14 vital Internet tools

These downloads, mostly free, will help you optimise your communications with others, improve security, and generally improve your online life.

Like most people visiting this site, you most likely live on the Internet. And that means you need help – help with your home or business network for accessing the Internet, help with troubleshooting, help with downloading, and with e-mail, instant messaging, and security.

We've got that help for you – in 14 great downloads. Whether you need a universal messenger, a way to troubleshoot e-mail problems, or programs to keep yourself safe, downloadable software can come to the rescue.

General Networking and Internet Tools

Need to troubleshoot your network, manage your downloads, get a free alternative to the bloated Adobe Reader? Here's where to go. (And that's just the beginning of these nifty downloads.)

VisualRoute 2008 Lite

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Here's another update of a venerable command line Internet tool, tracert. The command line tool displays the route you take to contact a Web server or other Internet device – every hop on every server or router along the way, plus the server's or router's IP address, and how long it takes to get to each one.

This program displays all that in a visually appealing way, not just through the command line. It shows a map of every hop, and graphs it against a background that shows response times. Highlight any hop, and you'll see important details, such as packet loss and speed.

In addition, the program displays a narrative of the route, detailing whether the route has fast, average, or slow throughput, and highlighting any problems.

This version of VisualRoute is free, but a variety of for-pay versions is also available, with many extra features that display the network names of devices, test DNS services, and more.

Download VisualRoute 2008 Lite | Price: Free

Foxit Reader

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What's the most annoying Internet-related application of all time? For many people, that question has a simple answer: Adobe Reader. Countless documents online are in the Acrobat format, so there's no way around it: You need Adobe Reader. But it's bloated and prone to crashes, nobody's idea of a good time.

Foxit Reader is a far better solution. It's small and loads much faster, so it doesn't take up much memory when you use it. It also doesn't seem to suffer from the same instability issues as does Adobe Reader. The program has some nice extras as well, such as the ability to embed comments. (However, when you embed comments, the page you mark up will show that you're using an evaluation version of the software. You can pay for the Pro pack to get rid of those marks, and get some other extras as well.)

Note that when I installed the program, it integrated directly into Internet Explorer as the default PDF reader, but it didn't similarly integrate into Firefox. To make it the default in Firefox, you'll have to select Tools, Options, and then click the Manage button in the File Types area. Double-click each of the files that Adobe Reader opens, and tell Firefox to use Foxit Reader instead.

Download Foxit Reader | Price: Free

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Preston Gralla

PC World (US online)

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