Essential freeware for UMPCs

So, you've finally taken the dive and hopped onto the UMPC bandwagon. But here's the problem. With an underpowered processor and limited storage space, your favorite and oh-so-expensive commercial software is screaming for help everytime you try and launch it. Need to resize some images? Take your time and make dinner while Photoshop loads. Rushing a PowerPoint presentation? Take a shower while waiting for Microsoft Office 2007 to launch.

Fortunately, for every commercial software there is a freeware alternative out there. But before we continue, brush aside the mentality that just because it's free one should expect poor support and pathetic features. In some cases, these freeware are open-source applications created by expert programmers who want to give something back to the community. In others, commercial companies create free versions of their professional software by removing features that most home users will never use.

In most cases, by focusing on the most common features required by the mainstream user, these freeware alternatives not only have a smaller footprint, they run much faster than professional commercial applications. Here is our list of favorite freeware which will make your UMPC feel almost as quick as your main PC.

For the purpose of this article, it is assumed that your UMPC runs on Windows XP or Vista operating system. Linux users: You have enough freeware out there as it is to make this article irrelevant.

For the truly paranoid (like us), one should not even think of accessing the Internet without an antivirus application installed. In fact, the first task one should perform is to update the virus definition to ensure your PC is protected.

McAfee and Norton may be the big names in the virus protection business, but their yearly subscription plan and resource usage are really a pain for a UMPC to handle. Avast and AVG are two lesser-known players which have created free versions of their antivirus suite, which are more than sufficient protection for the average user. But our vote goes to AVG, which also supplies free anti-spyware and anti-rootkit programs to boost your system immunity.

Office suite
Microsoft Office is the de facto standard for productivity tasks. Unfortunately, its rich feature set is also an Achilles' heel. Some believe that most users never touch 90 percent of the available functions in Office, despite paying the full price for the software.

A good alternative is Openoffice, which is compatible with Microsoft office documents and runs significantly faster with a smaller footprint. Though it may not have email and organizer features like Microsoft Outlook, that is easily remedied with the free Mozilla Suite--which includes a Web browser, email client, IRC chat and even HTML editing.

With so many cases of private data being leaked after a laptop was lost or stolen, the portability of a UMPC is also a curse as its small footprint makes it easier to lose and steal. Add to the fact most UMPCs do not possess strong security features like fingerprint sensor and TPM chip, and that putting sensitive information in them is a can of worms one does not want to open.

Truecrypt is an impressive yet free solution for the paranoid. It not only creates encrypted virtual vaults in which you can store your important data, it can also encrypt entire drives. In fact, this software can even secure flash drives and install a portable version of Truecrypt, thereby removing the need for the PC to have the software installed to decrypt the drive.

If you are really from the deep end of the paranoid pool, a hidden Truecrypt file actually creates two encrypted volumes in one file. Input one password, and the less sensitive volume opens up. Input a different password, and the real treasure trove is accessed.

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