The following programs, listed in no particular order, all work very well, contain no spyware, and are free. I’ve used all of them extensively and recommend them with no reservations.

Eraser will permanently erase a file or folder. It will overwrite the filespace 35 times with random numbers, making the data stored there virtually unrecoverable. The only caveat I’ve found is using the “Erase all free space” option on the C:\ drive may overwrite or damage NTLDR, which is a critical file on WindowsXP. Therefore, I recommend not using that option. The best facet of Eraser is the ability to right-click on a file and choose Erase. Simple, easy, effective.

Allway Sync is a great folder syncronization program. It will keep a folder or directory on your hard drive exactly sync’d to one on another drive, say an external USB drive or USB thumb drive. You can even set it up so that plugging in a USB thumb drive will activate the program and sync files automatically.

Filezilla is my FTP program of choice. I like the Explorer-like interface and the drag-and-drop usability.

JDiskReport will lay out for you the space used by files and folders on a hard drive. It’s great if you’re trying to figure out where all your hard drive space went.

Beyond Compare is perfect for comparing two directories so you can see where they differ. It makes a pretty good backup system, too. Ok, it’s not totally free, but you get a fully functioning version for 30 days, which is great if you just need to compare directories once or twice.

GAIM is a multi-platform instant messaging client which works with all IM services. It’s handy if you have friends using AOL, MSN, Yahoo, etc who can’t agree on one service.

Google Earth is just plain fun. You can see a map of an area and then flip to an aerial view or combine the two. The folks at Google are constantly updating the capabilities, so it gets better and better.

SDP Downloader allows you to extract video files from direct play links, like the ones in the post below about the space shuttle external fuel tanks. Just copy and paste the link to the website into SDP, and it will grab the video file and allow you to save it on your hard drive.

Rainlender is a very cool desktop calendaring program. I only use it at its basic level, just so I have a current calendar on my desktop. But you can really put its many options to use for a fully functioning calendaring system.

Spambayes is the one of the best client-based spam filters. It can be installed as an Outlook plug-in or used with POP3 or IMAP clients. It learns over time and very quickly becomes an effective spam filtering program.

Active Ports shows you which programs and ports are accessing the network from your PC at that instant. It will also show you the remote IP addresses and ports to which your PC is connected. It allows you to kill any network-using program and uses color coding to differentiate between outgoing and incoming packets.