Post Tagged with: "best free apps"
Use your Computer, Not your Wallet
The recession is hitting everyone hard and money is tight. That doesn’t mean that can’t get the most out of your computer. There are so many great free applications that can help you do just about anything. I’m going to take a look at 22 applications that I use all the time with wonderful results.
I’m going to identify the free applications that I use in the following categories:
- System Utilities
I have my personal favorites that I’m going to talk about, but those are not your only options. I’ll also list any other viable alternatives that I’m aware of for each category.
I’m a big fan of Microsoft Outlook, but I have been using Thunderbird on my computer for a while now. It’s not quite as good, but it’s constantly closing the gap. Here are some of my favorite ways to keep in touch for free.
Thunderbird – This is Mozilla’s open source answer to Microsoft Outlook. You can do Email, Contacts, and Calendaring very similarly to Outlook (minus some of the polish). It’s built using the same open, extensible platform as Firefox, so there is a steadily growing collection of extensions to augment it’s functionality. Turbocharge Thunderbird with these plug-ins. Alternatives: Gmail.
Digsby – Simply the best Instant Messenger tool available. You can connect to all of your IM networks (AOL, Yahoo, MSN, Google, ICQ, Jabber, and Facebook ) to let you chat with any of your contacts. That alone makes it valuable, but wait, there’s more: Get real-time updates on your social networks (Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, and LinkedIn). You can also get updates on your inbox for just about any email account (Gmail, Yahoo, MSN, plus any IMAP and POP3 accounts). Alternatives: If you’re looking for something almost as good, try Pidgin IM or Trillian with a bunch of plug-ins. Meebo (Web Based).
This is the home of the freebies. There are so many free internet browsers and applications that I could go on all day. Actually, the follow-up article will focus on the best web-based applications.
Firefox – The Granddaddy of all free software. If there were one piece of software that I would just not give up, it’s Firefox. Alternatives: Flock (Firefox variant aimed at media and social networking), Opera (decent alternative, but no extensions), Google Chrome (lean and clean new-kid-on-the-block), Apple Safari (only for testing web development).
Google Earth – Put every inch of the Earth at the tip of your finger. I’m not sure how much anybody "needs" this software, but you know you want it. Stalk your friends, enemies, and ex, then check out the Eifel Tower and Pyramids.
Getting things done on your computer can often cost you a pretty penny. While I’m still an advocate of forking over the money for Microsoft Office, there a lot of other areas that you can save money.
Windows Live Writer – I write every one of my blog posts using Live Writer. If you have a blog you really should try this. It handles multiple sites and has tons of extensions to customize it. Alternatives: Raven is a desktop blogging software that is a lighter alternative to WLW. Not light enough? Try the Scribefire extension for Firefox.
Notepad++ – Sure, Windows comes with a text editor built in, but not like Notepad++. You can use the tabbed interface to work on multiple documents at once. There is syntax highlighting for editing code. If I need to do minor edits to code I can open a file, make the changes, and have it closed before Dreamweaver would even begin launching. This is another application with plethora of extensions that allow you to modify it to your heart’s content.
Foxit PDF Reader – Love PDFs, but hate the bloat of Adobe Acrobat? I thought so. Foxit will open your PDF files so fast, you’ll wonder why anyone would ever use Acrobat. Get hours of your life back.
CutePDF Writer – If you need to create PDF files from your documents and don’t want to shell out for Acrobat Pro, then get CutePDF Writer. This installs on your system as a Printer. Then, you can turn any printable information from any application on your computer into a perfect PDF. Put it all together to be a PDF champion.
Here is one of the fields where you can spend your whole paycheck on commercial software. Pick up anything from Adobe, Corel, Pinnacle, etc and you’ll see what I mean. Fear not, there are plenty of ways to view, manage, create, and distribute your media without spending a dime.
Paint.net – If you need to do minor edits to your photos and images that don’t warrant the King’s ransom that Photoshop commands, you should give Paint.net a try. You can do edits that range from simple to complex without spending a dime. Yes, I know there’s a huge Gimp following, but I just like this better. Alternatives: The Gimp do yourself a favor get the Gimpshop version.
VLC – This is a streamed down media player that will play any audio or video format ever created flawlessly. This is a lot like Foxit for your videos. It opens lightning fast and begins playing your files. Light, fast, simple!
Picasa – Manage your photos like a champ. If you have more than 10 photos on your computer, you MUST get Picasa. Organize, search, display, and share your photos in a way that will make you really appreciate your camera. Windows Live Photo Gallery (Reasonable clone of Picasa integrates with Windows Live services well).
iTunes – Yeah I know, there are a bunch of alternatives but, I still just like iTunes. It does just about everything I need very well and the few things it doesn’t do, I just use one of the other options. Alternatives: (Media Monkey, Songbird, Winamp, Miro TV)
DVD Shrink – If you want to make "backup copies" of any of your "legally purchased" DVDs, this is the simplest application out there. Pop in the disk, click "Backup" and go. Then, use DVD Decrypter to burn it to a blank disk. Once you do the simple setup, you can do a two click back up of any DVD. (I hope Netflix doesn’t read this blog.)
Keeping my system healthy and working its best is a never ending challenge. These are some of the tools that I use to help.
CCleaner – Keep your PC squeaky clean with this System Optimization tool. It deletes just about every kind of unnecessary crap from your computer. Temporary files, Cookies and other junk from every browser, Programs running at Startup, Uninstalls software and fixes all kinds of problems in your Registry. Click about five buttons and wait about a minute and your machine is a new person. Alternatives: NCleaner – better in some ways, but worse interface. AdAware and Spybot for spyware removal.
Rocket Dock – Do you have Mac Envy? This launching doc is nearly a dead clone of Apple’s dock. You can launch Applications, Folders, Files, and other processes so quickly and easily, you’ll never click the Start button again. Alternatives: Object Dock
7Zip – This WinZip alternative will open just about any archive file format known to man. It’s faster and lighter on resources than any archive tool I’ve used. Alternatives: There are a bunch, here is a list of free winzip alternatives.
TightVNC – Remotely view and control other computers from your desktop. Install the server software on one (remote) computer and then control it with the viewer software from your main computer. Great for helping diagnose computer problems on your family and friend’s computers. Alternatives: UltraVNC and RealVNC have comparable feature sets and decent followings. See this tutorial for Using VNC to remotely control another computer.
uTorrent – The best way to download huge files is with BitTorrent technology. My (current) favorite BitTorrent client is uTorrent. Nothing spectacular, just a solid tool that fills an important role. Alternatives: Azureus is a java based bit torrent client with similar features.
SyncBack Freeware – Very powerful backup program with numerous configuration options including: Backup and Restore of files, Synchronization of files, Zip Compression of backed up files to save space, Back up to FTP servers, Filters for choosing what to back up or ignore. Alternatives: Mozy Backup (web base $5/per month)
AVG Antivirus – Don’t destroy your computer with that garbage that Norton and McAfee are peddling. Those two applications will screw up you computer worse than any virus. AVG Antivirus (free version) protects your computer from viruses, spyware, and heebie-jeebies of all types without bogging down your computer. Alternatives: Antivir and Avast also offer very good free antivirus options.
There is a List of Free Mac Apps Too
See the list of the 26 Best Free Mac Applications.
Stay tuned for the next article where I talk about getting things done for free using Web-Based applications.
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Turbocharge Your Productivity for Free
Goal of this article: Provide a list of excellent, free applications that will help you get the most out of your computing experience.
Your computer can do so much, but there is always some piece of software that you need first. Lots of applications are complicated and expensive enough to stop people from taking full advantage of their computers. Don’t despair, there are plenty of wonderful, free applications that will change the way that you look at your computer.
Types of Software
I divided the applications into 6 categories:
Operating System Support
I’m using a windows machine, so that will be my primary focus. However, I will put a Windows, Mac, and Linux icon ( )to indicate which systems support each application. If anyone is a Mac or Linux user I would appreciate any suggestions in the comment or via email. Here is a list of good Linux options Linux Options to get you started.
Firefox – If you are still using Internet Explorer, stop reading, Click here, install Firefox, and come right back and finish reading. Firefox will change the way you use the internet. There are thousands of extensions that allow you to customize everything under the sun. This is not just the best free application ever, it’s one of the most useful applications for any price. ( )
Flock – Flock is another browser built off Firefox’s code. It is customized to focus on “social” browsing. It allows you to enter your id and password for things like MySpace, Flickr, and Facebook. It then has some pretty cool hooks into those services to enhance your browsing experience. It will also connect into your blog, photo sharing, video sharing, etc. You can also use most of the Firefox extensions. ( )
Opera – Opera is another free browser that is very fast and has several nice features built in. I don’t like it as much as Firefox, but a lot of other people swear by it. Worth a try. ( )
Safari – This is Apple’s browser. It has recently been available for Windows too. I don’t really like it on a Windows machine, however I do use it to test my website. Every browser renders differently and it’s good to check your site in as many as possible. ( )
Google Earth – Google Earth allows you to browse the Earth in 3d. You can zoom down to see people standing in their back yards. Perfect for the
stalker voyeur in all of us. It pulls in photos and videos and shows you where they were shot. This is by far the most fun free application that I have ever seen. ( )
Pidgin () or Trillian () or Adium () – Do you have friends on AIM, Yahoo, MSN, GTalk instant messenger networks? Tired of having four different windows open to see all of your friends? Use any one of these three applications (depending on your OS) to chat with people on every network known to man from one place. Tons of plugins, skins, and options, so get your IM on.
UPDATE: Miranda is another all-in-one IM tool that a lot of people swear by. There are also a few totally web based tools that I will discuss in a future article.
Thunderbird – If you use Microsoft Outlook at work and would like to manage your personal email, contacts, and schedule then Thunderbird is for you. You’ll need to install the Lightning Calendar application to have scheduling too. It’s not quite Outlook, but it’s pretty darn good for free. ( )
Skype – Make free Computer to Computer phone call with video using skype. You can also pay (very little) to make and receive calls to regular land line phones. You can even set up multi-person video conferences. Nice.
Email – There are several very good web based email services like Gmail, Yahoo mail, and others. These work very well and they are free, but I will be discussing web based services in a future article. (Subscribe to RSS Feed so you don’t miss it!) ( )
Picasa – Do you take a ton of pictures? Me too. Do you have a hard time keeping them all organized? Well, then you need Picasa. Picasa finds, organizes, and does simple effective edits to your photos. You can view them by dates, folders, keywords, etc. It’s quick, easy and very fun. It also seamlessly integrates with Picasa Web Albums (think poor man’s Flickr) to put your photos online. You can also email your pictures using Gmail, MS Outlook, or Picasa Mail quick and easy. I could not live without this app. () Mac uses have iPhoto which is built into the OS.
iTunes – If you have an iPod and a bunch of songs, then iTunes is very nice. It also handles videos and podcasts too, all from one slick interface. The other nice thing is that iTunes integrates with a lot of other applications and web services. Some people don’t like iTunes, due to the heavy resources that it consumes and some of the glitchy quirks, Luckily, there are a few other great alternatives. Media Monkey, aTunes, or Songbird are all open source applications that are very capable iTunes replacements. Give them a look.
VLC Media Player – If you don’t like dealing with the Missing Codec errors (damn Codecs) of Windows Media Player and some of the other annoyances of Quicktime or Real Player, then just use VLC Media Player. This small light tool plays every video format know to man. It does one thing and does it perfectly. It doesn’t look as pretty as the other players out of the box, but this article on Download Squad tells how to use skins to make VLC look better. ( )
There is a ton of good video content available on the web. The problem is finding, downloading and viewing it in a simple manner. This is where Miro and Joost come in. They allow you to find, download, and view tons of web based video content in a very elegant manner.( )
If you want to download broadcast television shows to your computer, then view this article: Easy Way to Download TV Shows from the Internet .( )
Windows Movie Maker – There are a ton of expensive, complicated video editing programs out there. Fortunately for Windows users, there is Windows Media Player. Until you are actually getting paid to make videos, this is all you’ll need. (only) Mac users have iMovie (), which is awesome and built into the OS. If you know of a good Linux option, post it in the comments.
WinRar – Don’t want to pay for Winzip’s limited functionality? Get WinRar, it opens anything for free.
CORRECTION: WinRar is Shareware, not free. Try 7zip which is totally free and works very well.
Yahoo Widgets – Add beautiful mini apps to your desktop that display a combination of information from the web and your local computer. Fun, Functional, and Free, three F’s. Other options: Apple Dashboard, Vista Sidebar, Google Desktop Gadgets, or if you’re on Linux, try SuperKaramba. ( )
Object Dock – Do you like the launcher on Macs? Me too. This is a knockoff of that, for a PC. It can sit on the top, bottom, or sides of your computer. When you put your mouse to the edge of the screen, it gives you a bunch of icons to launch programs or files. Very convenient. () Any Linux suggestions?
VNC – If you need to control another computer on your network, you can set up VNC on both computers. This will allow you to control another machine remotely. The link is for a Windows version, but just search for one for your operating system. ( )
SyncBack SE – You do regular backups, right? Yeah, me too. There are no excuses with SyncBack SE. This software will allow you to do thorough “incremental” backups of your system without having to be an IT guru. () Mac has Time Machine built in, and I’m not sure about Linux.
Copernic Desktop Search – Never hunt for another file again. This application indexes all of the files on your computer (even across the network) and allows you to find them in seconds. It not only checks the file name and properties, it actually searches every word of text too. If you type “resume” in the search, you may pull back 5 versions. Click on any result and see the search term highlighted in the context of the document. This thing is awesome. () Mac has Finder built in, and I’m not sure about Linux.
PDFs – Let’s face it Adobe Acrobat SUCKS. Every new version makes it suck even more. It’s slow, bloated, buggy, and the good stuff (creating and converting) costs extra. Well these two gems will help you shed the fat when you read PDFs and save some money when you need to create them. Foxit PDF Reader and Cute PDF Writer. Both are simple, fast, and powerful. ()
AVG Antivirus – Just say NO to Norton. It sucks and will destroy your computer. AVG is lighter, faster, better, and free-er. Windows and Linux only, but Mac users claim to be immune to viruses. ( )
CC Cleaner System Cleaner – Get the crud out of your system. Remove junk from the Recycle Bin, Cookies, Temp files, Registry garbage. Keeps your system running smoothly. (only) Any suggestions for Mac or Linux?
AdAware Spyware Remover – Take back your computer! Spyware and malware can infest your computer, stealing your private data and slowing down your machine. Run AdAware and see how much gunk gets removed. () Any suggestions for Mac and Linux?
XAMPP – Everything you need to run a full-fledged testing server on your computer. All bundled into one install file. All configured to work immediately. This thing will save you hours. See this article for setup instructions: How to Set up A Testing Server on Your PC. ( )
Filezilla FTP Client – Free, simple FTP tool. I use this to upload files to this site’s server. ( )
Notepad++ Text Editor – NotePad is OK, but if you want some really nice features for working with any kind of text based file, then step up to NotePad++. It’s got to be better, didn’t you see the 2 plusses? Seriously though, I use it daily when I am working on web development. (only) Mac and Linux both come with very good text editors built in.
Windows Live Writer – This is the tool that I use to write my articles. It’s not perfect, but it has a lot of pretty nice features. It integrates with several blog platforms very well too. (only) Any suggestions for Mac and Linux?
Scribefire extension with Flock – If you don’t want to use Live Writer, you can use the Flock browser with the Scribefire extension. This gives you a very powerful setup. You can view HTML code or WYSIWYG. You can drag images or videos out of Flock’s media bar directly into your articles. Pretty nice option. ( )
Software Worth Buying
Sometimes it’s just better to part with a few bucks. There are a handful of applications that just don’t really have a match in the free price point.
Microsoft Office – It works well, has the most features, integrates extremely well, has beautiful formatting, and is the De Facto standard. ( ) Read this article on why I still use it: Is Microsoft Office in Danger of Being Dethroned? Linux users can use Open Office.
Microsoft Outlook (comes with Office)- Works well, plugs into everything, keeps all of your communication info organized in one place. Syncs with iPod, Palm, Windows Mobile, Symbian, and a million web services.
Adobe PhotoShop – It’s just the best. Don’t talk to me about The Gimp or PaintShop Pro, they both suck. There’s a reason why it’s the one thing that Windows and Mac fanboys agree on. Again, it’s the best.
Adobe DreamWeaver – It has every bell and whistle available for web development. There are millions of plugins. If you are managing a large website, then you need Dreamweaver.
TechSmith Snagit – If you need to take screen captures of applications on your computer, then this is the Cadillac. It does everything that you need perfectly. The best combination of simplicity and power of any application on my computer. Woth every penny!
There is a List of Free Mac Apps Too
See the list of the 26 Best Free Mac Applications.
TechSmith CamTasia – If you want to do video captures of your applications, then this is for you. What a simple, beautiful product. It will make you look and feel like a pro.
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