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Google isn’t just a search engine. It’s got a fantastic web-based email client known as Google Mail, which you can now sign up to from the Google home page without invitation.
The Google Pack is another useful set of items to download. Google has helpfully bundled together a collection of its freebies, as well as other programs from respected third-parties such as Adobe and Norton.
The Google Pack includes such invaluable items as PC Tools’ Spyware Doctor (load this from our cover DVD if you prefer, since it’s an 18MB download). You get Picasa (which Google owns), Google Photos Screensaver, Norton’s Security Scanner and both Google Toolbar and Google Desktop.
If you want to make free and cut-price calls via your PC, Skype is included as an option, although this can be downloaded from the Skype site, too (skype.com).
While there’s a basic photo viewer built into XP, it can do little more than turn images through 90 degrees, flip them or invoke a slideshow of your snaps. Vista caters far better for photo fans and supports tags, which makes it much easier to catalogue and find your photos.
Its Photo Gallery falls down, though, if you need to do much in the way of prettying up your images. Use Picasa 2.0, a freeware photo manager and image editor, which offers a more extensive feature set.
Windows Media Player 11.0
Windows Media Player 11.0 comes with Vista and offers far greater integration between photo, TV, video, music and online stores than previous versions. Use it with XP for tagging, better visual thumbnails and media management.
If you decide to plump for a Mac, you’ll find iTunes preinstalled. This music, podcast and video manager is straightforward and ties in with the iTunes online store where you can buy clips, podcasts, music tracks or albums, as well as downloading games.
You get iTunes for free if you buy one of Apple’s music players, but you can use this music manager regardless of whether or not you’re an iPod fan. A PC version is available.