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Free Online Tools for All

Organize photos, manage multiple calendars, chat with friends halfway around the world, and more -- without spending a cent.
Organization

When I was a teenager, my father brought home a computer and suggested I figure out how to use it -- and I've been hooked on technology ever since. Now I write about it for a living, have advised retailers about what to sell in their stores, and test gadgets and software constantly. In short, I like this stuff. A lot. Still, I see no reason to waste time on tech that's not useful, which makes me a pretty typical woman.

Given the state of the economy, there's a special place in my heart for free gear, and there's plenty available. Check out my favorite Web ways to do more for less. (This is when being a geek pays!)

Virtual Personal Assistant

If I dare bring up PC-based calendars and content managers, my friends insist they're not willing to give up their paper planners. No argument -- I, too, am at one with my Filofax. But I also love my digital personal information manager. Essential PIM Free, essentialpim.com, allows me to catalog thousands of contacts, update my calendar, and track my mile-long to-do list. I don't have to cross out an address every time my sister moves or changes boyfriends (or both). I can cut and paste a person's details into an e-mail when someone asks, and I can print out all or part of my address book to carry in said Filofax. I also like to put appointments that repeat on my calendar once and get a day-before reminder without giving it another thought. For a small investment ($40 for the Pro version and $25 for a synchronizer), Essential PIM will sync with your Palm or Google or Outlook calendar.

My 12-year-old son is, shall we say, organizationally challenged, so I wondered if a laptop for school would help. (Answer: Yes, FYI.) I chose a cheap Net book because he tends to lose things but then realized that installing a full-blown office program would negate my savings. So I downloaded the freebie suite from openoffice.org. How can these great word processing, spreadsheet, presentation, and drawing programs cost zilch? It's what's called open source software. In a nutshell, the open source movement was born of the old adage, "Many hands make light work." Somebody posts basic code on the Internet and other programmers build on it in their spare time. So the owner is not a for-profit company but a group of volunteers dedicated to their vision of a world where software is built by and for the people. See how cool nerds are?