Featured Freeware: Lego Digital Designer

The cool bricks that you used to play with as a kid have gone digital, and now you can build your own contraptions and fortresses onscreen and export the designs online to share your hidden genius--or perhaps just your sense of whimsy--with the world.

Lego Digital Designer for Windows and Mac gives users the chance to play with Legos without paying for Legos. Loaded with features, the drawbacks are minor and this program is a lot of fun to use. The program links to the Lego online store, but there's more going on here than corporate shilling.

The graphics-intensive program seamlessly zooms in and out, rotates your point-of-view 360 degrees, connects bricks to each other, rotates them, and moves any hinges they might have so you can explore how your pieces fit together. Parts include basic bricks, model jet engines, and infrared sensors. The Brick Palette puts all your bricks in one basket, so to speak, so that managing them is no more difficult than keeping track of more than two dozen subpalettes that catalog the variations.

Beginners get a helping hand with the 17 prebuilt models, and there are tools-a-plenty for memorializing your creation, including sharing your design with other builders at Lego.com and blowing it up. Resurrection of your masterpiece takes only a mere mouseclick.