HONEST, IT'S FREE

Tons of readers have written to complain that our column recommending the free spyware removal tool Spybot — Search and Destroy misled them. It’s not free, they said. But it really is free.

What appears to have gone wrong for most or all of the readers who couldn’t get it is that instead of using the Web address we provided, they did a search on the word “Spybot.” This took them to a rogue program that immediately inflicted their computer with a heap of spyware. Then to add insult to injury, they were asked to pay for removal. That’s not the right Web site or the right program.

The correct Web site is SpyBot.info. Once there, you can follow the instructions to select and download the free program. That requires four clicks. We could give you a long Web address to eliminate those clicks, but to cut the risk of typing errors, we created a new short one: It’s http://tinyurl.com/3bp42h. When you go to that address, you can just click “save” or “run.” A message will appear saying this file can potentially harm your computer. But that’s what Windows always says in these situations; ignore it.

For those of you unfamiliar with the process of turning long Web addresses into short ones, try tinyurl.com. “URL” is an acronym for “Universal Resource Locator,” which is the technical definition of an Internet address. Since some addresses can be quite long, especially government URLs, this increases the chances of typing errors. TinyURL can convert these addresses into, well, a tiny URL. A shorter address also reduces the chance of the address being broken by a hyphen when printed near the end of a line.

SpyBot¬† Search and Destroy is a great program, and we know you’ll like it, but please note, it does not block spam. There is a difference between spyware and spam, and many people, including a lawyer friend of ours, don’t understand that.

Spyware is small strings of code placed in your computer to spy on where you go when you browse the Web, what you do there and how long you spend. It can also be code that records all the keystrokes you make and then sends that information to someone else, or examines all the files on your computer and sends that information to someone else. Spyware can be very insidious.

Spam is unwanted solicitations in your e-mail to buy something, invest in something, join movements, meet with people you never heard of and any number of similar pitches. These unsolicited messages make up around 90 percent of all e-mail. Both of us get well over a hundred a day, and but for a natural reticence, could have long since become financial partners with any number of residents of Nigeria.

If you don’t use a Web-based e-mail service that automatically banishes spam, we have three suggestions for programs you can use to fight it. Go to Download.com and check out the free trials for ChoiceMail, Mail Snoop Pro and SpamCatcher. Or try OnlyMyEmail.com.

Free Office from Google

We’ve been trying out the latest version of Google Docs, a suite of free online programs that are very similar to Microsoft Office. Docs contains a full-featured word processor, spreadsheet and presentation software. The big difference, and big plus, with Docs is that many people can collaborate on the same document at once, from any computer that can go online.

A new addition is the ability to make presentations that are quite similar to those created in Microsoft’s PowerPoint. Joy created a presentation and then simply clicked a “share” button to send an invitation to Bob to collaborate. Changes made on either Bob or Joy’s computer showed up on both screens five seconds later. The presentation software has 15 templates available to create professional-looking shows. You can start with one and, if you decide later you don’t like it, switch to another at any time during the process. You can upload regular PowerPoint shows and alter them with Docs.

In any document you create with Google Docs, you can click a “revisions” tab on the screen, which will take you back to an earlier version. In word processing documents, click “insert comments” to add comments. A “publish” tab lets you send a link in an e-mail. More info at documents.google.com.

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