Tuesday, October 30, 2007

What's on my PC? (My favorite productivity tools & freeware)

When it comes to computers - some of the best things in life are free. These are some of the most useful software I keep installed on my PC and use frequently. You may have heard of them - if not, give them a try.

My favorite apps:
  • Open Office - Gotta love these guys for trying to make the world a better place... less dependent upon $99 software. However, their timing is worse than a 1989 glamrock band since Google Docs is looking to be the next best thing (or best thing even) to replace expensive MS Office.
  • Winamp + Streamripper - Winamp has always done everything I needed to play music (which isn't much, except dock somewhere tidy & stay outta my way). The visualizations are kinda neat since I use my PC through my TV & sometimes just want background noise. Personally, I don't even bother with CD's or even MP3s anymore. I am on the streaming internet radio kick. That's where Streamripper comes in. It lets you burn MP3's straight from streaming audio. When I took a week long roadtrip... this came in quite handy. I just burned a few CDs of ripped MP3s (have MP3 car stereo)...and I didn't have to listen to the same song once for 20 hours of driving. Nice!
  • Firefox + Google Toolbar - I am not anti-Microsoft... I am pro-best-product. I switched to Firefox because it just works better. I think MS released IE7 a bit prematurely before they worked out the kinks, so they could catch-up to the 'tabbed-browser' bandwagon. Google Toolbar is a necessity. Google is becoming so much more than a search engine with their innovative applications... they are becoming the web's OS. Their toolbar is customizable & plays very nicely with Firefox.
  • Editpad Lite - Just as Firefox did tabs for browsers... Editpad did tabs for 'Notepad'. I find this simple app one of the most handy & convenient for switching between multiple files at once & search/replace. The search/replace handles linebreaks... sounds simple enough, but that feature is actually vital & hard to come by. Very lightweight & simple, yet feature rich.
  • IrfanView - Despite the weird name... this is another essential tool. This is a simple, lightweight image viewer. You can do all the most common image tasks... like browsing, converting, resizing, cropping, etc., etc. A must have - download & associate all your image filetypes with this.
  • Picasa Desktop - Photo management. This is the neat desktop counterpart to Google's Picasa web albums. Some prefer Flickr... but this client is something Flickr doesn't have. It makes it easy to download friends albums & quickly rotate, organize & label your albums.
  • GIMP - This ain't Photoshop... but it's darn near close & does most everything just as well. Best yet - it's totally free... even if it takes a bit to re-learn the menus & toolsets since they are a bit different than Photoshop.
  • BitComet & eMule - Products like these were born from the ghost of Napster - allowing millions to "fileshare" (aka pirate software & music). I don't use them much... but they can come in handy when looking for that hard to find file.
  • KaraFun - I discovered this after seeing $300+ karaoke machines for sale. This free software turns your computer into a karaoke machine... for free! It's a great fun app. If one were so inclined... they could find those .KAR or CDG+MP3 files on BitComet & eMule discussed above.
  • WallpaperFlickr - I find static desktop backgrounds boring... such poor PC feng shui. This is a neat utility to rotate your wallpaper straight from Flickr (the largest photo sharing site online). Just try it... right now my keyword for it is set to 'halloween'. Last week it was 'superheroes'.
For programmers, hackers, & technophiles:
  • 2BrightSparks SyncBack - Click a button & this app syncs files between folders or an FTP site. You can completely configure it... with schedules, filters, etc. I found it very useful for deploying changes to a website. (The newer versions are trial based, but the older versions are still great & freeware)
  • AutoHotKey - This nifty tool saved me from getting carpal tunnel syndrome when I had to manually click & delete 90 items from a website once. Yes - it's a mouse+keyboard 'macro' recorder & player. Not used often... but it's a lifesaver when it's needed.
  • Visual Studio .NET Express (w/ SQL Server Express) - Fortunately for developer/programers... Microsoft understands that it's .NET platform will only be as prolific as the number of developers who master it. That's why they provide this robust IDE for free (lightweight version... they still have the upsell) - to compete with competitors like Eclipse for Java. Let the poor college kids geek out!
..and on my Treo/Palm OS (since I'm sharing):
(even though these will probably be antiquated with the next generation of mobile devices. The Treo has had a great run though!)
  • DiddleBug (or BugMe+) - The simple note taker... let's your phone be your scratchpad. I use it more than anything for those reminders that I'm too lazy to formalize in my To Do list. (BugMe isn't free... but I had to get it because DiddleBug wouldn't work on my new Treo)
  • Keyring - Now I can just remember one master password & put all my private info inside this app under that password. Create profiles like 'bank accounts', 'websites', 'locks' and store your PINs, combinations, & passwords all in one place.
  • Kinoma - Ok, this one isn't free... but I couldn't resist now that I have EV-DO on my phone. It allows you to view streaming video & audio
  • Google Maps - Reason #327 why I love Google. This is the most useful app on my phone. For travelling someplace new, or just finding the nearest Walgreens - screw expensive GPS systems, this is all you need.
  • Cell Plan -Counts your minutes. Those sneaky wireless companies probably don't like this app. Come to think... why don't they provide this on their phones? Oh yeah... because then you wouldn't accidentally go over your minute limit to get that $200 bill. (I think this app is free, except you can't track SMS or some other feature until you pay for it. Nevertheless, it's handy even without extra features).

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