Good News for CheapskatesFree Windows XP tool that saves you time, free online services that save you gas money, and a free ringtone generator that's just plain fun.
Steve Bass writes PC World's monthly "Hassle-Free PC" column and is the author of PC Annoyances, 2nd Edition: How to Fix the Most Annoying Things About Your Personal Computer, available from O'Reilly. He also writes PC World's daily Tips & Tweaks blog. Sign up to have Steve's newsletter e-mailed to you each week. Comments or questions? Send Steve e-mail.
Tools that do one or two things perfectly, especially if they're free, still get me excited about computing. I don't run into lots anymore, but I found one for this week's newsletter. I also found a nifty site that lets you download obnoxious ringtones, and a site that may help you find cheap gas.
FileBox EXtender: Neat, Free Tool for XP
Have you ever noticed that every Microsoft program automatically tries to save every file you create in the My Documents folder? I never use that folder, so it's the last place I look for a file I've misplaced.
But I don't grumble about this because for years I've used FileBox eXtender, a nifty tool that make dialog boxes work my way.
FileBox eXtender adds several buttons to Open and Save dialog boxes. The two most valuable show your Favorites folders as well as the folders you've recently used. You'll see the buttons in practically every Open and Save dialog.
But wait, there's more! Click the triangle to roll up the dialog box so all you see is the menu bar; the push-pin allows you to keep the box viewable above all other windows. The program can also enlarge tiny dialog boxes. Configuring FileBox eXtender doesn't take much work--the easiest way is to drag and drop folders onto its menu editor.
The program used to cost $20, but the author decided not to upgrade it to work with Vista. (He must have been reading my newsletters.) So the product's now a freebie. Get it on our Downloads page.
While we're on the subject of free tools, have you visited our Downloads site lately? Here are a few highlights:
And if you're wondering, the PC World site is loading faster these days. I don't know if the Webmaster sprayed it with WD-40, or they got rid of some of the extra do-dads, but it's no longer sluggish.
Dig This: Missed the Super Bowl? No worries, I've got a few of the funniest commercials right here:
MapQuest Singles Out Cheap Gas
I'm always willing to travel an extra few miles to a station that saves me 10 cents a gallon. That's where MapQuest Gas Prices comes in handy.
Type in your zip code or the nearest intersection, and you'll see a list of gas stations with the lowest (and highest) prices in your area.
The site lets you search on grades of gasoline, so you can skip past premium, for example. You can also filter on alternative energy sources, such as biodiesel, electric, or hydrogen. MapQuest claims that you can choose from gas prices at over 100,000 stations round the country.
I like the integration of the list of gas stations and the map. Hover over a name on the list and the purple icon on the map pops up showing the station's location. But navigating around on the map is torture--it's slow and kludgy. (MapQuest, say hello to Google Maps.)
Need Gas? Ask a Buddy
A while back I wrote about Gas Buddy, a site similar to Mapquest's Gas Prices.
Overall, I prefer GasBuddy because it not only finds gas stations with low prices, but it also gives me additional data, such as Historical Gas Prices, average gas prices in the U.S. and Canada, and a map of gas prices around the country. For traveling, I use the Map Gas Prices feature for a specific area in order to get a quick look at stations with the cheapest gas. And GasBuddy also has maps.
Freeload: Upload a Ringtone to Your Cell Phone
Go out to the Internet and find a MIDI file you like. Make sure it's 20KB or smaller.
Once you've downloaded the MIDI to your PC, head for the Freeload home page.
There you'll upload the file to the Freeload server, and you'll get an eight-digit code to retrieve the MIDI using your cell phone.
While I was exploring, I noticed the site owner's warning--and I think it's great:
<blockquote>READ THIS BEFORE YOU PRESS THE BUTTON: Freeload works for most phones with WAP and polyphonic tones. However, if it does not work for yours, I cannot suddenly make it work just because you e-mail me. I am not technical support for your phone. Don't e-mail me saying "doesnt work 4 my fone wtf is up wit dis," and then swear and whine at me when I'm not able to magically fix it.</blockquote>
Dig This, Too: I'm sure you've seen the PC vs. Mac videos. But they're tame compared to the Mac ads coming out of England. My favorite is the Virus one.