Our readers like free and so do we. Here are a few of our favorites.

The free VLC Media Player from Download.com  is great for playing back audio and video files that your computer can’t handle. The audio files Joy recorded on her new Android smartphone, for example, weren’t playable on the PC. But the VLC player handled them easily on both Mac and PC. To make and send the recording, she tapped “attachment” from the phone’s email window and then “Voice recorder.” She tested it by  interviewing Bob about the stock market.

Our two favorite free security apps have versions for Windows or Mac. Anti-Malware from Malwarebytes.org is a great program for blocking and getting rid of spyware. To get rid of viruses, we like the Czech program, Avast, which is free and used by 150 million people. The latest version, just out this month, installs security updates much faster than before.

Screen capture programs are useful when you want to save a photo, text or anything you can see on the screen. That includes frames and whole contents from web sites and is much safer than saving  it to your hard drive, which could infect your computer. The reason is a screen capture just captures an image, and not the underlying computer code, which is what could infect the computer.

Screen captures are also great for capturing error messages that pop up, since they’re hard to remember later when you’re trying to explain things to a tech support person. If you have Windows 7 or 8, use its free “Snipping tool.”  For XP users, there’s a free capture program “Jing,” from TechSmith. For the Mac, pressing “Command,” “Shift” and the number four all together, captures an image of what’s one the screen.

Be careful to click on the actual download, rather than an ad for something else. If it’s not free, you clicked on the wrong thing.

Footnote: Bob’s favorite screen capture program is “CaptureWiz Lite,” which is not free and costs $20 from Piexelmetrics.com. Sometimes you have to Google it to find the “lite” version. There’s a 30-day free trial.

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