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Best free stuff online: Information and advice

PC World

By Kim Zetter

(IDG) -- From product manuals to car advice, the Web is an endless source of useful information and professional advice -- and most of it doesn't cost a dime.

Manual labor

Lost the manual to your Kenwood stereo or Sony cell phone? LiveManuals has manufacturer product guides with diagrams for a bevy of goods -- from coffeemakers to videoconferencing equipment -- as well as warranty and support information.

You'll need to download the LivePlayer plug-in to view the manuals. You view the manuals in your browser, and can print out the pages you need. If you can't figure out how to operate the product after reading the manual, you can view a tutorial with audio.

You won't find PCs here, but there are manuals for digital cameras, printers, and fax machines. And you can also open a product portfolio that lets you store a list of products you own to help you track when your warranties are due to expire. (You have to supply your address, too, so let's hope that the database is well-protected against hackers.)


This is one in a five-part series on free stuff -- have a look at other installments. INFOCENTER
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Picture this

You love to take photos, but all of your pictures come out under- or overexposed. The Web is full of tips that can help with this and other photographic quandaries. is a good site for beginning shooters, with lots of information on composing a picture and working with light, as well as helpful analyses of pictures that went wrong -- useful for both film and digital photographers.

Another worthy site,, caters to both hobbyists and pros, with message forums, pithy product and book reviews, and gorgeous photographic travelogues. And for digital camera enthusiasts,, a Canadian site, is one of the finest resources around, with tons of tips and techniques, amazing images, helpful camera reviews and excellent photo submissions from readers.

News TV

When you can't get to a television for your news fix, jump over to Feedroom. This video streaming portal, partnered with NBC and other news organizations, provides live and prerecorded video stories of local, national, and international news.

The video appears in a small TV-screen graphic, which you can expand to full screen. The full-screen version, though, is less crisp. A free feature called VideoAlert lets you receive a daily e-mail containing a link to video clips of the day's headline stories. You can also e-mail clips to your friends. Although the site looks and sounds best if you have a broadband connection, you can adjust the stream for dial-up use.

Domain man

There are dozens of accredited domain name registrars through whom you can set up a new domain for your business or personal site, but prices among them vary from under $10 to over $100. RegSelect tracks data on more than 50 domain registrars. The site includes information about prices, special features such as forwarding address services, as well as notes giving the bottom line on each company. Its "bargain bundles" collection lists inexpensive options and package deals.

The uncle of search engines

If a butler named Jeeves can have his own search site, then why not Uncle Sam? Billed as a "one-stop shop" for government info, FirstGov can link visitors to any of more than 47 million pages across all three branches of the federal government.

You can track your Social Security earnings, apply for a student loan, download needed government forms, look up consumer product recalls, or find out what the FDA has to say about herbal health remedies. A tutorial for new users helps you navigate the site. Warning: Government sites are prime targets for hackers -- so be careful about supplying sensitive data online, such as your Social Security number.

The doctor Is online

The print edition of the Merck Manual has been a bible of health care for over 100 years. This Web-based edition comes in two versions: text only, and an interactive version with photos, video, and animation. (It's a good thing, too, because the site's design is pretty dull.)

Take a quiz to see if you have a fungal infection, or click the "Pronunciation" tab and highlight a word to hear a voice pronounce it. You also get links to associations and institutions that specialize in particular areas of medicine.

Click on Click 'n' Clack

So you've wasted another hour of your life listening to Tom and Ray Magliozzi (Click and Clack, the Tappet brothers) on National Public Radio. Now you can kill even more time with their irreverent Car Talk Web site. By turns informative and hilarious, the site offers advice about buying, selling, repairing, and caring for your car, plus driving tips for road and weather conditions, poetry, and listener love/hate mail.

You can search the Mechan-X-Files to find a "great, honest, hard-working" mechanic in your area, or just settle for one who hasn't been sued. You can also get a free report with links to information on recalls, crash tests, owner complaints and theft statistics. And of course there are audio clips of the brothers' antics on their radio show.

This is the second of a five-part series featuring various free Web tools. The next installment will focus on fun, free tools to help pass your leisure time.


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