You have absolutely no business on the Internet without an effective firewall. This is true whether you have a high-speed broadband connection, which is probably “always on,” or a conventional dial-up connection, which also is probably always on because it takes forever to download anything. Why, you’re probably either being pinged or having your ports probed right now. There are several personal firewalls out there that offer some modicum of protection and a false sense of security; ZoneAlarm actually keeps you safe.

Windows Defender
Not a substitute for a solid firewall and not intended to provide anti-virus protection, but Defender is an additional ingredient in your system security cocktail, helping to protect against spyware, popups, unwanted and unauthorized changes to your system settings, and other security threats.

metapad is a small, fast text editor for Windows 9x/NT/XP with features similar to Microsoft Notepad but with many additional: Persistent window placement, dirty file indication, select/drag/drop text, intelligent find and replace, external viewer support (e.g. web browser), usable accelerator keys (Ctrl+S, Ctrl+N, etc.), dual customizable font support, optional quick exit (Esc key), configurable tab stop setting, auto-indent mode, go to line/column, seamless UNIX text file support, block indent and unindent (Tab, Shift+Tab), recent files list, WYSIWYG printing, no file size limit (re Win9x), hyperlink support, user interface language plugins.

If you run Windows 2000 or XP, two functions on your toolbar conveniently allow you to copy and move files to different folders. If you run Windows 9x, you wish you had these functions. With FileTargets you've got something better. Right click on a file or folder. FileTargets appears on your context menu. Select it to display a sub-menu that lists folders and groups of folders that you have set. Just select the destination folder of choice and your file or folder is quickly dispatched to that destination. Completely configurable options allow you to specify whether the default action is moving or copying, which folders are always displayed as targets, and what groups of sub-sub-menus of folders are available as targets. This functionality beats that of the native Windows 2K/XP Explorer toolbar buttons.

You may not believe it, but almost surely you have it in some form or another somewhere on your computer: spyware! It sneaks in insidiously, disguised as a perfectly innocent piece of software, or piggy-backs on the download and install of something else. Ad-aware searches deeply into your folders, files, and registry, revealing all the titles that are known to be spyware, safely removing them upon request.

What's your motherboard's name and ID? Your chipset? What are your memory module names and serial numbers? What are the product keys of your installed software?  EVEREST Home Edition is a system information, diagnostics, and benchmarking program running on Win32 platforms that extracts details of all components of your PC to give you all these answers, and many more. This info is displayed on screen, printed, or saved to file in various formats like HTML, CSV or XML. For corporate users, EVEREST Professional (not free) offers command-line switches, network audit and audit statistics, remote system information, and network management.

[Note: If/While still available, opt instead for AIDA32, a very similar ancestor of EVEREST but with a few additional capabilities that EVEREST offers only in its Pro edition (software license keys and command line options, e.g.). A few alternate sources—they may not last much longer: ListSoft, Major Geeks.]

Where has all your precious disk space gone? Find out quickly and easily with TreeSize. Launch from the Start menu or right-click on any drive or folder to launch from its context menu. Drive consumption immediately is exposed in both numerical and graphical formats, including all subfolders in a familiar, expandable, Explorer-like tree structure. One of the handiest utilities to have around both for troubleshooting and maintenance.

These days, data recovery tools have become extremely sophisticated and sensitive, and the intelligence agencies that use them have developed great expertise in recovering anything you’ve ever saved on your hard drive. But don’t flatter yourself, they’re probably not interested. Yet, if you’re concerned about anyone prying into what you hope is your private business, Eraser is your best shot for rendering your files irrecoverable. See Secure Deletion of Data from Magnetic and Solid-State Memory, a very technical and interesting paper on the current state of the science of data recovery and certain steps that can be taken to make this effort significantly more difficult. In the battle of the tolerances of commercially available disk drives versus the tolerances of highly specialized recovery equipment, Eraser in many cases may tip the balance in favor of the former by pushing recovery beyond the cost-benefit threshold of the latter. Perhaps the greatest benefit derived from this shredder is the knowledge of the limitations of all shredders.

An easy-to-use program that converts the most popular units of distance, temperature, volume, time, speed, mass, power, density, pressure, energy, and many others. Includes the ability to create custom conversions.

Icon Snatcher
Ever need an icon for a special project or meaningful desktop shortcut? Well, do you have any idea how many icons you already have, right here on your computer? Why go searching all over the Internet or spend hours creating your own cheesy icons when you can steal some really good ones other people have already made! Icon Snatcher is a free 32-bit utility that can extract icon files from any .exe, .dll, or any other type of file that might contain embedded icons. Each icon may be saved in either BMP, ICO or GIF format, or copied to the clipboard for pasting into your favorite graphics editor. You can also pick the background color for maintaining the transparency of bitmaps and gifs.

Here’s that utility you need to rip(off) tracks from your CDs, convert them to WMAs or MP3s, and store them where you please. CDex reads the digital data directly from the CD without ever playing a note, so there’s no loss in sound quality due to intermediate data handling. Lots of features and settings—ripping methods, read sector management, bitrate, jitter correction, normalization, file name and playlist formatting, ID3 tag options, etc.—let you tweak for your situation. Numerous encoders supported. Depending on your sound card and speakers, your computer can sound better than your stereo.

I've Got Some Balls
Game: Use your arrow keys to negotiate your ball through the perils—traps, loops, jumps, delicate navigation—of each level, collecting all the diamonds to advance to the next level. Spectacular 3-D graphics, lighting, and spatial effects, and extremely smooth motion over almost frictionless surfaces. The author no longer is maintaining Balls. Get it here, now, while you can. Acid-Play, . Screenshots: 1,
 2, 3, 4, 5, 6.

Screen Saver: You will be mesmerized and your processor will be exercised by this highly computation-intensive screensaver. Set the Electric! parameters using the Settings button on the Screen Saver tab of the Display Properties applet in Control Panel, and an endless variety of ever-changing patterns will keep you entranced. It will take you some time to experiment with all the possible combinations of the settings parameters. To get started, try these, which produce some fascinating and nostalgic “Time Tunnel” effects: Particles tab—Types: Electrons, Number: 1; Colors tab—Cycling speed: Slow, Palette: Neon; Effects tab—Effects: Normal, Dissymetric [sic] tiling.