View and edit Word documents in a pinch

I don’t doubt that AbiWord is an excellent free word processor in its own right, but it saved my sanity earlier when I was stuck using a crashy version of Word. The Windows version is a 5MB download (20MB installed) and there’s also a portable version available. It’s able to open, edit and save Microsoft Word, XHTML, Rich Text Format and plain text files as well as its native ABW/AWT format, and while I’m sure it lacks many of Microsoft Word’s advanced features, it’s lean and mean and has handled all the documents I’ve thrown at it. Plus you can’t argue with the price…

AbiWord is also available for Linux and Mac OS, and being truly free software, the source code is of course also offered for download.

Universal WHOIS site is a simple web-based WHOIS gateway, supporting pretty much all top-level domains. In case you didn’t know, WHOIS is a mechanism of finding out who (if anyone) has registered a particular name. It’s fairly quick, has a nice clean design and negates the need to go to separate sites for different domains.

There are alternatives out there but the short, memorable URL and the ability to do quick lookups using only the address bar (e.g. makes it my favourite by far.

Thunderbird tip: start replies above quoted text

Thunderbird has the somewhat strange default behaviour of starting replies below the quoted message. Fortunately there is an option to change this, and I’m mentioning it here as it’s a little hidden away and I had trouble finding it myself.

Click Tools (from the menu bar), then Account Settings. Now choose Composition and Addressing which appears under your account name on the left. Underneath Automatically quote the original message when replying (which should be checked) you can then change start my reply below the quote to start my reply above the quote. Easy as that!

Recover Windows product key from remote installations

There are a number of product key recovery utilities for Windows – Magical Jellybean Keyfinder is the first one that comes to mind, possibly because of the name – but ProduKey is the first I’ve seen that will recover keys from other installations, for example via a local area network or from slave hard drives. It also recovers keys for Office and SQL Server, and at a diminutive 31KB, deserves a place on any technician’s USB drive. It is one of a number of freeware utilities available from the NirSoft website.

Edit: Actually the new version of Magical Jelly Bean has similar functionality, although it’s still in beta at the moment.

Get a better mobile deal

Inspired by an article by Martin Lewis, I recently contacted O2 (my mobile provider) to renew my mobile phone contract and instead of going through Customer Services, I called their Customer Retentions department on 0800 0288 151. As a result I was able to get a a shiny new Sony Ericsson W880i for free on an 18 month contract priced at £25/month including 1000 any time/any network minutes and 200 texts. This would normally cost £40/month (Online 40 Talker) and that’s with 100 fewer texts.
The key is to be persistent – I asked for my PAC code (which is needed if you want to migrate to another network) on a couple of occasions and was on the line for a total of 35 minutes, so it’s a good job that O2 foot the bill for the call (as long as you phone from a landline – remember that 0800 numbers are not usually free from mobiles and sometimes don’t even count towards your free minutes allowance).
I really wanted a 12 month contract so I could upgrade again after year but O2 weren’t forthcoming with any particularly good deals and I’m happy to wait the extra 6 months for the amount I’ve saved.

I was also offered insurance for £7.50/month which I declined, then £6/month with a £25 excess which I still didn’t bother with – over the term of the contract it works out at over a third of the value of the phone which seems very pricey.