Free stuff on the internet

Originally written for eVent! magazine [ep] on November 3rd, 2005.

One of the amazing and nice things about the internet is that most of the best stuff is free, and we’re not talking about the sort of illegal free stuff that Napster promised with free music or the pirate exchange of entertainment that happens on bit torrent sites, but real legal free stuff.  If you’re connected to the internet take a look at some of these sites for some of the internet’s best free tools, applications and games.

Google Mail: http://www.gmail.com/

One of the first free things to sign up for on the internet was email.  I had an original Hotmail account before Microsoft bought the company and tied it into their MSN service suite.  Google’s Gmail is far newer than Hotmail and way cool.  With gigabytes of storage, POP and IMAP access for using with your BlackBerry device or desktop email application Gmail provides stuff that the other guys charge big bucks for.  The only catch is since it’s still in its Beta version you need to be sent an invite from a current Gmail user, but those shouldn’t be too hard to come across.

Open Office: http://www.openoffice.org/

Tired of paying hundreds of dollars for Microsoft’s Office suite?  Well why not take a dip in the open source pool and see what a collaborative effort can come up with.  Open Office, the open source community’s answer to MS Office is free for download and exports files that will work with MS Office and all of the other major office suites.  It’s a bit slower at times than it’s commercial competition but often is more stable.

Mapquest.com: http://www.mapquest.com/

Never buy another map again, just use Mapquest.  The online mapping site easily allows users to plot a journey, gives them directions to their destination and even gives a very good estimation on how long the trip will take.  This one isn’t exactly a hidden gem, since Mapquest has become so ubiquitous in popular culture that it even featured as a plot point in the recent Bill Murray movie Broken Flowers.

Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/

The formerly Vancouver based online photo sharing site was recently bought by Yahoo for a ton of money and the reason is that it’s such a good site.  Essentially a free photo album for all your digital pictures Flickr let’s you share your memories with friends and family online.  But free storage for your pictures is just one part of the genius of Flickr. What is really cool about the site is the community features.  If your friends are Flickr users you have access to more of their pictures than the general public, plus you are allowed to add notes to their photos.  Add to this the power to put tags, searchable keywords, on your photos and you’ve got the place for photographs online.

Livejournal: http://www.livejournal.com/

It’s hard to choose between the various free blogging sites available online but Livejournal is one of the first and remains one of the best.  While unfairly stereotyped as a home for the depressing poetry of eight grade Goths, Livejournal offers a good place to start when first starting down the road to blogging.  Some users will eventually grow tired of the limitations of a free Livejournal account, others will find that it’s relative ease of use is a great facilitator to the creative writing process, from brain to page.

Google News: http://news.google.com/

Google makes its second entry on the list with its Google News service.  While buying and reading newspapers is very important, very important since if you were to stop reading this I’d be out of work, it is nice to find the top headlines from hundreds of papers worldwide all in one place.  Google continuously updates its main page with headlines and links to all the top stories.  Dozens of countries have their own pages, including Canada.  Just don’t stop buying the Daily Courier or reading eVent! 

Quicktime Trailers: http://www.apple.com/trailers/

As much as I love Apple they don’t really do much for free, except movie trailers.  Apple’s Quicktime Trailer site is the best place on the internet to watch trailers for upcoming movies.  Packed with exclusive trailers, as well as trailers in High Definition formats, all the site requires is you pick up a free copy of Apple’s Quicktime 7 and you’re watching.  Now all you need is the popcorn and someone talking on a cell phone behind you and it’s just like you’re at the theatre.

Welcome to Kelowna Movies: http://www.welcometokelowna.com/movies

Speaking of movies if you’re looking for show times there’s no better site than Welcome to Kelowna’s movie listing site.  Reasonably accurate and always updated on time for the new week of shows, the site is the place to go if you don’t want to spend your Friday night sitting in front of your computer in your underwear trying out the cool free things you read about in this article.