July 28, 2009

Open Source Alternatives to Popular Windows Apps

Open Source Alternatives to Popular Windows Apps

By Scott Nesbitt – Sunday, July 26, 2009

 alternatives to popular Windows appsWhen you think of Open Source software, the first thing that comes to mind is probably Linux or maybe Mozilla Firefox. One not uncommon misconception about Open Source is that the software, except for certain applications, is only available for Linux.

Obviously, that's not true. There are countless Open Source applications for Windows (and Mac OS, too). It sounds strange creating free software for an operating system that's not free but Open Source gives Windows users a lot of flexibility and a number of solid alternatives to popular Windows apps.

This TechTip looks at a few alternatives to some popular Windows applications. These alternatives can save you money while giving you the features and functions that that you need to get things done.

Microsoft Office

It's no secret that Microsoft Office is the de-facto standard for productivity applications. Office is also quite expensive. If you want to buy a copy for your desktop computer  or laptop computer, you can expect to shell out around $150 for the home version and about $400 for the full version. The funny thing about Microsoft Office is that, for many users, it contains more features and functions than they'll ever use.

The main Open Source competitor to Microsoft Office is OpenOffice.org. It's a complete suite of productivity applications — a word processor (think Microsoft Word), a spreadsheet (think Excel), a presentation program (think PowerPoint), a drawing application, and a database. Each component is easy to use — although it will take a bit of time to get used to the user interface — and packs some features that Microsoft Office lacks, like the ability to output PDF files. OpenOffice.org can import and export Microsoft Office formats, although the quality of the results will depend on how complex the file is.


One interesting feature of OpenOffice.org is that you can expand it by using extensions. The extensions add a number of features, including an array of templates, the ability to connect to exchange files with Google Docs, enhance the charting capabilities, and more.

What happens if you only need a word processor? Then you should give AbiWord a look. It's small, it's fast, and it packs just about every feature that you'd need. Like what? How about columns, headers and footers, tables, mail merge, endnotes and footnotes. AbiWord also has a collaboration feature, which enables you to work on a document with others either on a local network or over the Web.


And like OpenOffice.org, you can extend AbiWord with plugins. A bunch come bundled with it — ones for translation, connecting to online dictionaries and Wikipedia, doing a search with Google, and more. On top of that, AbiWord has decent support for Word files and can import and export to the format used by OpenOffice.org's word processor.

If, on the other hand, you want a simple but powerful spreadsheet then give Gnumerica look. Like Microsoft Excel, it supports a variety of mathematical functions (about 520of them) and graphing. There are also a number of tools in Gnumeric for doing mathematical analysis, and it can import and/or export over 20 other file formats including Excel.. The only major function of Excel that Gnumeric lacks is pivot tables. That's on the list of priorities for the developers, though.



There's no arguing that Microsoft Outlook is the most popular email application on the Windows desktop — whether in its full version or as Outlook Express, which does viagra make you last longer ships with Windows. While there are a large number of email clients on the Open Source side of the fence, only one can compete with Outlook in the areas of features and functions. And that application is Mozilla Thunderbird.

Thunderbird is one of those applications that really packs a lot, but isn't really slowed down by all that bulk. Much like Outlook, you can use Thunderbird to connect to multiple email accounts and to send either plain text or HTML emails. Thunderbird also enables you to connect to Web-based email services like Gmail and Yahoo! Mail. You can download messages from your Web-based accounts, and send them using whatever email address you want.

Another feature that brings a bit more flexibility to Thunderbird is that, like Outlook, it supports both POP and IMAP email. IMAP support makes it easier to synchronize Thunderbird with the messages on an email server.


Thunderbird also has a number of other useful features, like the ability to tag messages. By defining tags, you can label your messages by their importance and by their function — for example: Work, Personal, Writing.

You can make up for any deficit in Thunderbird's features by using add-ons. And there are a lot of them — several hundred, in fact. The available add-ons expand the ways in which you read messages and work with contacts, turn the app into an RSS feed reader, enhance Thunderbird's privacy and security features, and even add a flexible calendar. You can also install themes to change the look and feel of the application.

Windows Media Player

Back in the old days of computing, Windows Media Player was a lean and fast little audio and video app. But it got way too big for its boots. It's now a DVD player, an iTunes wannabe, a CD ripper, an interface to MP3 players. Just to name a few. Many people I know complain that it's slow, bloated, and buggy. Why settle for more when you can something a little smaller? That's where these two Open Source alternatives come in.

VLC (short for Video LAN Client) is a wonderfully compact, yet powerful audio and video player. It supports a large number of formats — far more than any other media player that I've used. In fact, VLC has been able to play media files that other players — including Windows Media Player — have balked at. With some media files, like Windows AVI, VLC even repairs damaged files. Not always, but often better than any other desktop media player I've tried.


In addition to audio and video files that are on your hard drive or home network, VLC can also play CDs, DVDs, and streaming audio and video from the Web. With streaming media, you can use VLC to either stream audio or video on to a network or save a stream to a file.

Editing photos and drawing

No matter who you are, there comes a time (usually more than one) when you need to edit a photo taken with a digital camera or create a diagram for a school paper or for work. The big commercial software players in that space are Adobe's Photoshop and Illustrator, and Microsoft Visio. Again, for the majority of users the Open Source alternatives can more than hold their own.

Editing photos

The best-known Open Source photo and image editor is The GIMP(GNU Image Manipulation Program). With The GIMP, you can retouch photos, manipulate them in a variety of ways — from resizing and cropping to flipping them on their axes — and convert images to other formats. The GIMP comes with a large number of filters for applying effects to an image. And it comes with over 40 tools for modifying and just plain messing with photos and graphics. All in all, it's a more than fairly complete editing package.


More than a couple of people have whined that The GIMP doesn't look like Photoshop!That's where GIMPshop comes in. GIMPshop changes the look of The GIMP and even the names of the menus and their items to better match those of Photoshop. Note, though, that GIMPshop doesn't support the wide array of (frankly wicked) Photoshop plugins. However, it can use The GIMP's plugins.

Don't forget the diagrams

Photos aren't the only type of images that people work with. Whether you're a student or a professional, diagrams and flowcharts are also very important. Instead of putting a dent in your bank account to the tune of several hundred dollars for Illustrator or Visio, give these Open Source apps a try.

First up, Inkscape. Inkscape is a vector drawing tool. Whereas photos and other graphics are made up of little blocks, vector drawings consist of lines and curves. This makes software like Inkscape perfect for creating diagrams or line drawings.


Using Inkscape, you can combine lines and curves, and add text or even import bitmap graphics to enhance a drawing. It's not just black and white, either. You can add color or fill portions of a diagram with a specific color. You can also use Inkscape to create 3D images. Inkscape user have created a variety of different graphics with it, ranging from icons to backgrounds for Web pages to book covers. In fact, Inkscape includes a wizard the enables you to generate the template for a book layout based on the number of pages in that book.

Inkscape's native file format is SVG (Scalable Vector Graphics). However, you can export an Inkscape file to various bitmap graphic formats like PNG, BMP, JPG, and PDF. Very useful if you want to pull the your drawings into another program.

Dia, on the other hand, is designed for creating flow charts and technical diagrams. Like Microsoft Visio, Dia uses shapes and lines to build a diagram or flow chart. It's not a pretty application, but it's easy to use and gets the job done nicely.

As you might expect, Dia comes with a library of shapes (called objects). Most of them are aimed at programmers, engineers, and network administrators. That said, you can use the object and Dia itself for any purpose. I know people who use it to create organizational charts and to do basic information architecture for Web sites.

As with Inkscape, you can save Dia diagrams in various bitmap graphics formats including EPS, SVG, and PDF.


Wrapping up

Open Source isn't just for Linux. Windows users can take advantage of the offerings from the Open Source ecosystem, too. Look around. You never know what you might find. In fact, you might just turn up a replacement for a favorite Windows application.

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DRM: Here Today, (Hopefully) Gone Tomorrow?

DRM: Here Today, (Hopefully) Gone Tomorrow?

By Scott Nesbitt – Sunday, July 19, 2009

pullquoteIt's your birthday. Someone gives you a DVD of your favorite movie. In anticipation of a long train ride you're going to be taking soon, you decide to make a copy of the DVD that you can download to your MP4 digital media player.

You pop the DVD in your desktop computer and try to rip it. But it doesn't work. The DVD plays on your DVD player and on your computer.

Welcome to the world of DRM, one of the most contentious issues in the digital world today. Say you don't know what DRM is? Read on.

What is DRM?

DRM is short for Digital Rights Management (although some say it means Digital Restrictions Management). It's a set of technologies that's restricts how you can use digital content like music, video, and software. DRM is designed to stop or limit you from copying, converting, or accessing digital media.

DRM can block you from viewing something like an ebook on a device other than your ebook reader. It can stop you from ripping a CD or converting an audio file from one format to another. Or, it can prevent you from installing software (like games) on multiple computers.

cdLockHow it works is fairly simple. DRM applies encryption, in the form of a digital signature, to a file or a piece of software. The signature is like a unique stamp, telling the hardware or operating system software that whether or not it's OK for them to play together.

If the device or operating system on your desktop computer or laptop computer doesn't mesh with the digital signature of the file, then the file will be useless to you or you won't be able to install the software. Often, DRM is tied to one piece of hardware. If, for example, you have an MP3 file with DRM applied to it, that file might only play on one computer or MP3 do you need a prescription for viagra player.

There are, and have been, a number of DRM schemes. Some of the more widely-used ones are Windows Media DRM and Apple's FairPlay. You can read more about some of the better-known DRM schemes here.

Examples of DRM

As mentioned a few paragraphs ago, DRM can be applied to any digital file. Like what? How about an electronic book. Most ebook readers and reader software for computers have a unique ID. Some ebook sellers require you to register the IDs of those devices when you buy an ebook. A digital signature is applied to the ebook before you download it, and you can only read the ebook on those devices.

With digital television, many transmissions have a form of DRM called a broadcast flag applied to them. The broadcast flag indicates whether or not you can record the digital transmission and, if you can, what restrictions there are on recording it.

Microsoft Office (2003 and later) allows business users to apply DRM to word processor and spreadsheet files. If the business is running Microsoft Windows Server 2003, all that Office users need to do is click a toolbar icon to restrict permissions on a file. If anyone wants to read the file, they'll need to get the author's permission and get an add-on for Internet Explorer.

Why use DRM?

Napster logoThe folks who advocate DRM, like record companies and publishers, do so to enforce copyright and to protect their revenue. I'm sure that everyone remembers Napster. It was a file sharing service, one that really opened a huge can of worms as far as DRM and copyright went by allowing people to share digital music over the Internet.

The musicians and, especially, the record companies complained that they weren't getting royalties for this. It wasn't a new problem, just a new twist on an old one. Instead of people trading cassette tapes and burned CDs with family and friends, file sharing services like Napster enabled them to exchange huge numbers of files with strangers from around the world.

It's a matter of trust

The content providers that advocate and use DRM technologies will tell you that they're protecting their interests. They argue that every book, movie, or MP3 that's copied is one less book, movie, or MP3 that they can sell.

DRM restrictions, though, treat consumers like potential thieves. That's not a healthy relationship, and overlooks the value of viral marketing. Case in point: last year, a friend passed me a couple of MP3 files by a musician named Zoe Keating. I loaded the MP3s on my media player, and listened to the music while commuting. I was so impressed that I went out and bought another of Keating's albums. If the MP3 files that my friend passed my way had DRM applied to them, then I might not have ever heard Zoe Keating or bought one of her discs.

A number of writers and other artists are against DRM. One of the most vocal opponents of DRM is author and blogger Cory Doctorow.Whenever one of Doctorow's books is published, he makes it available for download (for free) from his Web site. All with the permission of his publisher. While some people mock Doctorow for doing this, he claims that doing this actually increases the sales of his books.

batmanAnother proponent of a world without DRM is author and comic writer Neil Gaiman. He's all for people sharing electronic copies of his work. Why? Gaiman likens it to people lending their friends a book or a CD. It exposes those friends to a new artist, and often spurs them to buy another of the artist's work.

Even a once staunch supporter of DRM, the band Metallica, has begun to change its tune (so to speak). In 2008, the band made DRM-free music available on its Web site.

Dealing with DRM

That's definitely a contentious issue. Much like DRM itself. Many consumers don't care whether their music or movies or software has DRM applied to it. As long as they can watch, listen, and use everything is fine.

That said, there's a growing anti-DRM movement. More and more people are speaking out against DRM, and working against it with their wallets.

So, what are your options? You can accept DRM. Or, you can choose to not buy movies, music, and software that has DRM applied to it. Both the Apple iTunes Store and Amazon.com offer DRM-free downloads of thousands of songs. (Amazon, though, is bi-polar in this regard: ebooks for the Kindle are locked down with a form of DRM.). Or, you can turn off formats that support DRM altogether, and go with Open Source formats like Ogg Theora and Ogg Vorbis.

Summing up

DRM is definitely a contentious subject. At the heart of the arguments for and against DRM is the issue of rights. The rights of the people producing and marketing content, and the rights of the consumers of that content. It's going to be a long time before both sides can find an acceptable middle ground, assuming there is one.

What are your thoughts about DRM? Feel free to leave a comment.

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Dealing with Identity Theft

Dealing with Identity Theft

By Scott Nesbitt – Sunday, July 12, 2009

It starts off innocuously enough. A few small purchases that you don't quite remember making appear on your credit card or debit card statement. They look plausible, but you're busy and will check them out later.

Then the real fun begins. Someone racks up a credit card bill of several hundred dollars in a state you've never been to. You get a phone call wanting to confirm the purchase of a laptop computer for someone overseas. A bank or finance company starts calling you about payments on a car loan or mortgage that you know nothing about.

Welcome to a club that has several million members in the United States alone. If something like that's happened to you, then you're the victim of identity theft.

If it hasn't happened to you, then you might want to read this TechTip for advice on how to protect yourself from identity theft.

Just what is identity theft anyway?

As its name states, identity theft (also called identity fraud) involves someone assuming your identity. Their reason for doing it is pretty easy to understand. They want to get hold of your money (or worse). They want to defraud companies. They want to accumulate cash and goods, on your dime, for personal gain or satisfaction.

The key point, and the key danger, of identity theft is that someone is pretending to be you in order to commit a crime. They're using your name, your Social Security Number (or the equivalent in wherever you live), and maybe even your own financial accounts to do illegal deeds.

And identity theft isn't just limited to taking your money or using your name to defraud. Some perpetrate identity theft for spying, blackmail, drug trafficking, or money laundering.

The different forms of identity theft

Most cases of identity theft fall into two categories. The first, and best known, is financial identity theft. This involves someone accessing your bank, credit card, and investment accounts. From there, they gradually bleed your money away or just snatch away outright.

The other category is criminal identity theft. That's when someone becomes you. It might be a criminal on the run, or someone who is trying to make a clean break with their past. They assume your identity – including your education and work history – in order to find legitimate work or to build a new life for themselves.

How the identity thieves can sting you

There are a number of ways that this can happen, both offline and online.

In the online world, one of the most popular of these is the use of fraud emails. Some of these emails will alert you to a situation with an account – for example, at a bank, with eBay, or with PayPal. Of course, the email includes a link. You click that link and you're taken to a Web page that's a better-than-decent facsimile of a legitimate site. Once there, you're expected to enter your account and personal information. And you can imagine what happens after that.

This sort of thing is easy to spot (as you'll see soon), but a lot of people do fall for it.

Another way identity thieves can catch you is by hijacking a legitimate online merchant's payment page. You know the one, where you enter your address and credit card information. Unfortunately, that page is one the identity thieves have set up and your information becomes theirs to toy with.

In the offline world, it can be quite easy for someone to get information from you. Sometimes, all it takes is a phone call. Many people don't think twice about answering certain questions.

It can be an easy matter for someone to lift documents that contain your vital information. More than a couple of unfortunates have been stung by simply tossing bank statements or pay slips into their garbage or recycling. Some bold thieves will actually steal mail from mailboxes. It's amazing what information people can glean from your bills or even a letter from the tax man.

And let's not forget about someone lifting your wallet. Far too many people carry far too much identification with themselves, making their wallets a treasure trove of personal information that an identity thief can use.

Don't become a victim

There are a number of ways in which you can protect yourself from identity theft. The most important of these is to keep your wits about you. If you're vigilant, your chances of getting taken are reduced.

If you're disposing of old documents – like pay stubs and bills – don't throw them out or recycle them. If you can, shred those documents using a cross cut shredder. This type of shredder doesn't cut paper into strips, but turns it into confetti. A number of these types of shredders can also grind up old credit and bank cards.

When at an ATM or making a purchase with a debit card, shield the keypad with your hand or with your wallet. You never know who's looking over your shoulder.

Speaking of wallets, try to lighten your load a little. Don't carry all of your ID with you. If possible, take only what you need.

When doing a secure transaction online (or one that you think is secure), look in the bottom right corner of your Web browser window. You should see a padlock icon. If you double click that icon, a smaller window will open that shows you the security information for the page and site.

One way that many Web sites ensure their security is by getting a signed digital certificate. Most sites get their certificates from certificate authorities. Two of the best know certificate authorities are VeriSign and Thwate. In fact, most Web sites use them; you can generally trust sites with certificates from either firm.

Earlier, I talked about fraud emails. The easiest way to not be taken in is to read those messages carefully and not to click the links. If you do click a link, remember to check your Web browser's address bar. The URL won't be one that you'll recognize; it will probably be a strange, long, and convoluted address.

Remember: if in doubt, don't click any suspect link or give out your information either online or over the phone. Check the source out. Recently, a friend of mine got a new credit card. He received a strange phone call purporting to be from the bank that issued the card. The call was to confirm an online transaction he'd made. My friend wouldn't confirm anything, and he called the bank immediately to check this out. It turns out that the call was legitimate. It could have gone the other way, though.

What to do if you're a victim

Even if the identity thief has only made a few small, illicit purchases, contact your local or national law enforcement authorities. Get a copy of their report and, if possible, the case number. You may need this information for the next steps.

Next, contact your bank, financial institution, or credit card company. Close any accounts that have been compromised. If the identity thief has opened any other accounts in your name, close them if you can.

Then, contact all of the credit bureaus in your area. In North America, there are three: TransUnion, EquiFax, and Experian. Let them know that you've been the victim of identity theft and that a fraud alert should be applied to your accounts. By doing this, the identity thief will not be able to open a new account; a representative of the financial firm will have to contact you first.

In the United States, a key piece of government-issued identification is the Social Security Number. Many other countries have something similar – like the Social Insurance Number in Canada. An identity thief can do a lot of damage if he or she gets hold of that information. In the United States, contact the Social Security Administration (or the equivalent department in your country) to report a theft.

If the identity thieves have really been active, it can take a long time for you to clear up the mess. Your credit rating could be damaged, even just temporarily. You'll face a lot of stress, and probably a number of collection calls and letters. And there's a good chance that you won't be able to discount viagra online prosecute the thief. That person may never be caught.

Where you can go for more information

If you need more information about identity theft and what to do about it, there's a lot of information available from government departments around the world.

In the United States, check out the Web sites of the Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Justice. The Canadian Privacy Commissioner and Minster of Public Safety also have more information.

For some reason, Europeans seem to be less susceptible to identity theft. Even so, you can get information on this subject from the European Anti-Fraud Office.

Australia has an anti-fraud awareness week, and in New Zealand identity theft is rare but the government has at least one Web page discussing it.

Do you have any tips about avoiding identity theft? If so, feel free to leave a comment on this TechTip.

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“I Signed Up For FaceBook”…NOW WHAT?!

"I Signed Up For FaceBook"…NOW WHAT?!

By Bryan Lambert – Sunday, July 5, 2009

These days it seems that Facebook, the social networking site, has become the “new MySpace” – a place where people and their friends can get together and have a good time. In fact, you more than likely have a Facebook account (over 200 million do) and if you don’t then get one, they’re free! If you’re a Facebook veteran you no doubt know about many of the cool things you can do with Facebook, however if you’re new to the Facebook community, then this Tech Tip is for you! We'll look at some MUST DO things to do while on Facebook!

First things first

The first thing that you’d want to do after setting up your Facebook profile and finding friends is to set the privacy settings (under “settings” in the upper right hand corner). This will control who can “see you” and the things you post. You may want to broadcast your activities to the whole world or you may want to let “only friends” see them. Many of the fields are highly customizable, so you can actually drill down specific people who “cannot” see you.

Another really interesting aspect of the settings is that it allows you to actually “link” other accounts from other websites (such as MySpace) allowing Facebook to become your “social network hub” (so to speak). Note that not all linkable websites are listed here; some (such as Twitter) need to be added through the “search” and then “add application” function.

Water Ship DownA word about your profile

When you first sign up, you are asked to fill in a few things about yourself. This is OK as you can set who actually can see what you input (remember that privacy thing – though it won’t help you much on the ads, they key in on you). The more info you put, the easier your page will be for your current friends and family and many NEW FRIENDS to find you. Who knew that you had such an affinity for Watership Down! Be sure to update your status and then head on over to the search button to see what you can find.

Bring on the GAMES!

We all like to play games on our notebook computers and on our console game systems of choice, but Facebook 'gaming' is a bit different to say the least. It is one of the “funner” (ok, not a word, but fun to use) aspects of Facebook. To “find” the games simply put in a search for what game you are looking for and then click on the applications tab. Here you have a vast selection from classic casino such as blackjack, poker, etc., to role playing games such as Mafia Wars, simulators such as FarmTown & loads of other games (such as Bejeweled Blitz, Chain Rxn, Guess the Sketch, BejewledLexulous, etc.) Beware, they ARE addicting!

One of the terrific aspects of Facebook is the ability to become a “fan” of various things (such as the iPhone, In-and-Out Burgers, Geeks.com or even your hometown). Simply perform a search for your interest (upper right hand corner) and if they have set up a Facebook page you can become a fan, or you can also click on the groups tab in the results page for common interest groups that you’d may want to join. If you haven't already become a FAN of the BEST Fan Page on Facebook: –> Geeks.com!! (Where you will find Facebook only promotions and giveaways!)

Quizzes, Notes, Photos and other things

Not to be passed up is the fun you can have taking quizzes, passing on notes and using the photo album tool built into Facebook.. The quizzes range from the silly to the interesting and you can even create your own quizzes as well – these are loads of “quiztacular” fun! Notes are interesting in that no one seems to start them, but they seem to get passed on ad infinitum. Basically a note is just that, a note that you can “tag” to other friends to read. Many times the notes are personal questionnaires that people can erase your answers, and input theirs to keep passing the note along. A warning with notes however is that you may get more information on your "friends" then you ever wanted to know. The photo area is a terrific area to visit just simply for the fact that you can easily and quickly share photos with family and friends online. Lots of pages do this, but with Facebook your friends see them instantly! One of the “other things” that Facebook allows now is the ability to have a personalized URL (web address) for your Facebook account. Simply go to http://www.facebook.com/username to get this done (note, they may want to “verify” your account by sending you a text message to a mobile phone).

“Friending’ and “Fanning” the famous (or semi-famous)

Do you have a favorite author, chef, or maybe local radio personality – why not see if they have a Facebook page. You’ll be surprised who has one and they are usually more than happy to friend total (non-stalking) strangers. More famous celebrities, bands, etc. instead allow “fans” rather than “friends” (of course, many of the pages for celebrities are set up by fans themselves) – but they are just as fun to join.

discount viagra canada border=”0″ alt=”phonrd” hspace=”4″ width=”140″ height=”170″ align=”right” />The fun goes on

Facebook has grown by leaps and bounds, especially since it has become open to “everyone,” not just students. Add to this the fact that many cheap cell phones as well as smart phones now have Facebook applications which keep some users connected 24/7. Bottom line is Facebook has become a vastly entertaining, highly useful, and somewhat addicting website when used properly and to it's full extent.

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Fifteen Cool Websites You Need To Visit

Tech Tips 224

Fifteen Cool Websites You Need To Visit

By Bryan Lambert – Sunday, June 28, 2009

pullquoteAll of us have our own personal favorite websites, and many of them may be the same favorites of many other people. However beyond the Youtube’s, CNN’s and Facebook’s of the world lay some other terrific websites. In this week's Tech Tip, we’ll be looking at fifteen cool websites that are a must visit. Some you may know about, and others may be new to you, so without any further ado we present (in no particular order) the fifteen sites!

1. Archive.org

Want to know what cipla viagra target=”_blank” title=”http://web.archive.org/web/20010302130132/http://geeks.com/”>Geeks.com looked like back in 2001? How about film clips of “The Flintstones” hawking cigarettes? Maybe the old FDR Pearl Harbor audio clip? They can all be found on the Internet Archive at archive.org. Archive.org is basically a library in digital form – but open to the public 24/7.


2. Snopes.com

Has someone sent you an e-mail saying that Bill Gates is asking that you send it on to ten people to get a prize? Or maybe you heard about the urban legend that if someone died form drinking too much cola along with pop-rocks candy? Then check them out on Snopes.com. Snopes.com will take a look at a legend and try to determine if it’s true, false, a mixture of both or basically something that is undetermined. All of their research is referenced, so you too can go back to the source. On this site you can have hours of fun as you look at legend after legend.

3. WN.com

Tired of the US or European centric news feeds? Or how about an online newspaper full of nothing but AP stories? Then give WN.com a try. WN.com is a news network that looks at news feeds from around the world and presents them in regions. Cricket in India? There. Politics from Zimbabwe? There too. A must read site for news junkies.

4. The Force.net

This is a website for all you Star Wars junkies out there. Featuring fan films, fan art, fan fiction, many forums and other Star Wars centric things, this site is a must for all those who need to “get their geek on.” P.S. – definitely check out the fan films, you won’t believe the quality achieved by many of the “amateur” film makers.

5. Ancestry.com

This is one of those websites that likes to advertise a lot via banners ads, however it is also one that is a definite go to site. This genealogy site is a must for anyone interested in their family history. Super easy to use, the site will provide helpful hints and links to important documents as well as other user pages. This is a pay site, but they do offer a free trial period – and you can keep accessing, and adding on to your own family tree if you cancel your subscription. So if this is something that even mildly interests you, give Ancestry.com a go.

6. Cafepress.com

This is the website to make custom tee-shirts, coffee mugs, etc on the cheap. Simply upload your design, and away you go.

7. Kayak.com

This is a must go to travel website to find not just bargains but BARGAINS, especially on air travel. The nice thing about this site is that it not only checks the standard litany of travels sites, but the airlines direct website airfares as well – and gives them to you in a nice big, easy to read, understand and filter package.

8. Pipl.com

In quick need of a persons address and phone number – or wondering if a friend may have a social networking site, then take a visit over to Pipl.com. They claim to be, "The most comprehensive people search on the web."

9. Pandora.com

This is an easy to use and free streaming music site. Here you can “build stations” around a particular style of music or an entire genre. A must for any music lover.

10. Playlist.com

Another music site, but built differently. Here you can build playlists of very specific songs and then save then on playlists for your listening enjoyment.

11. TheMovieSpoiler.com

Want to take a look at an in depth, blow by blow storyline of a particular new release, or maybe something that came out in the last few years, then TheMovieSpoiler.com would be for you. Great for parents who want something more than a synopsis for looking over a potential “family” movie. Proudly displayed on their site: "Discover the endings to most current films and movies now playing in theaters!"

12. MSNGames.com

This is a website that lets you get your gaming hat on and waste, er, practice for hours on end with some of the most popular web-based games. Many are free to play over, and over, and over and over again…


13. Baen.com

The late science fiction editor and publisher Jim Baen was a huge proponent of non-DRM (Digital Rights Management) content – and he showed this by allowing a huge portion of his book catalog to be available free online at Baen.com. The hope is, of course, to get you hooked into a particular series or author and have you buying the latest releases. If you like high quality sc-fi and fantasy, then click on over to Baen.com.

14. FootballOutsiders.com

With US football almost upon us, no football geek would want to overlook this website. Full of advanced statistics and analysis, FootballOutsiders.com is a must go to site for the upcoming season.

15. Crackberry.com

A website dedicated to the wonderful BlackBerry series of phones, this is a site that no BlackBerry user would want to pass up. Filled with the latest news and goings on in the BlackBerry world and well as reviews, apps and accessories, CrackBerry.com is THE go to site for the geek who loves his BlackBerry phone.

In Conclusion

In this week's Tech Tip, we looked at fifteen cool websites that are a must visit for the Geek in all of us. It is our hope that we may have turned you onto some sites that you may not have heard of or seen before, or maybe that we highlighted a site that you absolutely love. We are also sure that we may have left some of your personal favorites out. If we have, please be sure to leave a comment about what your favorite “cool site” is – we are sure that many here would love to take a look at them along with the ones we have already highlighted that you NEED to visit.

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