Bob Muller's comments on this blog inspired me to write about some free software out there that will help you escape the clutches of the 600-lb gorilla from Washington State. One of the reasons to use non-MS products is that the vast majority of viruses are written to attack MS products, especially their browser, email, and Office suite products.
All of the below products are FREE.
There are many out there, but some of them, such as 'Slimbrowser' run off the Internet Explorer 6 or 7 engine, and therefore are equally susceptible to viruses aimed at Microsoft browsers.
Firefox by Mozilla: By far the best in my opinion.
Opera Browser: A little clunky on some pages, but allows tabbed browsing, comes with a very good email program bundled into the browser, and allows the user to choose from several themes and skins to change the look and user interface.
Google Chrome: Released last year, this one has really taken off. The user interface is a little thin, for example, no print icon, but it renders pages faster than most other browsers, and infinitely faster than IE7. The url address bar doubles as a Google search box, which is kind of cool.
Apple Safari for Windows: Yes, this is the standard browser for the Apple OS, but they now have a Windows version. Again, the user interface (UI) lacks some features I like, and the theme/skin is pretty boring. It does, however load pages fast and without errors, and launches twice as fast as IE. Make sure you download the Window's version.
Flock Browser: Billed as the "Social Browser", this has been hailed as a successor to the now-defunct Netscape. I loved the Netscape interface and look, and it was the very first browser ever. Flock has adopted some of the look, but its strength is built in add-ons to help people post to all those social network sites with just a few clicks. Flock will find your blog settings at Blogspot and other sites, your Facebook and MySpace logins, ditto on your fave photo upload sites. You can easily update your blog, pictures, or Facebook status from the browser itself without signing on the actual post site. The UI is very busy, overwhelming for oldsters like myself.
Orca Browser: The successor to the mildly popular Avant browser. I think it still requires you to have IE7 installed, so I'm fearful this browser is vulnerable to the same security holes as IE. But it does load fast and looks good.
Thunderbird-From the same folks who designed Firefox, this is a full featured email program. I used to use it 100% of the time since it was virtually immune to virus attacks designed for Outlook & Outlook Express, but it suffers from one major drawback--if you or your business uses Outlook for email, contacts, and scheduling, most mobile phones such as Blackberry will not synch with Thunderbird. Many companies restrict employees to Blackberry if they use the Enterprise Server to forward work emails to your phone. If that isn't an issue, try this one out.
Opera Email: See the browser above, which comes bundled with a full featured email and news reader program. Works like a charm.
Documents, Spreadsheets, Power Point
Open Office- From Sun Microsystems, the folks who brought you Java, Open Office now offers a FREE suite of programs that rival the $500+ Microsoft Office. The suite includes free programs that mimic Word, Excel, Access, and Power Point perfectly. The only major MS program it can't work with is Publisher. You can open and save files in MS Office 2003 or 2007 format, as well as Word Perfect, WordStar, and Lotus formats. Or, you can save them in the Open Office format and let your receipients use either Open Office or almost any other suite they may have to convert the documents. Open Office will also convert ANY document you create or import into the program into a .pdf file! I have no idea why anyone would buy MS Office with this program out there. They do ask for donations.
Cute PDF: This program allows one to convert Word, Excel, Power Point, Publisher, even Web pages into .pdf files. There is a free and a pay version, thus far, the free version has done everything I want it to do. You have to download two programs (the web site will prompt you when its time to download the second one). When you are ready to convert a document to .pdf, use the File/Print function that is available on most Windows programs. Once the print box appears, use the drop down menu on your printers and select "Cute PDF" as the printer. It will then comvert the file to Adobe pdf, which you can then save and email to clients or upload to your web site.