They say that that the best things in life are free.
If you believe that hoary old chestnut, you're probably also on talking terms with the tooth fairy...
When was the last time you managed to score a free hit of cocaine off your friendly neighbourhood drug dealer? Has the local pub ever offered you a free bottle of Scotch? And as for love and fresh air - hey, don't get us started ;-)
The unhappy truth is that there really is no such thing as a free lunch - even on the Internet, that so-called mecca for free stuff. Hell, even USA.NET, our former poster boy for powerful and flexible email services, has decided to go the we-serve-only-if-you-pay route [more on this a little further down].
But it's not all doom and gloom in cyberspace - and so, we decided to put our noses to the ground for this time's report and point you to the coolest free services on the Web. We're not sure why we're doing this - perhaps it's a subconscious fear of being the only truly cool free service on this planet. Or perhaps it's just that we're really, really bored. Or even [shock shock horror horror] that we want to enhance your Internet experience.
Why does it matter? So long as you enjoy it, find it useful and send it to five million friends, we're happy...and if your friends are young, female and attractive, so much the better [our operators are standing by!] ;-)
As always, we've only reviewed those sites that meet our exacting standards of quality and reliability - so if it ain't here, it probably ain't worth visiting! ;-)
The Free Site http://www.thefreesite.com
We had to start with this one - it's an immense archive of free services and products available on the Web. Its huge database includes links to sites offering free Web space, counters, guestbooks, postcards, fonts, games, graphics, reminders, sounds, freeware and much, much more. And it's updated on a daily basis - so keep checking back!
The definitive guide to email services in cyberspace, emailaddresses.com is a huge database of email service providers, classified and categorized in a gazillion different ways. The site also contains a FAQ for new users and information on the email subsystem.
Bigfoot's been around a long time - it started out a Web-based directory service and slowly metamorphosed into a complete service, offering free email addresses, and mail and Web site forwarding. The service is reliable, flexible and free [hey, if it's good enough for us, it should be good enough for you ;-)]
FreeFind is a service that allows you to add a search engine and site map to your Web site quickly and easily. The search engine allows users to search your site for specific words or combinations of words, while the site map provides an index of the main sections of your site.
If you're looking to create a community of like-minded people, Deja.com [aka Dejanews] is a dream come true. Deja communities are incredibly powerful - every community comes with its own mailing list and USENET newsgroup, chat, poll, threaded discussions, and the ability to customize the look and feel. We use it for the LUST forum, and we have to say that we're amazed at the power and flexibility of this service.
Bravenet and Microsoft bCentral offer free counters, guestbooks, banners and visitor tracking for your Web site. They're both incredibly configurable and powerful tools for anyone who wants to add that little dash of professionalism to their Web presence, but can't scrape together enough greenbacks for a commercial solution.
Scream Design http://www.screamdesign.com/
Looking for animated GIFs and clipart to add a little razzle-dazzle to your Web site? Look no further than the sites listed above, all resources created especially for Web designers in a hurry. Fonts, images, animated GIFs, wallpaper, clipart - if you can use it on a Web page, you'll find it here!
Search Engine Watch http://www.searchenginewatch.com
If you surf the Web on a regular basis, you probably have a favourite search engine to turn to when all else fails. Search Engine Watch, a comprehensive resource for both Webmasters and novices, guides you through the complexities of searching the Internet with in-depth information on how search engines operate, tips to use them better and information on how to improve your rankings in a search engine.
If you're looking for the latest and hottest music tracks, you need these search engines. Both of them allow you to search their immense archive of FTP sites to find that song you're hungering after. Be warned, though - many of the sites thrown up by a search are either non-functional, or demand that you upload some music in return. But when you find a public FTP archive that works, the sky's the limit... ;-)
Gone are the days when you handed out business cards printed on recycled trees. The new digital age demands electronic business cards - and that's exactly what ECode has to offer. An electronic business card, available to everyone via the Web. Check ours out at http://hitg.ecode.com
These two sites should satisfy even the most rabid Windows user. They're divided into different categories [network utilities, desktop toys, eye candy] and they're updated on a regular basis with the latest Windows software from around the world.
Need to update the drivers for the latest thingamajig you've been conned into buying by the friendly computer salesman? WinDrivers has a list of the latest drivers available online, together with links to the corporate Web sites of hardware manufacturers.
If you're a Linux user, the only place to visit for new software is Freshmeat - it's updated every day with the latest software from the Linux open-source movement.
And once again, if you're a Linux freak, you just have to visit Slashdot for your daily dose of the latest news from the Linux community. The site also has message boards, which allow you to express your opinion on the stories posted.
AddAll is a bookstore search engine, which allows you to search for the best deals on specific books from over thirty different online bookstores, including Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble.
CNET's Shopper.com does for computer hardware and software what AddAll does for books - it compares prices across different online merchants and points you to the one with the best deal!
The Thesaurus Of Geographic Names http://shiva.pub.getty.edu/tgn_browser/
One of the coolest online resources for geography buffs, the TGN allows you to retrieve all kinds of information about cities and regions of the world, including exact geographical location, characteristics and hierarchical position.
ASCII Art http://www.ascii-art.com
If you're a big fan of the dying art of creating computer graphics using ASCII text, you need to bookmark this site. It also includes ASCII art information, history, FAQs, links, and tutorials to help you create your very own artwork.
Currency converter http://www.xe.net/ucc/
Looking to convert your ill-gotten gains into American dollars, the favoured medium of exchange for gun-runners and bootleggers? Well, it would be a good idea to keep an eye on the conversion rates - which is exactly what this site does. And, if you so desire, you can even subscribe to a daily email update containing the latest rates.
Time zone converter http://www.ouiweb.com/src/pub/scripts/time/gmt.html
So is Africa ahead of you, or behind you? Find out with the time zone converter, which displays the local time in the country of your choice.
click2send provides users with a secure place to store electronic data, and transfer this data to recipients in a simple and transparent manner. The service provides you with up to ten "safe-deposit" boxes, each capable of holding a few gazillion bytes of data. Recipients are provided with a link which can be used to safely and securely download the file.
For everyone who can't afford a PalmPilot - Visto is a Web-based PIM, with a powerful feature set and a great interface.
And that's it for this week. Till next time...stay healthy!This article was first published on 30 May 1999.