Useful Tools are not Always Costly

By: John Whaley

I have decided that to get 2008 off to a good start, we need to forget, for a moment, the credit squeezes, interest rate crunches and other fiscal woes that afflicted 2007. With this in mind, I will continue a tradition I started a couple of years ago and give you my top five list of free-to-download software for the coming year.

My first choice is the excellent Moka5. It opens up an enormous range of possibilities for deploying and maintaining a virtual PC to multiple hosts, either via your own web server or Moka5's online hosting service. A Bare Metal version even frees you from needing an instance of Windows to run it on.

But the best feature is that someone has posted a public LivePC that contains a huge collection of text adventure games from the 70s and 80s, including the grandaddy of them all, Adventure. Moka5 is still free, but I don't know for how much longer, as it appears to use Amazon for hosting the public LivePCs.

If you need a more traditional virtualisation platform that is not Microsoft or VMware, try Innotek's VirtualBox. It is a bit of an oddball, with open source and proprietary versions available.

The closed-source version adds features such as RDP support so you can connect to your virtual PCs remotely via any RDP client, plus support for USB over RDP and even an iSCSI initiator that lets you host the virtual machine on an iSCSI target. It is free for personal and evaluation use.


Next is a program I wrote about a couple of years ago, but is now available in a new incarnation and still deserves a place in any IT toolkit. Microsoft Steady State is the new name for the Shared Computer Toolkit, and it is one of the easiest ways to prepare locked-down Windows XP PCs for use in, say, a classroom or public area. This new version has a revised interface and a simpler way of choosing user-restriction levels.

Probably my all-time favourite is Foldershare. When it first launched I was a fanatical evangelist for this secure P2P file sharing client. I use it to keep files in sync between home and work as a kind of poor man's off-site backup. It used to cost an arm and a leg, but is now totally free.

My final choice is something I am sure an IT manager could find a good business use for - the open-source x86 DOS emulator DOSbox. It is a fully MS-DOS-compatible virtual PC environment designed to let people run old DOS games. It has been ported to many operating systems, including OS X, so you can dig out your old copy of Quake and have a blast. Purely in the interests of research, naturally.

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