Judging from the comments, my criticism of Microsoft in last week’s column was well received. That critique was meant to be constructive both to Windows users and the company.
Many of my columns describe free software and oftentimes the software I recommend is an alternative to some Microsoft product. This week I’ll focus on some of the free downloads and software that Microsoft makes available to its huge customer community. What do they offer us free and is it worth it?
Let’s start with their newest success story, Microsoft Security Essentials (MSE). According to their website, MSE provides real-time protection for your home PC that guards against viruses, spyware, and other malicious software. Their aim is to provide you with free protection that runs efficiently and quietly in the background and doesn’t eat up all your system resources.
This software has become widely accepted and I now recommend it equal to free products like AVG Free and others. MSE is also available for small businesses with up to 10 PCs. The only caveat to the word free in MS land is that you must be running genuine Windows software to use it; sounds fair enough.
Windows Live Mail is another free MS product that comes bundled with the Windows Live Essentials package. It is the current incarnation of a long line of email clients from MS, dating back to Outlook Express (OE) and the successor Windows Mail.
I bemoaned the loss of OE in last week’s column, but Live Mail has some interesting features and the upgrade from Windows Mail to Live mail is almost seamless. Live mail makes it possible for you to bring your different kinds of email (BellSouth, hotmail, Gmail, etc) into one place and look at them together under one venue. Live Mail also adds a calendar feature which makes it a little more like its paid big brother Outlook which many businesses and schools use as their email client.
Two other MS freebies that I’ve used for years are Movie Maker and Photo Story. Actually I’ve used their predecessor programs, but you’ll find similar renditions packaged partly in Windows Live Essentials. Windows Live Movie Maker 2011 comes boxed with Windows Live Photo Gallery which makes it easier to choose and manipulate the photos that you want to use in your movies. Microsoft Photo Story 3 is still available as a separate download for XP users.
Other freebies from Microsoft include MS Baseline Security Analyzer, Windows Live Family Safety and some other aps that will help you with blogging, synchronizing files and other tasks. For a more complete review of the Microsoft freebie offerings, try Gizmo’s at http://tinyurl.com/5s4s6r2.