Category: Freeware (Page 1 of 3)

VLC Media Player

If you’re looking to play a DVD movie on your Windows computer, chances are it won’t work. When you insert the DVD, your machine will spin and hum and eventually tell you, “Couldn’t open file” or some other frustratingly vague error. In any case, Windows 10 and 11 no longer have the necessary files (codecs) to make a commercial DVD run properly.

What you need for this situation is VLC Media Player. Download it for free, install it and then you’ll be able to play virtually any movie DVD, audio CD and other multimedia file that you’re having a challenge with.

You may find other DVD-viewing suggestions in the Microsoft Store, but they will either cost you money or turn out to be advertising lures. I can vouch for VLC Media Player being both free and legitimate. Oh, and it’s also available for Windows, MacOS and Linux!

Using Open Shell with Windows 11

All these years later, and there are still many people who prefer the Start Menu from the Windows 7 era. Open Shell does the trick nicely, and is still a free download for all.

But with Windows 11, you may not think so, at first. Open Shell users who upgrade to Windows 11 will not see the classic-looking Start menu they’re used to. Or if you freshly install Open Shell on your Win11 PC, you may see nothing happen. You’ll just have the new-fangled Windows 11 Start button. Which is strangely towards the middle of the taskbar…

But don’t worry. Open Shell Start Menu is there and will work. You just have to coax it out:

  • Click the new Start button and then click All Apps.
  • Scroll down and click Open-Shell, then click Open-Shell Menu Settings.
  • Check the box labeled “Replace Start button” and click OK.

Now you’ll have both Start buttons, the classic one to the left and the modern one to the middle. Use either one, depending on your preferences!

Experiments with Google

You should check out the Experiments by Google website! Programmers and coders everywhere have been submitting their projects to Google, and many of them are shared here, free for all to use.

But if you go to the main Experiments page I linked above, it may seem like too much to browse through. There’s over 1600 “experiments” out there! So the Collections menu or page may help you narrow it down to more relevant and interesting items.

Personally, I’m finding the most enjoyable offerings under Play with Arts & Culture, Experiments for Learning, Creatability, Arts & Culture Experiments, and Chrome Experiments. You’ll encounter information tools suitable for homeschooling, fun games & puzzles that you can share over the internet, and so much more.

I’ll specifically call out:

3D Periodic Table

Puzzle Party

Autodraw

Song Maker

Art Coloring Book

Typing Trainer (Learn Morse Code)

Bookmark anything you love, to avoid the challenge of finding it again later!

Microsoft Money

Many years ago, Microsoft Money was a common software program used for personal finances. Then Microsoft discontinued that software, and Quicken & Quickbooks became the mainstays of personal financial software. But to this day, I still encounter Microsoft Money loyalists.

If you’ve stuck with Microsoft Money all this time, then you need to know: Microsoft Money is still available. For free! When Microsoft stopped selling MS Money in 2010, they also released it as a zero-cost, no-activation download. They renamed it Money Plus Sunset Deluxe, and it continued to work with everyone’s old Money files. Best of all, it installs and works just fine on Windows 10!

However, I’ve just noticed that Microsoft removed all of their MPSD downloads. And when I search the internets, many of the other download-websites out there are bundling Microsoft Money with malware. Yikes!

If you’re looking to load Microsoft Money Sunset, I don’t want you running afoul of viruses! So I’ll host a clean copy of this software in my cloud storage, in case you ever need to use it. Feel free to use the link below to get a clean & safe installer for Microsoft Money:

Microsoft Money Sunset Deluxe

LibreOffice: Setting Default File Types

LibreOffice is a lovely option for document creation, if you don’t want to drop money on Microsoft’s software. While Microsoft costs $70/yr or $150 for its basic office suites, LibreOffice is free, free, free.

But if you try LibreOffice, you should immediately adjust its default file types. Right out of the box, LibreOffice will save new files in the OpenDocument Format (ODF). And those aren’t as compatible or friendly with Microsoft Office software. If you share an ODF file with someone running Microsoft Office, they may not appreciate it.

But LibreOffice is made to be compatible with Microsoft Office. You can change LibreOffice to always save your files in the Microsoft file type. And as you create .docx, .xlsx, and .pptx files with Libre, you’ll be able to email them to Microsoft Office users with little to no fuss.

Adjusting LibreOffice’s Defaults

Open LibreOffice, click the Tools menu, then click Options.
(Mac users should click the LibreOffice menu, then click Preferences.)

On the left, click the Plus Sign next to Load/Save, then click General.

On the right, change ‘Document Type’ to Text Document.
Then set the ‘Always Save As’ field to Microsoft Word 2007-365 (*.docx).

Next, change ‘Document Type’ to Spreadsheet.
Then set the ‘Always Save As’ field to Microsoft Excel 2007-365 (*.xlsx).

Lastly, change ‘Document Type’ to Presentation.
Then set the ‘Always Save As’ field to Microsoft PowerPoint 2007-365 (*.pptx).

Click OK at the bottom.

File Manager on Windows 10

These days, we use File Explorer to navigate the files and folders on a PC, but back in 1990, Windows 3.0 offered the first tool for organizing your data: File Manager.

If you want to relive a small part of Windows 3.0, you can get File Manager for your modern computer, for free, from the Microsoft Store. It runs separately from File Explorer, so you can use both without any conflict.

Microsoft Office: Buy, Rent or Pass

When it comes to office software, most people think of Microsoft Office, which includes Word, Excel and PowerPoint. But Microsoft gives you a lot to think about before you spend money on their Office suite, so here’s some details that may help you understand what you’re getting into.

This site breaks out your basic options for buying or renting MS Office.

Buy: Microsoft Office

When you want to pay a one-time fee and “own” your Office programs, focus on Office 2021. Note that Office 2021 Home & Student version only contains Word, Excel and PowerPoint. For those needing Outlook, look at Office 2021 Home & Business. And if you must have Publisher or Access, you’ll have to shell out even more money to buy for Office 2021 Professional.

Rent: Microsoft 365

If you’re open to paying a recurring fee to use Office software, then Microsoft 365 is what to consider. When you agree to an annual fee for Microsoft 365, you get access to all Microsoft Office apps, plus you get 1TB of OneDrive cloud storage. And you can install your software on up to 6 devices. Microsoft 365 Personal is intended for one person to use on all his/her devices, whereas Microsoft 365 Family is used when you want to “send” an Office license to other people (family or friends).

A further benefit to Microsoft 365 is that it automatically upgrades to the new version of Office as it comes available. Later this year, for example, Office 2021 will be released. Microsoft 365 users will wake up one morning to see this magically appear on their systems. But those who bought Office 2019… will see no change. That’s not a big deal, because Office 2019 will be usable for many more years. But no one can see the future of this software, so it is hard to tell: Will Office 2019 users ever be pushed to upgrade (repurchase) their software? Will it happen in 2025? 2030?

Pass: LibreOffice/OpenOffice

For many of you, though, this is all moot. Because for us frugal types, there is still LibreOffice and OpenOffice. Instead of shelling out $150 or $70/yr., these open source programs are available for $0. So if you want to take a pass on paying Microsoft, give LibreOffice a try!

Goodbye, CCleaner

For years, CCleaner was many people’s go-to program for cleaning up a Windows computer. It quickly finds and deletes temp files and other junk from a system. But these days, there are more reasons to get rid of it than keep it around.

First, it’s main function is replicated by a built-in Windows tool called Storage Sense. You can find this under Windows 10 by going to Start -> Settings -> System -> Storage. Turn it On, if it isn’t already. This allows Microsoft to clean your temp files for you, silently in the background, on a recurring basis.

But beyond being replaced, CCleaner may trigger your antivirus warnings. Microsoft and other companies sometimes mark CCleaner as a bad guy or a “Potentially Unwanted Program.” This may be because Microsoft takes a dim view of anything offering to “clean your registry” (please do not use this part of CCleaner!), or because CCleaner has a history of unsavory data collection.

I’ve also taken issue with CCleaner in past years, because it has led users to accidentally download Avast Antivirus onto their systems. This has caused conflicts for people with pre-existing antivirus on their systems, as two antivirus will usually fight each other and cause system problems.

TL;DR: CCleaner should be removed, and you can usually easily uninstall it by going to Start -> Settings -> Apps. You find it in the list of apps, click it, and then use the Uninstall button.

Editing and Converting PDF Files

If you need to edit a PDF, the best way is to contact the creator of the file, and ask if they can provide you with the original, editable file that the PDF was based off of. But that’s not always possible. Other solutions are out there!

The most obvious may be to go to Adobe and get their Adobe Acrobat program. But that comes with a cost. It looks like Adobe Acrobat DC Pro currently has a pricetag of $15/mo.! Other FREE solutions are out there!

There are many websites that offer a bevy of PDF editing tools. And they are largely free. Simply upload your PDF to their site and they’ll allow you to edit, convert to a different file type, delete pages and more! You can Google for “online PDF tools” or consider these sites that I have used and appreciate:

iLovePDF

EasePDF

PDF Candy

FreePDF.net

PDF24 Tools

And if you have any concerns about uploading your data to some unproven website, that’s perfectly understandable! You don’t have to, because some of these websites also offer a free software download. You can install their tools as a program on your computer, and make your edits while offline and solely on your hard drive.

IrfanView Graphic Viewer

IrfanView has been around for over 20 years. If you use it, you’ll notice its menus and overall look still have that Windows 98 look! IrfanView is a small program that will help you view and edit your image files.

But why would you use it (over more modern apps)? This program does exceedingly well at opening old, archaic file types. If you have found some old pictures that you can’t open, IrfanView can probably help. Some examples:

If you find an old digital camera in your junk drawer, and it’s full of photos in the FlashPix format, IrfanView can open those files.

If your designer gave you some archival files in the Photoshop format, IrfanView can handle them.

And once you open such files in IrfanView, you’ll also be able to use the Save As… function to convert your your files to JPG or other modern formats.

IrfanView is free to download for personal, educational and charitable use. If you want to use it in a professional setting, they ask $12 per license.

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