Free. Our language is littered with high-flown testimonials to the word -- the best things in life are free; free as a bird ; get out of jail free -- and it's no wonder. Who among us passes up an opportunity to get something for nothing?
Getting goods for free has never been easier, thanks to the explosive growth of the World Wide Web. No longer must you wait by your mailbox for envelopes crammed with coupons; place your trust in complete strangers who call you during dinner with vague promises of exotic vacations and miraculous appliances; or hope against hope that Sunday's newspaper carries not only the day's news, sports, and weather, but also a tiny bottle of a popular beauty unguent. You can now go out and grab gobs of free goodies -- including product samples, frequent flier miles, software, Web-based storage space, and advice -- all from the comfort of your Mac.
Is the utopian dream of a free lunch too good to be true? Were your parents correct when they suggested that rewards come most quickly to those who work for them? Find out for yourself by firing up your browser and joining us as we uncover the finest free treasures on the Web.
Software for Your Mac
You know there are scads of freeware and shareware applications on the Web, but were you aware that some older -- though still reasonably capable -- commercial applications are free for the taking?
Free Word Processors Looking at today's software catalogs you wouldn't know it, but at one time Mac users had several choices in word processors. While the ubiquitous Microsoft Word has driven most competitors out of the market, you can find free copies of two of these venerable word processors on the Web.
Corel is giving away WordPerfect Enhancement Pack 3.5e, a word processor that still packs a punch even though it was last updated in 1997. You can find it at VersionTracker.com ( www.versiontracker.com ) by typing WordPerfect in the Search field. Nisus ( www.nisus.com ) offers Nisus Writer 4.1.6 for the price of your name, address, phone number, and e-mail address. Though these programs look a bit long in the tooth, they should meet the needs of all but the most-demanding users.
Free Graphics Applications Corel gives away CorelDraw 8 Limited Edition ( www.corel.com/draw8mac_le/eula.htm ), a full-featured drawing application. A copy of Corel PhotoPaint 8 Limited Edition, a painting and photo-retouching application, is included. Be warned that unless you have a broadband connection to the Web, you could end up waiting a long time for this 53.6MB file to make its way to your Mac.
If you'd like to work in three dimensions rather than two, download a copy of Strata's Strata 3D 3.0.2 ( ftp://cdrom.digitalriver.com/pub/strata3/Strata3D_302_Installer.sit ). As with many free, formerly commercial applications, Strata 3D's documentation is a little sparse.
Nothing has the power to enhance or mangle the look of a document like its fonts. If you feel limited by the fonts that shipped with your Mac, check out Erik Carlson's Macintosh Font Vault ( www.erik.co.uk/font ) and FontFreak ( www.fontfreak.com ). Both sites carry free and shareware PostScript and TrueType fonts.
Look, the i in iMac and iBook stands for Internet , so why not take advantage of some of the wonderful free tools and sites on the Web that can make your Mac more productive and Web savvy?
Free E-mail Client Microsoft Outlook Express, a free e-mail client, comes bundled with your Mac, but if you'd like to try a different and very powerful tool, Qualcomm's Eudora ( www.eudora.com ) is yours for the taking -- if you're willing to put up with advertising. That's right, ads appear in the bottom corner of your Mac's screen in Eudora's full free version.
Free Chat Spend more than a couple of minutes around kids and their Macs, and you'll hear the distinctive chime of Instant Messenger -- the omnipresent computer chat client -- which indicates that someone, somewhere, would like to bend your electronic ear in a real time chat session.
Instant Messenger was once a utility solely for America Online users, but it now has spread to the Web, thanks to AOL subsidiary Netscape. If you're feeling chatty, download your copy of Instant Messenger at http://home.netscape.com/aim/index.html?cp=hop12hb4.
Free E-mail Addresses Have your friends and coworkers been avoiding you lately? Perhaps it's because you spam them every couple of months with yet another announcement that your email address has changed. Why not get a permanent -- and free -- e-mail address that's not tied to a particular Internet service provider?
Such e-mail accounts are widely available from Microsoft, Netscape, Yahoo, and of course, Apple. All four services are free, but they differ in the amount of storage space they offer: Microsoft's Hotmail offers 2MB of storage, both the Mac.com portion of Apple's iTools and Netscape's WebMail provide 5MB, and Yahoo Mail gives you 6MB (which still isn't all that generous for e-mail storage). Apple's iTools offers free forwarding of your Mac.com e-mail to another POP address, whereas Yahoo provides this service only if you agree to receive unsolicited messages from Yahoo and its advertisers. iTools also lets you use a standard e-mail client such as Outlook Express or Eudora, while the other services require you to use a Web browser to get your e-mail messages.
To sign up for these services, use these links:
Yahoo Mail: http://mail.yahoo.com
Music makes the world go round, right? If you'd like to make your Mac more tuneful -- or create tunes on your Mac -- try these resources.
Free MP3 Player QuickTime Player is able to play MP3s, but it doesn't let you gather a bunch of MP3s in a playlist and play those tunes in order. For a true MP3 player, check out Apple's iTunes ( www.apple.com/itunes/ ) or the free version of Casady & Greene's SoundJam MP ( www.soundjam.com ). The new iTunes can play and encode MP3s. If you have a brand-new Mac, it can also burn CDs. (Apple says iTunes may work with other drives in the future.) SoundJam MP Free allows you to encode up to 30 MP3 files and then reverts to a simple MP3 player.
Free Music-Notation Software Coda Music Technology ( www.codamusic.com ), maker of the Mac music-notation application Finale 2001 ( Reviews , January 2001), recently released Finale NotePad, a free, stripped-down notation program. Finale NotePad is more come-on than complete notation solution the program includes a menu for upgrading to other Coda products, limits you to eight instrument parts per score, and lacks support for chord symbols but it's not bad for whipping up a simple score.
Free Tunes Think free music and your mind immediately turns to Napster ( www.napster.com ). But there are places other than Napster to get music that's not only free but also legal . One such spot is the Internet Underground Music Archive ( www.iuma.com ). This site distributes music in MP3 and RealPlayer formats and specializes in bands that are unsigned or on independent labels. MP3.com ( www.mp3.com ), though a bit more ad laden, is also worth checking out.
Those seeking classical MIDI files -- electronic music files that you can play with QuickTime Player or through a MIDI synthesizer -- should make a beeline for the Classical Music Archives ( www.prs.net/midi.html ) for a dose of switched-on Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms.
Word to the Wise: It may not offer an animated assistant, but Corel WordPerfect Enhancement Pack 3.5e is plenty powerful and free, free, free.
Your Mac can entertain as well as educate. When you have a mind to unwind, give these sites a spin.
Free Movies The days when short films were shown between features at the local movie house are long gone. Fortunately the descendants of such films thrive on the Internet. To view some of the best, worst, and oddest short subjects being made today, point your browser to iFilm ( www.ifilm.com ) and Atom Films ( www.atomfilms.com ). Both sites feature live action and animation, offer content that may not be suitable for all ages, and stream QuickTime as well as RealPlayer content. You have to register for each site -- popcorn not included.
Free Network Gaming Scott Kevill's GameRanger site ( www.gameranger.com ) is the place where Mac gamers gather to do battle, play Scrabble, or babble about their favorite pastime -- networked Mac games. After you register, log on to GameRanger, find like-minded opponents, and get ready to rumble. (GameRanger is only a means for playing networkable games; the client is free, but players must supply their own games.)
More-traditional games such as backgammon and chess are also available on the Web. MacFIBS ( www.fibs.com/macfibs ) is a popular backgammon server, and the Free Internet Chess Server ( www.freechess.org ) is well respected. Both sites provide downloadable clients.
Free Games The Web is overflowing with free games -- many of them Java based. A few sites worth visiting for such games are Thinks.com ( www.thinks.com ), pogo.com ( www.pogo.com ), and Yahoo Games ( http://games.yahoo.com ). The games found on these sites run the gamut but tend toward the traditional -- crosswords, puzzles, and board and card games. Be warned, however, that some of these games were written with the PC's right mouse button in mind, and certain arcade games won't work properly with the Mac -- no, not even with a Mac-compatible multibutton mouse or through control-clicks.
Although you can find demos of many recent games on the Web sites of the games' various publishers, you can save time by going to a single source: macgamefiles.com ( www.macgamefiles.com ). This comprehensive site carries game demos, shareware games, and patches and updates -- as well as free games, to boot.
Free Play: Why spend quarters at the arcade when you can play arcade games for free on sites such as pogo.com?
Just because the main way you access the Web is through your Mac doesn't mean the free stuff found on the Web is meant only for computers.
Free Samples If you rejoice when a tiny box of cereal or diminutive shampoo sample appears in your mailbox, you're going to love these Web sites.
TheFreeSite.com ( www.thefreesite.com ) is a portal for freebies available on the Web. In addition to providing links to computercentric items such as free clip art, stock quotes, and fonts, it includes links to sites that offer tangible merchandise. On a recent visit to TheFreeSite.com we found links to free offers of anal-gesic samples, a calendar featuring celebrities and their dogs, and a cosmetics collection.
Free (Almost) Film Processing The site Snapfish.com ( www.snapfish.com ) will develop and print your 35mm color-print film for next to nothing: $1.69 to cover shipping and handling of the prints and negatives. What's the catch? You must view electronic prints of your film -- and the advertisements that accompany them on the Web -- within 30 days of notification that your prints are online. Should you fail to do so, you pay an additional $3.99 per roll. To become a member of Snapfish.com, you must provide your name, address, e-mail address, and credit card number. The company uses this information to charge you for shipping and delivering your prints.
Free Shipping As the name implies, freeshipping.com ( www.freeshipping.com ) pays for your shipping costs when you buy from select vendor sites. Although these sites include merchants that sell flowers, wine, apparel, and furniture, you won't find a lot of major-name stores featured here, and shipping is free only when you've exceeded a certain price level. But if you're in the market for items available through the site, using freeshipping.com may save you a few bucks.
Free Rewards If you participate in a frequent flier program, rewards programs on the Web will be familiar. By shopping on the Web at particular partner sites, you earn points that can be applied toward goods and services.
ClickRewards ( www.clickrewards.com ) allows you to earn ClickMiles -- ClickRewards' currency -- by shopping at sites such as Gap Online and Barnes & Noble.com. You can redeem ClickMiles for frequent flier miles on airlines such as American, Continental, and United. You can also spend your ClickMiles on merchandise -- electronics, CDs, and toys -- or donate them to a charity.
The site beenz ( www.beenz.com ) operates a similar program. But unlike ClickRewards, beenz rewards you solely with merchandise -- no frequent flier miles. Service partners include FTD.com, SmartPortfolio.com, and Barnes & Noble.com.
MyPoints ( www.mypoints.com ) is like beenz, but it lets you earn additional points by surrendering more of your personal information to the service. It then uses that information to send you tailored advertising.
Milesource.com ( www.milesource.com ) focuses on frequent flier miles and travel rewards (car rentals and lodging), but you can also trade in your AwardMiles for magazine subscriptions, gift certificates, or merchandise.
Click, There It Is: Online outfits such as ClickRewards allow you to earn points by shopping at partner sites.
It's been said that free advice is worth exactly what you pay for it, but there are spots on the Web where the free information you receive could turn out to be priceless.
Free Translation InterTran ( www.tranexp.com/intertran/ ) offers free translation from and to the world's most-common languages -- including English, French, Spanish, and German -- as well as less-universal languages such as Welsh, Icelandic, and Romanian. This live translation service is provided largely as an opportunity to advertise InterTran's commercial translation software, and the results of queries to the service are likely to be mixed.
Babel Fish ( http://babelfish.altavista.com/translate.dyn ) does not support as many languages as InterTran does, but its work is much more accurate. For example, Babel Fish correctly translated the popular Spanish phrase "¿Albondigas, no te dije?" into "Meatballs, didn't I tell you?" whereas InterTran suggested the phrase meant "Meatballs, not yourself trinket?" As you do with InterTran, you simply select the two languages, type in text, and click on the Translate button to view the results.
Free Encyclopedia The days when Mom and Dad happily ponied up hundreds of dollars for a multivolume encyclopedia are over -- in the Information Age, events move too quickly for knowledge to be committed to such a static medium. But although hardbound encyclopedias may be a rarity, their electronic equivalents aren't. Encyclopedia Britannica ( www.britannica.com ) offers such a resource. Though laced with advertisements, Britannica.com provides a free and easy-to-use source for all kinds of information, as well as an online version of Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary .
Free Tax Information and Forms This may just be the most helpful free site on the Web at this time of year: the Internal Revenue Service ( www.irs.gov ). Some folks will be gratified to know that a portion of their tax dollars goes toward maintaining a site that offers useful tax information, as well as downloadable tax forms in Adobe Acrobat's PDF format.
The Last Word
Finally, if your visit to the Internal Revenue Service's site has wiped the sunny smile from your face, restore your good mood by keeping this article in mind. It's nice to know that our Macs can help us do more than just work, play, and pay bills. They can also help us find some of the few things in life that are free.
Contributing Editor CHRISTOPHER BREEN pens Macworld 's Mac 911 column and coauthored My iMac , second edition (IDG Books Worldwide, 2000).