Free Must Have Windows Tools
You’ve just brought home a new computer and now you want to enable it with all the best software that’s available (mostly for free). (Let’s also assume that you didn’t take my advice to forget Windows and install Linux Ubuntu).
Here are some of the best applications you should have on your Windows Desktop.
What’s more, they are all free!
Windows does come with a wide array of useful utilities, and programs, especially the Windows Media Player, however, to make the most of your pc you’re going to want to pick up these goodies. Before you spend hundreds of dollars on software, you should know that almost everything you need is available alternatively in open source, and for free (and sometimes better than their commercial counterpart). Here’s some essential free software you should download to make the best of your pc using Microsoft Windows XP or Vista.
Irfan View – is an image viewer, editor, and multimedia player all rolled up into a simple to use application. It always amazes me just how useful and powerful this program can be, and all for free. The author has also included dozens of plug-ins to add to the power of this software. I use Irfan as my default JPEG browser, screenshot manipulation, and to play flash games that I’ve downloaded. Irfan is also the quickest way to make a slideshow of a directory of photos.
You can also perform TIFF and Raw image manipulation directly from your DSLR camera’s output files.
Gimp – Free Alternative to Adobe Photoshop
Gimp – is a real open source alternative to Adobe’s Photoshop. Unless you are insistent on forking over $700 for a graphics program, you really owe it to yourself to give Gimp a shot. Gimp stands for “GNU Image Manipulation Program”, and was developed as a collaborative effort by some really smart dudes who understand graphics. If you’ve used Photoshop before, most of the functionality of Gimp will be familiar to you from the get-go. There are also hundreds of pages of documentation online for those who have specific application needs. In fact, the help documentation download is much bigger than the program itself. Gimp is offered in several platforms, including Windows, and Linux.
Mozilla Thunderbird – There are many free email programs out there, and Thunderbird is relatively new in the field. It’s sister application, Firefox, took the browsing world by storm a few years ago. Thunderbird got a big boost On the heels of Firefox’s popularity. What makes Thunderbird so special? The same thing that does so for Firefox, open source plug-ins and extensions. There are a wealth of third-party tools that can be added to Thunderbird to enhance your emailing experience (more on that later). Installation is painless and can even import your old Outlook emails and contact files.
Mozilla Firefox – The best proof that open source works and can be better than commercial alternatives. If you haven’t heard by now of the virtues of Firefox, then let me be the first to welcome you to planet earth. Now on version 3, the Firefox browser has so many add-on features and cool extensions that it’s hard to imagine needing or using anything else.
Google released in late 2008 its own free Beta version of the a new browser, Google Chrome, with plug-in capability. It’s been met with lukewarm reception thusfar. Asside from theexpected integration with other Google features and applications, it does purport to change the way browsers work. Technically speaking, each tab in Firefox or IE is dependent onthe stability of all other open tabs. If one tab crashes in Firefox or IE, you’ll need to restart your browser. In Firefox 3, they have added some crash protection in that you can reopen your recent tabs from the last browser session or to restore from a previous session. Google has taken the concept a step further, by revolutionizing browsing technology. They have seperated the processes of each tab to run into separate memory spaces such that if one application or tab crashes, the other tabs can continue running.
Many users make the argument for the Opera Browser as an alternative to all the aforementioned. They claim it to be the fastest browser of all.
Office Tools (Spreadsheet, Word Processor, Presentation)
Open Office – What a great world we live in. You thought you were going to pay hundreds of dollars for all the office tools you had on your old computer. In comes Open Office, one of the biggest open source projet ever. If you need a word processor, spreadsheet program, presentation tool, database, and drawing tool, this is the software you need. Sun Microsystems and others have collaborated to make the strongest argument why not to buy Microsoft’s Office. Each of the components are excellent alternatives, and they even inlcude seamless conversion tools so you can open Excel, Word, and Powerpoint documents in Open Office without a hitch.
Programming & Development
Notepad ++ This open source text editor does everything Notepad doesn’t. It’s also highly extensible with many available plug ins. Any programmer would surely enjoy the clean interface and color coding appropriate for easy code checking and bug fixes. I’ve been using this editor myself on PHP projects and it definitely saves time.
Core FTP Lite – If you need to transfer files securely from your computer to a server that requires secured connections (SFTP) then this free utility is a lifesaver. It has all the basic features you’d ever need.
Media Players (Video, Audio)
VLC – This open source media tool does it all. You can play just about every audio and video media file type imagineable. Likewise, you can play and even record broadcast streams, capture audio, video, devices, and more. I hooked up a video cassette player to my computer and use VLC’s video capture tool to watch old-time cassettes. What’s more, you can now save streams as they are being captured. For example, you can plug in the stream address of a live TV program, and record the captured stream to a WMV file for later viewing.You can even set up a timer to schedule when to ‘record’ streams. This is a fantastic tool. Download Here
iTunes – Apple claims that iTunes is “The world’s best digital music jukebox. Download music, TV shows, movies, and more.” Well, truth be told, most of the point of iTunes is to get you to buy media from the Apple website. iTunes is actually a very well integrated media player that connects your iPod with your PC. Still, I have found the organization of content and especially the podcast selection, to be among the best media sites out there.
WinAmp is actually a media player smorgasbord with an identity crisis. It’s been around longer than most of the competion, (years before iTunes, for example), and yet its niche has been relegated to the geek community. They have partnered with AOL, Shoutcast, and others. They have added incredible plug-in capabilities, and they have the best damn skinning software available. Why don’t they get the credit they deserve? My guess is that they spent so much energy on being perceived as an ‘un-cola’ that the cola drinkers are weary. Still, their integration with Shoutcast for hundreds of CD Quality music stations, and with AOL videos, is truly awesome. WinAmp is definitely worth a try.
CD Burner XP – Simple and easy CD & DVD burning. The open source community got it right with this handy tool. Why install the sloppy, heavy, and prying commercial burning programs when you have such a simple and easy free alternative? The program installs within seconds and you are up and running.
There are advanced features too, such as burning ISO copies, burning mp3 to CD and more.
Audacity – This free audio editor and recorder is really awesome. When you want to make a recording, this is the tool to use. It’s actually a bit advanced for most users, but with a little practice you’ll be cranking out professional-style recordings. I used it a while back to copy old cassette tape recordings by connecting my tape player to my pc’s inline jack. WIthin minutes I was producing pro-sounding replicas of recordings made in the 1970s. Karaoke anyone?
AUS Logics Disk Defragmenter – The real secret to keeping a healthy and fast Windows computer is to frequently defragment your disk. This free program does it faster than Window’s own tool. This is a must-download for any new Windows computer.
Glarysoft Registry Repair – Want to keep your Windows registry clean and running fast? Experts say that WIndows wastes time reading thru old links and bloated program listings inyour registry that are no longer valid. Fortunately, Glarysoft’s tool is free!
Everyone (using Windows) needs an anti-virus tool. Don’t try to go without!
Symantec, Kaspersky, Nod32, AVG, and McAffee usually offer free trial versions that usually expire in 1-3 months and then encourage you to stay as their (paying) customers.
$30 off on specially-priced ESET Antivirus, 2008 Consumer Digest “Best Buy”