Wouldn't it be great if you knew exactly where to go on the Web to get
the information you need? The Web is huge, however, and there's no single place
to find everything. So we've done the hunting for you.
Our intrepid editors and reporters checked out the best sites in 33
categories, with a focus on sites that make you a smarter and happier
technology user. We zeroed in on the best places for audio downloads and
security diagnostics, for information about hardware and games, for clip art to
use on your Web site, and for driver updates for Windows.
In making our judgments, we considered ease of use, breadth of content,
and usefulness of information, and we looked at sites that offer free stuff as
well as stuff that's worth its asking price. We chose a top pick and a
runner-up in each category (which gives you more options); we've also included
personal favorites from four
PC World editors. But if you don't like our
picks--or have other favorites--feel free to send in your own nominees to
firstname.lastname@example.org.Photographs: Robert CardinOnline ServicesStealth Surfing
With so many Web sites tracking you online, it's nice to know you can
reclaim your privacy at anonymous browsing sites like
Dozens of services offer stealth surfing, but many of them crowd their sites
SafeWeb's straightforward interface lets you call up Web pages
through its proxy servers, preventing sites from identifying you. SafeWeb also
encrypts your connection to its servers, filters potentially malicious scripts
from Web pages, and lets you block cookies. The free service is supported by
small banner ads.
Runner-Up: The ad-free
offers similar features but will cost you $50 per year.
Desktop DJ: Tired of Top 10 replays and lounge-lizard DJs?
Create your own Echo music station with your personal favorites.
Though it was in a beta version when we tested it,
formidable. With a few mouse clicks you can create a personal "radio station"
from Echo's extensive list of music styles, or you can tune in to other
Anyone can listen to your collection, and you can invite people to
rate songs, groups, and albums to refine your own playlist. Throw in a slick
interface, and you're in music lovers' paradise.
plenty to love--150 music channels playing everything from rockabilly to
reggae, a free Spinner Plus player, and minimal ads. If only it were more
Counting the Days
Life at a Glance: Netscape's online calendar lets you track
important dates and also links to the company's city guides for cultural
Of the online calendars we reviewed, Netscape's
WebCalendar offers the
most flexibility and breadth of content. In addition to marking birthdays,
anniversaries, holidays, and appointments, you can add daily weather reports
and--after supplying your birthday--daily horoscopes.
The calendar's Event Directory lets you track new movie releases and
sports events, and also links to Netscape's city guides so you can add cultural
events as well.
ScheduleOnline is a
calendar and project management site. It allows you to track almost every
aspect of a project and includes an e-mail program, a file manager, and a
Seek and Find
With rapid, germane results to queries,
again as our favorite search engine. Whether you search for "Nantucket salt
grinder" to find a mate for your pepper mill or "Digital Relay" to find a hot
new CD-RW, Google whips you there faster and delivers more-relevant results
than its competitors.
And with its new translation function, Google will convert Italian,
French, Spanish, German, or Portuguese pages into English for you--though the
beta version we tested was clunky. A Lucent press release, for instance, was
translated from the French as: "We are happy to accompany BLR services in its
will to be an actor of foreground on this market with a future." Huh?
the little-known search engine that could. The search site has a streamlined
interface; it returns results from more than 1.5 billion Web pages; and as the
company name implies, it's fast!
Anne B. McDonald
Numerous sites offer online storage space, but
downloaded and uploaded data the quickest in our informal testing. You can
access Xdrive Plus from any PC, PDA, or Web-enabled cell phone, and it offers
select instant downloads from partners such as Symantec and Microsoft.
For example, if you want an applet from Microsoft's site, you can
post it to your Xdrive space instantly by clicking on the download, rather than
grabbing it through your modem. The site gives you 25MB of space for $5 per
month, with additional 25MB chunks available for $3 each per month.
Myplay is a
storage site with a specialty: MP3s and other music files. You get 3GB of free
space for digital tunes, and the site has agreements with major music companies
that ensure it won't someday find itself in Napster-like limbo.
Michael S. LaskyIn Synch
succeeds for the same reason Palm is the most popular PDA device: divine
simplicity. The site lets Palm owners sync calendars, contacts, and tasks to a
free, personalized Web account so that you can access a virtual digital
assistant from a PC anytime you're sans Palm.
You can add or edit data online, then sync it to your real Palm. The
customizable Publish option lets designated users view portions of your
Runner-Up: MyPalm is limited to Palm OS users
(including Handspring and Sony CLIE owners), but
works with PCs, some cell phones, and Palm devices. FusionOne Basic is free;
the more comprehensive FusionOne Plus costs $10 a month.
Michael S. Lasky
You check your car's oil regularly, don't you? So why not do
maintenance on your PC?
Pitstop is a free site that uses ActiveX controls and
to sweep your system for viruses. (PCWorld.com and PC Pitstop recently
partnered to offer the latter's free service through our site.)
You just click a link to start the tune-up, and then leave your
computer alone for a few minutes. PC Pitstop provides a summary report of your
system's condition, including explanations of problems it has found and tips
for maximizing your PC's performance. You can use the TechExpress service to
e-mail the results to a technician or to your brainy nephew.
Runner-Up: A good complementary site to PC Pitstop is
which is a cool tool that scans your hard drive, then points you to updates,
security patches, and tips for the specific apps on your PC.
In a perfect world, we'd all floss religiously, pay our parking
tickets on time, and never use a PC that wasn't running antivirus software with
the latest updates. But this is reality--and reality demands Panda Software's
ActiveScan's free browser-based tool is a snap to use, and it can
find and remove over 55,000 viruses and Trojan horses. And unlike some rivals,
ActiveScan is updated daily. You can check your entire PC or a specific folder
or file, or you can make sure the latest outbreak hasn't infected your Outlook
or Outlook Express in-box.
Runner-Up: Trend Micro's
offers a free online scanner that will not only find viruses on your system but
also remove most of them.
Harry McCrackenOffice Spree
No matter what your business, you'll probably have to share files with
someone, so compatibility with Microsoft Office files is a must.
Personable.com isn't just
compatible with Office 2000, it is Office 2000.
Once you subscribe ($25 one-time activation fee, and monthly charges
that range from $20 to $60), you can access Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and
Outlook from any PC with a Net connection. The site plans to offer Office XP in
the future, but no release date was available at press time.
is less compatible, but it's fine for simple documents--and it's free. Apps are
pretty speedy; but test the limits of document import and export before relying
on the apps for your needs.
Emru TownsendGoing Postal
Though Hotmail is still the most famous free e-mail service,
tops it by adding every possible mail feature to its system without sacrificing
clarity or usability.
For example, Yahoo makes it a snap to set up forwarding addresses,
POP3 mail, and filters. Factor in the easy sign-up procedure--which demands
minimal private information--and you may want to become a Yahooligan, too.
the pioneer of Web-based e-mail, remains a strong contender, but we found it
sluggish. And its scant in-box capacity (2MB to Yahoo's 6MB) keeps it in second
Looking for order on the Web?
venerable directory organizes its multitude of sites into 14 neatly charted
categories and intuitive subcategories, and has a separate section for
shopping. You quickly reach actual links within one or two subcategory levels.
It also offers one of the best selections of international sites, with 21
Project offers a clean interface and good cross-categorization
of sites. It also lets you easily work your way back from a specific site to
its category so you can broaden your search.
Anush YegyazarianHome, Home on the Web
These days you're no one if you don't have your own Web page. But
designing a personal page can be frustrating and time-consuming.
provides the best templates and tools to get your site up quickly and to
customize your site to give it your own stamp. It's free, too. A nice bonus for
you and your visitors: no cookie clutter and no annoying pop-up ads.
Geocities, also free, can help
you post a customized site in less than 15 minutes. But the customization
process is a bit clunkier than Homestead's, and you must deal with pop-up ads.
Like Homestead, Geocities offers about 16MB of free space.
Anush YegyazarianAdvice & InformationStrike Up the Band
Despite its name,
Reports offers information about all types of broadband Net
connections, including cable and satellite hookups. Drawing input from an
active and opinionated community of users, the site guides you through the
often grueling process of going high-speed.
On hand are tools to tell you what types of broadband connections are
available in your area; ISP reviews; and reader forums with advice for solving
Runner-Up: For information specifically about
high-speed cable connections,
CableModemHelp has lots of
tips on cable connections, but little info on individual providers.
Edward N. Albro
Worth a Thousand Pixels: Digital sharpshooters can submit
their own shots to Megapixel.net or get info from the pros.
If your pictures are in pixels but they still look pitiful, check out
Megapixel.net. This slick
digital-imaging site offers tons of content, including articles that explain
such concepts as focal length and such techniques as adjusting a picture's
The site posts four new digital camera reviews each month, with test
images. You'll also find a glossary, reader forums, and free classifieds. The
site doesn't assault you with blinking "Buy me now" buttons.
DigiCams also offers a glossary, camera reviews, and discussion
forums. But the site looks like it was designed in 1997--an odd way to lure
those interested in state-of-the-art imaging.
Alan StaffordGame Room
The Web is perfect terrain for the insular world of PC gaming--and the
best gaming sites aren't for casual fans.
our pick, though it tends toward super-detailed articles, inside jokes, and a
bit of juvenile humor.
GameSpy also hosts a network of "planet" sites devoted to individual
games ranging from Black & White to Unreal Tournament. Use the site's menu
bar to browse other sites like Action Planet (for first-person shooter games)
and File Planet (for patches, demos, and downloads).
up-to-the-minute news, previews, and reviews.
Eric DahlTech Time
From motherboards to hard drives and all points between,
Hardware pushes PC parts to their limits and beyond. The staff
has helped uncover CPU and chip-set bugs and has been the first to overclock
new processors. For in-depth tests of motherboards, graphics cards, or RAM
types, start here.
publishes insightful reviews of new CPUs, motherboards, and video cards.
Eric DahlSoftware News
Along with our own PCWorld.com,
is one of the best sites for news and info about software, especially programs
that are still in beta. The site scours the market (such as Microsoft Developer
Network) for news on upcoming software and offers free downloads of beta
programs for unofficial testing.
BetaNews also posts notes from companies searching for official beta
testers. The download section includes programs for Windows, Linux, Macintosh,
and Palm systems.
Watch offers Microsoft-centric newsletters and utilities, plus
Woody's Palm Watch. You'll never find more thorough and (sometimes brutally)
Emru TownsendTech Reference
Technology is an ever-changing field, so you need a good reference
guide to follow the latest terminology. Internet.com's
takes the prize for ease of use, depth of coverage, and comprehensible
language. The hard-to-stump search engine offers clear definitions, together
with links to terms within a definition that might require further
Category searches (covering areas such as wireless computing,
multimedia, and microprocessors) and a list of related terms and links help
with broader searches.
Runner-Up: Though it lacks Webopedia's breadth,
lists categories and offers helpful article links.
Cameron CrouchPC Rx
Online technical support is getting harder to find, as sites offering
free support disappear or abandon consumers for paying corporate customers. One
site that still offers quick, efficient, reasonably priced help is
The experts set their own fees (ranging from free to $20 per question
in our testing) and offer sound advice. The site includes a handy chat tool for
interactive help sessions--especially useful for step-by-step instructions. If
the steps get too complicated, you can call your expert on the phone.
Runner-Up: Internet.com's cheery-looking
maintains a number of tutorials and busy discussion boards.
PC Show and Tell
School's In: PC Show and Tell's detailed audiovisual
tutorials, like this one for PhotoDeluxe, will push you to the head of the
Don't know how to change a formula in an Excel pivot table?
PC Show and
Tell has streaming audiovisual tutorials covering thousands of
tasks--everything from checking e-mail on AOL to enabling Java applets in
A slightly creepy digital voice reads instructions while animated
screen shots guide you through drop-down menus and command fields. A year's
subscription costs $30 and buys unlimited Web access. Or try the free 30-day
answers for basic hardware questions, though the tutorials are unevenly
detailed and the site lacks visuals.
Edward N. AlbroWeb Designs 'R' Us
Unless you have time on your hands, you should probably stay away from
this site. The wealth of resources for Web developers at
the latest on CGI script security breaches.
But what makes this site as sticky as flypaper is its collection of
WebReview.com is the online
version of the respected Web design publication. It features style sheets,
tools, and guides to design pages for specific browsers.
Web Site Tips and Tools
So you've posted a Web page, but now you've got no idea what to do
Techniques will help you manage your creation, with articles,
programming tutorials, product reviews, and insightful discussions of Web
trends and issues.
Runner-Up: The Software QA and Testing Resource
Tools section has an incredible selection of free testing
tools--to measure performance, for example.
Dennis O'ReillyE-CommerceGavel Down
EBay has long
been synonymous with online auctions, despite competition from powerhouses like
Yahoo and Amazon. Its 11 regional sites encourage international surfers to
participate in an activity largely restricted in the past to U.S. residents.
And unlike some of its competitors, EBay has the critical mass of users needed
for a person-to-person marketplace to work.
puts a new spin on auctions: Buyers can post requests for items in the same way
that sellers post their goods.
Emru TownsendCell Phone Plans
On Call: Getconnected.com provides simple charts to help you
choose the cell phone plan that suits your budget and your needs.
Choosing a cellular phone and service provider is an arduous chore.
GetConnected.com helps you
navigate the morass of pricing plans, service options, and phones with charts
and shopping aids.
Our favorite feature: Estimates of typical monthly bills for
different plans based on the level of usage you forecast. The site also offers
comparison-shopping sections for PDAs, satellite and cable TV services, and
long-distance phone carriers.
a good set of tools for cell phone shopping as well as articles about wireless
Yardena ArarConsumer Advice
Reading product reviews can be tedious, especially when it involves
trying to make sense of divergent opinions.
this task. Pick any category, and you'll get detailed summaries of reviews from
top magazines (including
PC World) and Web sites as well as a ranking
of a reviewer's reliability; a breakdown of product features; and links to
Runner-Up: Though not as thorough as ConsumerSearch,
ReviewFinder casts a wider
net for online reviews, and its editors sometimes write their own.
Emru TownsendBuyer Beware
You've found a great digital camera deal at an online store you've
never heard of. Before you hand over your credit card number, get the lowdown
on the vendor's legitimacy.
provide an overall rating of the site or a department-by-department analysis
that assesses everything from product selection to spelling and grammar.
And if you decide to pass on the unknown supplier, RatingWonders.com
can help you find another e-store based on the criteria you specify as most
important. Customer comments and ratings provide insight into whether the store
lives up to its promises.
tool lets you strike a balance between product price and store ratings.
Emru TownsendBuild Your Own PC
Direct sells everything you need to build a PC from scratch,
and the site is well designed. You can usually reach a compact product listing
in two clicks. From there, you can compare products or access detailed specs.
Shipping costs are calculated automatically for the items in your shopping
Computers is less extensive but offers excellent prices and
unique features like the Configurator, which lets you order all the parts for a
custom-built PC in one interface.
Eric DahlBest Bot
Most of us don't have time to hop from site to site ferreting out the
best deal, so
does the job for us. It's easy to use, and it tracks a large number of
merchants (who pay a fee to be listed).
The bot lets you reorganize listings--for example, by filtering out
merchants that charge restocking fees. You can use customized menus to specify
the product features you want. MySimon also includes merchant ratings by
PriceGrabber.com lets you
punch in your zip code to receive approximate shipping and tax charges with
your product listing. (PriceGrabber.com provides prices and specs for
PCWorld.com's Product Finder feature.)
Aoife McEvoyDownloadsArt to Go
The Web is bursting with free clip art. So why are we recommending a
fee-based site? Quantity and usability.
has thousands of illustrations, photos, and Web animations.
Keyword searching simplifies finding the art you seek--be it a
cartoon kangaroo or a portrait of Einstein. ArtToday is free for three days;
after that, it's $30 a year (for access to some 870,000 items) or $100 (over
1.2 million items).
Runner-Up: Ansel Adams photos,
New Yorker cartoons, and other classy
Rolls-Royce of art sites--but its per-item prices start at $3 for home use and
$8 for businesses.
We're naturally biased toward our own
download section, which
has a large library of carefully selected files. But to keep things fair, we
excluded ourselves and went for the site with the greatest
site has files for Windows, Windows CE, DOS, Palm, Macintosh, Linux, and even
Softpile.com offers a clean
layout and fast searches; however, the site's selection is small.
Emru TownsendPalms Down
Palmware: No other site beats Tucows for the number of PDA
software downloads. And local mirror sites reduce download times.
With vast libraries of software downloads for virtually any PDA,
Tucows is a winner. And
an array of local mirror sites in almost every state and country significantly
decreases download times.
PalmGear.com hosts an extensive
collection of Palm OS software, news, tips, and forums.
Michael S. LaskyMusic Downloads
Napster may get all the press, but nothing outclasses
Direct for atmosphere. The music site features band
information, links to official and fan Web sites, discographies, and legal free
downloads (from artists such as Black Crowes and Sophie B. Hawkins). This site
is a treasure trove for new discoveries.
Runner-Up: With a straightforward home-page design
reminiscent of Yahoo,
another great place to find new and unsigned musical talent.
TechTracker is a collection of
sites that monitor application and driver updates for Windows and Palm
operating systems. The site's
7000 applications and drivers, while PalmTracker.com catalogs close to 2000
WinDrivers.com list more
drivers than TechTracker does, but no applications. WinDrivers.com, however,
lists Linux drivers.