Free Tools Friday 7

I have to apologize for my long absence, but I’ve been in year end mode for the entire month.  To make up for it, I have a killer list of free tools to geek out on.  This list should have something for everyone.  I have technology tools, business tools and even an online image editor.

  • Google SketchUp – Our Google Overlords continue to keep the masses in check with their constant stream of cool, free apps.  This one allows you to create any kind of 3D model you can think of.  From a skyscraper to a toilet brush, you can create and manipulate just like professional CAD software.  Check out Detroit’s Renaissance Center:image
  • Recuva – Have you ever deleted a file, emptied the recycle bin and then realized you just got rid of a spreadsheet that you spent 20 hours on?  This is the app for you.  It scans your hard drive and will recover as many files as it can see.  The step by step wizard walks you through the process and make it dead simple to use.Screenshot
  • Fotoflexer – This online image editing application is a lifesaver when you’re at your in-laws house and need to crop, resize, get rid of red-eye or whatever.  It has preset effects that you can apply to photos, along with text and even layers.  Very slick.image
  • inSSIder – Troubleshooting Wifi can be a real headache.  Channels, spectrums, encryption levels make it a real mess when there’s a high concentration of traffic.  This tool breaks it all down and gives a nice graphical view of everything it can see.
  • SolarWinds Advanced Subnet Calculator – If you’re a network person, this is a tool you shouldn’t leave home without.  You just punch in an IP and it will tell you all of the subnets, ranges, broadcasts and networks that relate to it.image
  • PrimoPDF Creator – No one wants to pay 500 bucks for Acrobat just to create PDFs from your documents.  This free app installs in about 30 seconds and sets up a “printer” that you can select from any application and will create PDFs every bit as well as the big guns do.

Free Tools Friday 6

As a field tech (not to mention son-in-law, brother, cousin whatever), you have to work on many different people’s computers.  You never know what you’re going to have to work with in terms of the applications they have installed.  Chances are very high that they won’t have all of the utilities you need to help them out.  This is why most geeks carry jump drives with them. 

Here are some of the tools that I carry on my keychain jump drive:

What tools do you pack around on your jump drive?

Free Tools Friday 5

This week’s roundup of free tools is dedicated to a good friend of mine who has jumped into the entrepreneurial deep end with both feet.  We were talking a while back about online strategy in general and I realized how often this kind of stuff comes up with small business folks.  Obviously I am biased here, but I really believe that a good web strategy can be a huge part of launching a successful venture.  So here are some great free tools that help you get more out of your online presence.

 Google Analytics – This is a really good place to get started with measuring your web site traffic.  You sign up for a free account, and they will give you a little piece of code to embed in your site so it can do it’s Google-riffic magic.  Once that’s there it will give you a sweet dashboard that will tell you where your traffic comes from, how much time people spend on your site, and how many pages they hit before they leave.  If you don’t know how much traffic you’re getting now, how can you possibly know what is working to increase it?


WordPress – If you want to show your customer that you are committed to their success with whatever it is that you do, you should have a blog.  This is my favorite blogging software.  You can let them host it (free), or you can load it on your own site (also free).  It’s hugely customizable and yet is very capable right out of the box.  It is dead simple to get a great looking blog going in no time.


Feedburner – Another great free Google product, Feedburner will give you insight into how well your blog is doing.  It will track your subscribers and give you insight into what you can do to optimize it.  It will also sort of guide you along with different things you can do with your blog and your feed. 


Free Tools Friday 4

This week I am focused like a laser beam on media tools.  I have publicly committed to get my home media system straightened out and I WILL persevere.  You can benefit from my arduous trek by checking out these great tools.

My Movies 3 – My search for Home Media Utopia has had me ranging far and wide through the morass of media players, collection managers, codecs and so on that exist out there.  It’s an alphabet soup of audio and video formats and very easy to get lost. My Movies is a great package that’s been around the block a bit and really cuts down on the confusion.  They recently released version 3 which is even simpler that it was before.  It will help you catalog your movies and music, will get cover art for CD’s and DVD’s and will even help you rip content to your hard drive.  All that plus it will help you get around some limitations of the XBOX 360 media center makes a pretty mean package.  It’s so good, I actually thought that I had struck gold on the first pass because this package fills so many of the requirements that I set out in that post.  (You can go read it if you want to…)


My Movies 3 Collection Management Screen


My Movies 3 Inside Windows Media Center

Virtual CloneDrive by SlySoft – I’ve been using this app for a long time.  Basically, it creates a “fake” CD/DVD device on your system that lets you read ISO files from your hard drive as if you had actually burned them.  It’s small, it’s fast, it’s free.  What more do you want?


Boxee – This SWEET app is best described as social media meets all of the glorious video content that the interwebs have to offer.  It’s a little different in purpose than My Movies, but there are some overlaps.  Boxee leads you through an account creation process, during which it will ask about your other social media accounts on Twitter, Facebook etc.  It then checks to see which of those people have Boxee accounts and then it lets you see what they’ve watched, rated and recommended both in their own library of content, but also from the vast quantity of video available out there.  It’s a slick, easy interface and runs on Mac, Linux, and Windows.  If I didn’t have an XBOX 360, I’d throw Boxee on a Linux home theater PC and go to town!


Boxee’s Online Video UI

Free Tools Friday 3

Once upon a time, before I was the free-wheeling business technology crusader that I am now, I worked for a small business with about a 40 user network.  The dictator owner of that company was a real character.  A somewhat odious character.  Anyway, I remember something he told me once that has always stuck with me.  It’s a very simple formula of what all businesses have to do to be successful. 

  1. Get the work.
  2. Do the work.
  3. Collect for the work.

Obviously, if the business fails in any of these areas, the business will fail entirely. For some reason the crude simplicity made an impact on me and I think of it often as I talk to businesses about their technology needs.  To follow this theme, I’ve chose three great free tools to accomplish these basic functions of a business. 

    ZohoCRM – This is but one of the tools in the Zoho lineup, all of which seem pretty solid.  I especially like the free version of this CRM products as it allows 3 users and has a ton of great features.  In addition to the “CRM basics” like account, contact and lead tracking, you get cool things like case management and nifty dashboards like this:


    It’s very easy to sign up, less than a minute I’d say, and is fairly self-explanatory.  If you’ve used other CRM tools in the past, you should have no problems at all.  If you want some more features like sales forecasting and built-in email marketing, you can upgrade at any time to the Pro version for 12/month per user.  You can also downgrade at any time, which I thought was interesting. – This is a pretty nice package for managing projects, consulting time, and activities.  It takes a bit longer to get started than ZohoCRM, but it wasn’t too bad.  It has a very cool Interactive Gantt Chart done in Silverlight that I liked a lot, as well as reports, dashboards and pretty nice search.  The free version only comes with a single user license, but you can have an unlimited number of customers login and collaborate with you on your projects.  There are a couple of times when I thought the site itself was a little clumsy, but there are a ton of great features.  When you’re ready for more users, you can get 5 for $75/month.


    Office Accounting Express 2009 – I never set out to pimp Microsoft products with this blog and frankly, I am shocked at how many of their free products are good enough for me to recommend.  (I know that people will call me a fan boy regardless.  ::sigh::)  This is a solid product though.  Obviously they have stolen heavily from Quickbooks to make the familiar interface, but you can customize most of the screens, which I think is handy.


    You can’t manage inventory with this version, but you can do all sorts of other neat stuff like take PayPal payments directly within the software.  Also, you can set up a quick and easy E-Commerce site from the “Online Sales” menu.  You can even set this up to have multiple users accessing your company info.  You can’t beat the price for all of this accounting goodness!

    Free Tools Friday 2

    Last week I focused on free tools for business.  This week I decided to get in touch with my inner geek.  These are a few of the tools that I install immediately after I format any of my machines. 

    1. SharedView from Microsoft – I don’t know about you all out there, but I end up doing a LOT of remote phone support for family, friends, and even friends of friends.  I don’t mind helping out when I can, but I absolutely HATE trying to solve a problem while the person on the other end attempts to describe what is happening on their end.  One answer that has worked out pretty well is this tool from Microsoft.  It obviously shares DNA with Live Meeting, but is a whole lot simpler.  Just install it on your end and their end, then send them an invite from the app.  They click on it and voila!  No more “Can you see the Start Button at the bottom left.  No?  Seriously?  Ok, describe what you see to me…”  


    2. Notepad++ from SourceForge – This app is like the swiss army knife of text editors.  Not only will it do syntax highlighting for just about every kind of code known to man, it does macros, has a set of text manipulation functions, and a full array of plugins.  Seriously, if you do any css, html, javascript file work, you should check this out.


    3. Fences from Stardock – My desktop used to be cluttered to the point of unusability.  Then along came a little app that lets me box in my icons and such into little named areas of my desktop.  This thing is awesome.  It lets you back up your groupings, adjusts automatically when you change resolutions and lets you hide or show your icons by double clicking the desktop. 


    Free Tools Friday

    I love free software.  It’s like Christmas morning every time someone tells me about a cool new web application or utility.  I adore the “best free apps” issues of PC Mag or Maximum PC.  There is a tremendous amount of value out there just waiting to be discovered.  In honor of this, I declare Free Tools Friday to be a permanent fixture here.  Enjoy!

    General/Business Tools:

    1. Quickbooks Online Basic from Intuit – Intuit?!  GIVE SOMETHING FOR FREE?  You must be mad!!  But it’s true.  See for yourself.  Go ahead take a look. (Right-click the link and click “Open in New Tab” – unless you’re using Internet Explorer 5 or something.  You’re not are you?  Using IE5, I mean…ok, take a deep breath, we’ll get through this together.  Go to right now and click the giant green download button.  No, I MEAN RIGHT NOW!  GO!  Oh.  Sorry.  No, I wasn’t yelling.  I just got a little excited.  Ahem…)  Seriously, they are delivering some incredibly good software for free.  The free version is limited to managing 20 customers, which is really the only downside.  You can upgrade seamlessly to the other versions for a monthly fee, which have more features.  The thing I like best is that you don’t have to worry about installation or backups.  Sweet.
    2. AntiVir Personal from Avira – I have a confession to make.  I HATE antivirus software.  All of them.  I’m quite prejudiced that way.  I begrudge their use of my system resources that could otherwise be devoted to getting my trashy TV fix from Hulu or even good old-fashioned zombie killing in Left4Dead.  I hate that they try to think for me and block access to this file or move that file to quarantine.  Wow.  That was very therapeutic.  ANYWAY, if you must run antivirus software (don’t listen to me, you really must), then this is about the best free package I’ve seen.  It uses very little of your system’s capability and provides excellent protection.
    3. Office Live Small Business from Microsoft – You may think that Microsoft giving away office tools for free is even crazier that Quickbooks being free.  That’s what happens when you get the lead-pipe cruelty reputation of an evil empire.  In reality, they have a TON of apps (some good ones even) that you can download and run for free. This product is their version of Google Apps without the in-browser word processor, spreadsheet etc.  However, Google Apps will run you $50/user per year, so it’s a bit of a trade off.  I think Office Live is noteworthy because it (obviously) plays nice with the Microsoft Office suite: Word, Excel, Outlook.   Getting things set up is fairly simple and should be very familiar to Microsoft users. 

    If you have any favorite free apps, I’d love to hear about them!