10 Free Online Tools to Improve Browsing

Friday Jul 10th 2009 by Joseph Moran
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These free online services will give you faster speed, more information and better security.

A few weeks ago we highlighted ten free and noteworthy networking utilities. Here we follow up with ten free Web-based sites/services (with a connectivity focus) that we think may come in handy.

1) Check Broadband Connection Speed

If your downloads feel a little pokey lately, it might be time to test your broadband connection speed to make sure you're getting the performance you're expecting (not to mention paying for).

There are places to do this all over the Web, but one of our favorites is speedtest.net. The site uses cool-looking graphics (you'll need the Flash plugin) and will automatically locate the closest test server to reliably report your connection's latency, download, and upload speeds.

2) Test VoIP Performance

If you're thinking of ditching your landline phone for a VoIP service, you'll want to make sure your broadband connection is up to the task. But raw download and upload performance isn't necessarily indicative of a connection's ability to reliably handle VoIP traffic.

The Broadband VoIP test at www.whichvoip.com/voip/speed_test/ppspeed.html simulates a VoIP call to measure Quality of Service (QoS) parameters like jitter and packet loss, and it will provide an estimated MOS (Mean Opinion Score) to tell you how good the quality of your voice calls is likely to be.

3) Confirm E-mail Addresses

If you send an e-mail to a non-existent address, you'll find out soon enough when the inevitable non-delivery receipt (NDR). If you'd rather know sooner than later if an e-mail address is valid or not (i.e. before you send the message), check out the address in advance at www.verify-email.org. The site will contact the domain's mail server and make sure that there's actually a mailbox for the address in question.

4) Quicker, Safer DNS

We've recommended OpenDNS before, but it's worth doing so again. Use OpenDNS's DNS server addresses in your router in lieu of the ones provided by your ISP, and you'll get added protection against phishing sites and address typos (e.g. stay away from amazon.cm) and likely enjoy snappier Web browsing to boot. Plus, if you're willing to register your IP address with OpenDNS (which is free), you can take advantage of the site's Web content filtering service. You can read more about OpenDNS in these articles from the archive:

5) Map IP Addresses

Windows tracert command-line utility will show you the path a network packet takes on the way to its destination. The visual trace route tool at www.yougetsignal.com/tools/visual-tracert/ makes trace routes a bit more informative and interesting by plotting the hops via Google Maps so you can see the approximate physical location of each waypoint. (Note: the site uses itself as the starting point for trace routes, so if you want to start from your network instead, use the Proxy Trace rather than the Host Trace button.)

Next Page: More Free Online Tools to Improve Browsing

6) Net-Based Anti-Virus

Typical anti-virus utilities use significant system resources in order to scan files and maintain a copy of the ever-growing signature database necessary to keep up with the latest threats, but Panda's Cloud Anti-Virus uses a new Net-based approach to PC protection.

Panda's approach doesn't obviate the need to install software, but the beta client minimizes its use of local PC memory and disk space by offloading much of the processing overhead to an online server that collects and analyzes information from other nodes running the software. Panda's software for Vista/XP (32-bit only) takes a long while to run a complete system scan, but it doesn't bring your system to its knees whiles doing so.

7) Save Streaming Video

Want to save a copy of a streaming Internet video for posterity? Enter its URL at Zamzar and the site will retrieve it, save it in one of more than a dozen video formats, and e-mail you a link to the downloadable file. The site also does conversion between various document, image, and music formats, and it can convert a text files to MP3 audio

8) Monitor Site Ups and Downs

If you can't get to a Web site and aren't quite sure why, type the address into downforeveryoneorjustme.com--it will tell you site is truly offline, or if the problem is on your end. Bonus: At dingitsup.com, you can arrange to receive alerts via e-mail, text, or Twitter whenever a favorite site goes up or down.

9) One ID Fits All (or at least some)

If you don't like having to keep track of lots of usernames and passwords to access different Web sites (and who does?), OpenID might be able to ease some of the pain. The free and decentralized service provides you with a single sign-on ID you can use to log in at multiple sites. OpenID doesn't yet enjoy widespread site support, but its gaining in popularity and works with sites like AOL, Wordpress, and Yahoo, as well as countless smaller sites.

10) Check on Username Availability

For situations where you still need to maintain separate accounts for different sites, Namechk.com can help you keep the number of IDs you use to a minimum. It will check over 100 sites to see whether your preferred username is still available.

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