Sunday, November 1, 2009

My Home PCs – Part 2 – Office and Web Must-Have’s

Having completed the five-step PC protection plan detailed in Part 1, it’s time to add some software that will make using your email system and web browser a more complete and pleasant experience. We’ll start with handling the most popular email attachments: documents, spreadsheets, presentations, pdf and zip files, all without costing you a dime. Every program listed below are 100% free for both commercial and non-commercial use.

  • OpenOffice is found at This is an excellent option if you need an office suite, which many people do, particularly if you have school-age children. OpenOffice can open and save files in its native formats and in Microsoft’s formats. OpenOffice does a nice job opening Microsoft documents and spreadsheets, but struggles with some PowerPoint presentations. It’s a good idea to upgrade your Java Runtime (see below) before installing OpenOffice. An alternative to OpenOffice is Lotus Symphony from IBM, available at Based on OpenOffice, it's limited to documents, spreadsheets and presentations, whereas OpenOffice includes database, drawing and math programs.
  • Microsoft’s free viewers for Word documents, Excel spreadsheets and PowerPoint presentations. These viewers allow, as you might suspect, you to view attachments you receive, but does not allow you to change them. They do an excellent job of displaying without losing any of the formatting contained in the original file. To find these, go to and search on the word "viewer".
  • Microsoft’s Office Compatibility Packs. These allow Office 2007 files (docx, xlsx, pptx) to be converted to Office 2003 formats and used with your older Office suite. There may be some loss when features only in available in Office 2007 were used, but in my experience that's not been a problem.
  • Adobe’s Acrobat Reader from handles viewing ".pdf" files. Your PC probably has an old version on it that works, but keep this current to catch all the newest features and stop some of the most recent hacker attacks.
  • 7-Zip handles ".zip" files, a popular format for combining and shrinking multiple files into a single file. It also handles a number of other compressed file formats popular on non-Windows systems.

Your web browser will run across a variety of file types, and having the following products installed will enable you to see and listen to the most commonly encountered.

  • Sun’s Java Runtime Environment (JRE), which is needed to run programs that get downloaded from some web sites. It can be found at

The final four are needed to play the most popular video formats. Silverlight is the new kid on the block, so that one might not be familiar. QuickTime is also packaged with iTunes, which will be covered in Part 3 of this blog, so don't bother installing it here if you plan to use iTunes to manage your music.

  • Adobe’s Flash Player can be found at
  • Adobe's Shockwave Player can be found at
  • Apple’s QuickTime can be found at
  • Microsoft’s Silverlight can be found at

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