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80,259 News Articles

50 great, free ways to improve your software

Make your software do more... for free

We rounded up more than 50 of our favourite tools and tips for unlocking extra value from popular browsers, productivity applications and multimedia tools.

Office optimisers

Get more out of Microsoft Office by adding a few extras. Watch Word, Excel, and Outlook perform tricks you never dreamed were possible!

Open Office 2007 files with older Office versions: Microsoft changed its default file format in Office 2007, so you won't be able to open files saved in the new format with older versions of the Office suite.

However, if you have any of three prior versions of Office - 2000, XP, or 2003 - you can install the Office Compatibility Pack and thereby establish forward compatibility with the new format.

Open old files with Office 2003: Conversely, with Service Pack 3 for Office 2003, Microsoft disallowed opening file formats that predate Office 97, citing security concerns. To re-enable Office to open these files, you have to run a series of Registry hacks. Fortunately, Microsoft has created Registry scripts to make this task easy. Download them, right-click them, and then select Merge. At once, you'll be able to open old files again.

Put offline docs online in a jiffy: Online document-processing tools are wonderful for people who are working on files as a group, but getting files online - and keeping online versus offline versions straight - can be a hassle. The Zoho Plug-In for Microsoft Office simplifies uploading your offline documents to the web service and downloading online documents from it, all without your having to leave your Office application.

Make PDF files inside Office: You don't need full-blown Adobe Acrobat to create and edit PDF files. CenoPDF lets you build PDFs without leaving Word, PowerPoint, or Excel.

After installing CenoPDF, simply print your .doc files and choose the PDF printer option - or build PDF-based forms using text-entry fields, buttons, and boxes to be filled out electronically. The program is free to try, though PDFs are watermarked; it costs $29 (£15) to buy.

Add holidays to Outlook: Want to avoid manually adding Easter and Christmas to your Outlook calendar each year? You can input 12 months' worth of holidays at once by clicking ToolsOptions, Calendar Options (on the Preferences tab). On the next screen, click Add Holidays, select the appropriate country or countries, and click ok.

Outlook holidays

Organise and prioritise Outlook data: The ClearContext Information Management System offers tools that are useful for organising your Outlook data, starting with a dashboard that provides a consolidated look at your tasks and calendar items.

ClearContext Information Management System allows you to assign topics (which you define) to messages; then it automatically files subsequent messages in the thread.

The system flags your most important contacts based on how often you deal with them, and it colour-codes messages based on the sender's importance. ClearContext reduces inbox clutter by "snoozing" noncritical messages--that is, by removing them from the Inbox for a specified period of time. The program is free for 30 days, and then costs $90 to buy.


Become a meeting power user: MeetingSense takes Outlook's rudimentary calendar system and turns it into a powerhouse. An extensive meeting dashboard gives you a hub for making agendas, creating minutes, and sending out summaries, all while providing a centralised meeting space where you and other MeetingSense users can share files, make notes, and create action items. It's perfect for scattered groups that meet frequently. After a 14-day free trial, MeetingSense costs $199.

NEXT PAGE: More office optimisers > >

  1. Make your software do more... for free
  2. Browser boosters, part I
  3. Browser boosters, part II
  4. Five essential browser add-ons
  5. Office optimisers
  6. More office optimisers
  7. Five essential office add-ons
  8. Multimedia muscle builders
  9. More multimedia muscle builders
  10. Five essential multimedia add-ons

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