a giftYears ago we would do a gift guide at this time of year, but we gave it up. Why? One reason is everyone and their Uncle Max does them and you can’t help but see several such lists each holiday season. The other reason is Bob came to distrust them.

Companies that market a lot of gadgets will have some good stuff in their lists but they will also have things that didn’t sell and have been sitting in the warehouse for a year or more – usually for good reason. How do you tell the good from the bad? Well, by trying everything out, which is extremely time consuming and ultimately mind numbing. So instead, we’re going to suggest the best gifts you can download for free this season. Put them on a $5 thumb drive for someone else, or keep them for yourself.

We love these programs. Bob’s choice is  CaptureWizPro, a free trial from – more on this bottomless pit a little later. Joy likes Jing, which is completely free from Other nice freebies include Picasa for photos, Audacity for sound recordings and Evernote for note taking. You can find more note-taking apps here.

We use CaptureWiz and Jing almost every day. What they do is allow you to capture any part of what you see on the screen, including the whole screen or scroll down and get continuing screens. They also capture video. If you have the patience you can capture a whole movie as it plays on your computer screen. They can capture just audio, should you want to save a lecture or a TED talk.

When you capture something, save it to disk, send it to someone, put it in a folder of similar captures, print it, etc. You can also save a capture as a “sticky note.” This is a note pasted on the screen, much like a Post-It note. It can be moved around or off the edge. What’s so handy about it is you can save a list of statistics or quotes from somebody as a sticky note and refer to it quickly for whatever you’re working on.

Now, let’s get back to using There are thousands of programs stored there, most of them free or free to try. Many of them are great. Download sites are supported by payments from companies that want their programs loaded onto your computer along with the ones you chose. You’ll see then come up if you choose “custom install,” otherwise they load automatically. In the custom install, there will be a list of boxes already checked off. Unless you see something you want, uncheck them; getting rid of some of this stuff later can be quite difficult.

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