Tech tips: Fun tools and time-wasters

Durban – Every now and then I come across a great website or web-based app that I find interesting, and if I remember, I copy them into my “column ideas” folder. This week, I’ve got a few of them together to give you a selection of handy utilities, enlightening time- wasters and a few that are just plain fun!

* Alternatives: Customers often ask me if I know of any alternatives to a particular program they’re using. It may be that they’re looking for something better, but most often it’s because they’re hoping for something cheaper. Sometimes it’s a user who’s switched from a Windows PC to Apple or vice versa and is now looking for an equivalent program to one they used previously. AlternativeTo at www.alternativeto.net is the place to find well-reviewed and trustworthy alternatives to thousands of different programs. The site describes these as “Crowdsourced Software Recommendations”. What I particularly like about this service is it gives sensible, neutral overviews of each product, including advice about bundled software or any potentially unwanted behaviour such as advertising pop-ups. Sometimes I just “pop in” to AlternativeTo to learn about any new apps or services. To use it, simply type the name of the product you’re interested in into the search bar at the top of the page and click Find.

* Music Map: Whether you’re a die-hard groupie or just like pleasant background noise, Music Map at www.music-map.com is a bit like an AlternativeTo for music. Type the name of any artist or group into the search bar, and within seconds, Music Map responds with around a hundred other artists and groups it thinks you may also like. Your search term is in the middle of the results, and the closer each suggestion is to it, the more likely you are to enjoy that artist or group.

* Mental Floss: I like Lego, and I love the series Friends. The Lego Group is releasing a Central Perk Set for the 25th Anniversary of Friends. This trivia tidbit would have escaped me were I not to occasionally while away a few hours on www.mentalfloss.com. Describing itself as “the encyclopaedia of everything,” Mental Floss offers content on some of our world’s most fascinating questions and discoveries, plus totally random but absolutely engaging stuff. A favourite of mine is the “Stones, Bones and Wrecks” section that features regular articles on treasures, discoveries and new explanations for ancient mysteries. Navigate the site using the Menu button in the top right corner.

* Cute: If your office is one of those fun places where everyone crowds around to see a gorgeous kitty video, then Attack of the Cute at www.attackofthecute.com will see you rise in office popularity rankings. This is the place to ogle bunnies, kitties, puppies, and oh, tiny tortoises eating strawberries. Go on you know you want to!

Do you have any favourite web destinations or apps to share? Send them to me using [email protected] – I’m always happy to discover more.

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