded from FTP servers. And many individuals and businesses continue to use FTP as a way to share files. Also, many ISPs block large files, so using FTP is a great way around that problem.
FileZilla is an excellent FTP client that combines simplicity with a robust feature set (it has just about every FTP feature you could need), and its interface is easy to use.
Download FileZilla | Price: Free
Bandwidth Monitor 2 Lite
Here's a simple, easy way to check on your current bandwidth use--both uploading and downloading--and also to track your usage over time. This freebie displays that usage in a constantly changing chart, so you can see the fluctuations in real time. It also shows you the current bandwidth use in a text display.
Bandwidth Monitor Lite is quite customizable--you can, for example, skin it, change the time span in which it measures bandwidth, and so on. Also very helpful is that it will keep logs of your bandwidth usage, so you can make comparisons over time.
Download Bandwidth Monitor 2 Lite | Price: Free
E-Mail and IM
The Internet is all about communications--but as we all know, it is not always as easy to communicate as we would like. These downloads will help you with e-mail, instant messaging, and social networking.
eMail Tracker Pro
Tired of being whacked by spam? Not sure if an e-mail message that you received is legitimate, or is instead a forgery or from a scammer? Then give this program a try. It gives you a set of tools for examining any e-mail message that pops into your inbox.
The program traces an e-mail back to its true point of origin, shows you the IP address and location of the sender, and tells you whether the e-mail header was tampered with in order to fool you. In addition, it provides contact information for the domain from which the message was sent so that you can report any abuse.
In order to use eMail Tracker Pro, you'll have to copy an e-mail message's headers into the program. These headers, however, don't refer to the Subject line, From line, or such. Instead, they're something usually hidden. How you find them varies according to your e-mail software. For example, in Outlook 2007, right-click a message and select Message Options; you'll then see an Internet headers field.
One stumble I encountered: The program says that it integrates directly into Outlook, but I was unable to integrate it with Outlook 2007.
Download Email Tracker Pro | Price: US$29.95 (15-day free trial)
If you've got multiple Web-based mail accounts, such as Gmail, Yahoo Mail, and Windows Live Mail, you can easily spend far too much time checking each account for new mail. This simple freebie neatly solves the problem. It automatically logs you in to all your Web-based e-mail accounts, checks for new mail, then tells you how many new messages you have for each.
In addition, you can read the messages from right within ePrompter, so you don't have to go to your Web-based mail account. You can also delete and compose mail. When composing or reading, you won't get a full range of options as you would when you're on the Web-based mail site. But for quick-and-dirty e-mail, it's all you'll need.
Don't expect a fancy interface; this program is as bare-bones as you'll find. Also, it may not be obvious at first how to set up a new mail account; select Menu, New Account, and follow the directions.
Note that this program works fine on Windows XP, but I was unable to get it working on Windows Vista. Also, if you have a Hotmail e-mail address, select the LiveMail option in ePrompter when you're setting up the account to check; I was unable to get it working properly as Hotmail, but it worked fine as LiveMail.
Download ePrompter | Price: Free
The Internet was created as a way to bring people closer, but in some ways, it drives people apart. If you're an AOL Instant Messenger user, for example, you can't communicate with someone who uses Yahoo Messenger. And there's no simple way from an instant messaging program to check your presence on social networking sites such as Facebook, or to check e-mail from a Web-based mail site not associated with your instant messenger.
Until Digsby came along, that is. This program is a universal instant messenger, like long-time favourites Trillian and Pidgin. But it does them one better because with it, you can also check your social networking sites and e-mail accounts.
It's extremely simple to set up any instant messaging, social networking, or mail accounts from within the program. And it lets you use just about all the features of any of those programs, such as sending files via instant messaging. Considering that it's free as well, there's no reason not to give this tool a try.
When you install this program, by the way, it changes your home page to a Digsby home page, so if you want to retain your current home page, make sure to go into your browser and change it.
Download Digsby | Price: Free
Most of the time, sending e-mail messages goes off without a hitch. Set up your e-mail program to work with an SMTP server, send your messages, and you're done. But sometimes SMTP--the Simple Mail Transfer Protocol--won't work, and it's almost impossible to figure out what's wrong. Your e-mail program won't give you any clue about what the error might be. All in all, it can be one of the most maddening of Internet-related problems.
SMTP Diagnostics helps. It performs a complete set of diagnostics on your SMTP connection and provides an in-depth report about any errors. You can then either use the report yourself to fix the problem, or send the report to your ISP or network administrator, who can track down the cause of the woes.
The program is particularly useful if you're setting up an e-mail account for the first time and can't make a connection, or if you're on the road and can't send mail through a hotel's broadband connection or a wireless hotspot.
This free client is about as good as it gets when it comes to FTP. It has a simple interface that you can master in about 3 minutes, yet still has plenty of powerful features, such as being able to compare local and remote directories. It also lets you have multiple simultaneous connections, for faster transfers.
Download SMTP Diagnostics | Price: $12 (30-day free trial)
You need to protect yourself when you go online. Download the following programs, and you'll go a long way toward making sure that the bad guys, and bad software, won't get you.
Comodo Firewall Pro
If you're using the firewall that ships with Windows XP or Vista, you're not safe enough. They don't offer customizable outbound protection--important in a world in which spyware is everywhere. This free firewall not only stops inbound and outbound threats, but also does such things as protecting selected files and folders so that malware can't get at them or alter them.
Be prepared, when you first start this program, to spend a little time training it. Whenever a program wants Internet access, Comodo pops up and asks whether you wish to let the program use the Internet. To cut down on those pop-ups, run the program in Clean PC mode, which will scan your PC, find your existing applications, and register them as safe. You then won't see any pop-ups associated with those programs. And to make sure that Comodo doesn't interfere with installing software, you can use its Installation mode, which will disable certain pop-ups for 15 minutes, so you can install new software without being annoyed.
Download Comodo Firewall Pro | Price: Free
To use the Internet is to put your PC at risk from spyware, adware, Trojan horses, and other malware. Your antivirus program by itself isn't enough to protect you, because it misses many of these malicious programs. This long-time favourite offers a great, no-cost layer of protection.
It does a great job of scanning your PC for threats--including Trojan horses, rootkits, and other spyware--warning you about them, then deleting them. It can also put them into quarantine, disabling them but not deleting them, so you can decide what to do about them later.
Even if you already have antispyware on your PC, it's a good idea to use Ad-Aware as well, because not all spyware scanners find all threats, so using more than one is a good idea.
Download Ad-Aware | Price: Free
Free Internet Window Washer
Your Internet activity leaves a trail--and one far more traceable than you might imagine. This trail includes cache files, browser history, auto-complete information, cookies, typed URLs, and more. This means that anyone with access to your PC can easily see what you've been doing online. In some instances, even Web sites can gather information about where you've been and what you've done.
Free Internet Window Washer ensures your privacy by cleaning all those traces, and more, off of your PC. Not only will it remove traces of Internet activity, but it will also clean traces of application activity as well, such as which files you've recently opened in Microsoft Office applications. And it works with multiple browsers, including Internet Explorer, Firefox, Netscape, and Opera.
Download Free Internet Window Washer | Price: Free