When you’re regularly trying out new software, it’s important to look for anything odd or unusual, any sign that a program might not be what it seems.
The Windows "virtual desktop manager" virgo seemed like a great example. A 3.7KB download? Which unpacked to a single 8KB executable? There had to be something wrong here. Surely?
Your PC’s large screen, quality sound card and speakers make it great for viewing and sharing media, but having to control the system via a keyboard and mouse isn’t always convenient.
AndroMouse provides a versatile alternative, with a comprehensive collection of tools which allows you to remotely control a PC from your Android device.
The Windows Search engine is much better than it used to be, but still has plenty of room for improvement, which is why there’s an enormous number of alternative tools around.
SurfFind is a tiny open source package -- a mere 216KB download -- that searches your specified text files for keywords, quickly displaying the results. It’s a familiar idea, but the program does have some interesting extra touches which help it stand out from the crowd.
MEmu is a free package which allows you to run a virtual Android 4.2.2 tablet on your Windows desktop.
Setup is far more awkward than it should be, not least because the developers forgot to finish its localization from the original Chinese, but if you persevere you’ll find what looks like a good product.
After an initial release way back in 2006, digiKam has grown into a powerful, professional photo manager, crammed with high-end features and free for everyone to use.
The program started life on Linux, and so doesn’t get much attention elsewhere. There are builds available for Windows and Mac, though, so we installed a copy on a Windows 8.1 system to see what it had to offer.
Colasoft Capsa 8 Free is a powerful tool for monitoring and analyzing network traffic, the free version of an enterprise package normally costing from $695.
The program has a vast and lengthy list of features, yet it’s also accessible to regular users. Just choosing an adapter and clicking "Start" gets you an attractive dashboard, with graphs showing network utilization, traffic, and top traffic by protocol and domain (keep in mind that Wi-Fi devices can’t be monitored in the free edition).
Bstrings is an open source console-based tool for Windows Vista and later which makes it easy to search files for important strings: URLs, email, IP or MAC addresses, UNC paths, GUIDs, credit card numbers, US phone numbers, zip codes and more.
Basic operations are much like many similar tools. Point the program at a file -- bstrings -f file.exe -- and it’ll list any ASCII and Unicode strings for you.
Extracting text from a PDF can be very easy. Just select a section and copy it to the clipboard, or maybe -- in Adobe Reader -- click File > Save As Other > Text to save the entire document.
This all works just fine, too, until you come across a PDF which is all images. And that’s when you need something a little more powerful.
Mobirise is a free cross-platform WYSIWYG web designer which makes it easy to build mobile-friendly, Bootstrap 3-based websites.
The interface is stripped back, more like an app than a regular desktop program. There’s no complex menu system, no hidden right-click options, just a few buttons to click and panels to explore.
Browse the "Effects" or "Filters" section of most image editors and you’ll often find tools which try to convert your pictures into sketches, oil paintings and more. But they’re usually basic, short on configuration options, and don’t deliver great results.
AKVIS OilPaint (and 64-bit) is a commercial tool for Windows and Mac which specializes in transforming your images into works of art. It’s expensive -- $49 to $89, depending on the license -- but the 10-day trial is full and unrestricted, so if you’re interested in the idea then there’s enough to justify the download.
ImmersED is an interesting plain text editor for Windows XP+. It’s not another feature-heavy developer-oriented Notepad replacement -- in fact, its core editor is very basic -- but the program has nice extra touches which could appeal to a wide range of users.
It’s designed to run full-screen, for instance, giving you a minimal chrome, distraction-free interface. But you can also run it in a window, and either environment can be customized by adding a word count, session target, a clock, and more.
BeamUsUp is a free Java-based crawler which quickly scans a website and reports on common SEO issues: status error codes, description/ title too long or missing, missing headings, duplicate content and more.
Free? We were skeptical, but it’s true. It’s free for all uses, no adware, no flashing "Donate" button, and no annoying restrictions to persuade you to upgrade (can’t scan more than xxx links, can’t produce reports, can’t use it on Tuesdays -- you know the kind of thing).
One-man freeware machine Nir Sofer has announced the release of TaskSchedulerView, a tiny portable tool for viewing, enabling or disabling scheduled tasks on Windows Vista through to 10.
Run the program and it displays a table listing each task and various details about it: Name, Description, Status, Hidden (Yes/No), Last Run/Next Run Times, Task Folder, EXE filename or COM handler of the task, number of missed runs, and more.
If you need to convert a few audio or video files then you could try out a few freeware transcoders, do your best to avoid the adware, hope they support the formats and options you need.
Or you could just grab a copy of FFmpeg, the open-source media-processing powerhouse which is the engine behind most freeware converters, anyway.