Useful Internet Tools
The Internet isn't perfect and if you're a heavy user, some of its oddities become annoying over time. Fortunately, some smart people out there have written some really useful software to help with day-to-day activities. Here's my list of favorites.
The Google Toolbar has two features that I really like. The first is a search box where I can type in a search phrase that will take me straight to the results from Google. I do a lot of searching and this feature saves me a click. The second is a pop-up ad blocker. I've tried a few ad blockers that were effective, but Google's toolbar is the only one that allows me to turn off the blocker just by holding down a key. The Google Toolbar is free.
Although Google's toolbar blocks pop-ups, it doesn't stop Flash ads. After pop-ups, Flash ads are the most annoying thing about surfing the web. So I installed a free tool called No! Flash [site now down so I can't link to it] and now I don't see Flash ads. I wonder if Flash ads will become so annoying that everyone will have Flash blockers. That could have a serious impact to Macromedia's bottom-line.
Viruses abound and a good firewall can protect you from some of them. Outpost Firewall is a free firewall that offers a few advanced features and settings that aren't as nicely implemented in more popular firewalls such as ZoneAlarm.
Trillian let's you combine all your instant messaging accounts in to a single application. This is particularly handy if some of your friends use MSN while others use AIM and still others use Yahoo. There's a free version that is sufficient for my needs, but there's also a paid-for version with some advanced features.
For anyone that subscribes to RSS feeds and uses Outlook, I recommend NewsGator. It adds RSS feed support to Outlook, which is quite convenient compared to the alternative of running an e-mail program and a feed aggregator program. This tool isn't free, but you may find it to be reasonably priced.