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It's hard to keep track of software, considering there's always some bright spark at some quiet corner of the globe, with the next big idea cooking in his or her head. Still, going by the things most of us like to do on our PCs here in India, we thought it made sense to take a quick peek at a couple of free applications that could affect our work habits and change them for the better.

How about a file manager, for instance, to let you find specific documents without having to sort through the clutter? How about a free spyware remover � a must in these virus-infected times? Or, never mind the serious stuff, what about a little game that could help ease a tiring day at work while forcing you to apply a bit of grey matter? It's all here�

Manage your files better
Yes, Windows Explorer may be more than okay for simple file management. No, it's not necessarily the best option when you have some serious juggling of tasks to do. Which is why you should give XYplorer a try. Formerly called TrackerV3 (from 2000-2005), this little application is small, quick to install and, thanks to its popularity, no longer free forever. You still get a 21-day free trial though, to whet your appetite for more such products. Also, considering the user interface is similar to that of Windows Explorer, figuring how it works is easy.

In a nutshell, this is a multi-tabbed file manager, which means it has a 'tabbed view' rather than the 'two-pane' view Windows Explorer offers. The importance of this is apparent only when your work involves multiple folders. You can get detailed file information, an extremely efficient advanced file search, instant previews for files, and a lot more options that will make themselves known the minute you spend an afternoon trying it all out. This one will grow on you with time.

Best of all, there isn't an overload of buttons or menus. It's all very simple. And it all works.

Kick out spies
For those who just came in, Spyware is a type of program that watches what users do, then sends that information to someone else online. Some programs can track what types of sites a user visits, others can launch pop-up advertisements, while still others can record passwords or credit card numbers!

The moral of this story: Spyware = trouble.

For customers running genuine Microsoft Windows however, here's a good option: The Windows Defender program. This 5.5 MB download unleashes a warning system that adapts alert levels according to the severity of a threat. It has Real Time Protection to detect and remove threats posed by potentially unwanted software, and is easy to install and run.

Your PC may still be vulnerable to some programs, of course, so you may be forced to run this along with other scanning software. Ad-Aware, for instance, is a free software download that offers advanced protection from 'aggressive advertising', Trojans and others. It is just a scanner though, with no memory of viruses it erases. A better option, therefore, is SpyBot Search & Destroy, which really is as impressive as it sounds.

No Microsoft Word? No fear
Trust me, this helps. The Microsoft Word Viewer 97/2000 is a small, freely distributable program that enables users without Word to open, view or print Word documents (.doc).

Even better, it lets you open Rich Text Format (.rtf), Text (.txt), Web Page formats (.htm, .html, .mht, .mhtml), WordPerfect 5.x (.wpd), WordPerfect 6.x (.doc, .wpd), Works 6.0 (.wps), Works 7.0 (.wps), and XML (.xml) files, without the need to install specific, heavy software for each. You can't edit an open document, save or create a new document, but hey, one can't have everything free!

Take more notes
Still stuck with your old, tired Notepad application? You obviously haven't tried ZuluPad, possibly the best note-taking application there is. It will change your misconception that notepad software has little to offer.

Apart from letting you jot down to-do lists, a grocery list or sites you visited last night, this little wonder combines the notepad with a wiki -- a concept made popular by Wikipedia. A wiki is a type of site that allows users to easily add, remove, edit or change available content, making it a perfect tool for collaborative authoring.

There's all kinds of cross-referencing possible here, provided you spend a little time trying to understand the product. Let's say you like Kishore Kumar, for example, and have a list of tracks he sang in the 1970s. Now, suppose a friend wants you to listen to remixes by Himesh Reshammiya, and there happens to be a cover of a Kishore Kumar track there, ZuluPad automatically gives you a hyperlink to your Kishore list! If that doesn't impress your friends, what will?

Easy to install, easier to use, very intuitive and extremely useful. That, ladies and gentlemen, is how all software should be.

All work, no play?

Enough of work-related stuff. If you're in the mood for something lighter, try Mono -- a simple game, but a fantastic one. All you have to do is change the colour of the screen to the opposite colour. If you start with a white background, for instance, you have to change it to black. You manage this by shooting at coloured balls that explode into halves, leaving traces on the background.

Sounds monotonous? Well, it's anything but