There are many great, free programs I use in Windows. I thought some of you might like to know what they are. Here comes the corny intro paragraph.
When the software included with your computer just isn’t quite enough, and you don’t want to buy something off the shelf, or if economic times have knocked new software purchases off your spending list, then these products could prove especially useful.
Desktop Apps (everyday use, not only for techies)
Firefox – Web browser extraordinaire. With a plethora of plugins available, it can do much, much more than just surf the ‘net.
FeedDemon – RSS (and Atom) feed reader. If you have bookmarked several blogs or other sites and click each site to check for updates, then why not get notified any time there’s an update, instead of spending your time checking? Chances are those sites have a feed available, and the program is structured enough like an e-mail program that you’ll find it very simple to keep up with all your favorites. You can have it synchronize with the web version so that when you go to another computer you won’t see read articles as unread.
Gimp – If you’ve ever needed more than your computer’s included photo editing capability, then try the Gimp (Gnu image manipulation program). It’s free and very powerful. I use it exclusively when processing my digital photos. Created for and still available for Linux, too.
UFRAW – For those who don’t have very powerful (if any) software for processing their digital SLR’s RAW files, UFRAW fills the bill nicely. Integrates well with Gimp. Look for color profiles for your camera for the best results (the Color Management link off the main page).
PosteRazor – This program makes it easy to make a very large print of a photo. It will split a photo into the number of pages that you specify, allowing you to print and combine them for a poster-sized print. At the office I have a 14.5″ x 21″ poster of my son that still gets attention.
Irfanview – Wonderful image viewer program. It does much, much more, including batch conversion of images, but I use it mostly for simple image viewing when I want to look through a folder of photos. I have been a loyal user of Irfanview for more than 12 years. Free plugins expand its capabilities.
PhotoStory 3 – Yes, it’s a Microsoft product, but it’s very easy and allows you to make eye-catching slideshows of your photos (zoom and pan effects, etc.).
OpenOffice.org – An excellent alternative to Microsoft Office. It does all of what most users do need and leaves out a lot of what they don’t. It can open and edit all but the most advanced Microsoft Office documents (including Word and Excel).
The Sage’s English Dictionary and Thesaurus – A great program that can be used offline. Must see to believe the features.
RoughDraft – Created by a writer, for writers, and runs great on older PC’s. Great for writing screenplays, multi-chapter stories (or a novel) and keeping notes on the side that go with each chapter. I used it exclusively when writing my novella for National Novel Writing Month. Saves files in a format easily opened by other programs in multiple operating systems.
Foxit PDF Reader – Opens much more quickly than Adobe PDF Reader, and it will open PDF files in separate tabs. It gives you the option of making it your default for PDF viewing.
PDF Creator – Simple. After installing, when you want to make a document into a PDF, you just open it in the usual program and then go to the print dialog and choose PDF Creator as the printer. The rest is fairly self-explanatory. Keep it simple or customize the settings for greater control over file size, etc.
NoteTab Light – Great text editor, for when you don’t need any formatting. I use it to write all my blog posts, and it has some handy HTML shortcuts for inserting links, etc.
SyncToy – Easy backup program that copies whole files instead of using proprietary file compression, so if you ever lose SyncToy or its settings, you still have your backup. Originally made by a digital photographer to help other photographers backup photos. As of this writing, version 2.0 is available, so don’t get the older version.
ZoneAlarm – Powerful firewall software. There’s still a very good free version of it. If you are using a router between your computer and your cable modem/DSL modem, then you already have a certain level of intrusion protection, but I prefer a software firewell on top of that. Once at the main page, go to Products and Services — Basic Firewall.
Notepad++ – For those who need color coding when editing text. Great for editing HTML and scripts.
FileZilla – FTP program. Because sometimes we all need a little FTP.
Audacity – Just an amazing audio program. Edit sound clips, combine multiple existing sound files, make new recordings from various sources, add effects from those built-in or from freely available plugins.
VirtualBox – Move over Microsoft Virtual PC. Want to test out Linux or OpenSolaris? The new Windows Beta? This application is great at hosting just about any OS you can imagine, and you run it within Windows.
Producers of free software usually encourage donations, so if there’s a program you like and you have a few bucks, throw them their way.
You might notice a lack of anti-virus software. On that front, I prefer to go with a commercial product. It’s their job, and when your data’s security is on the line, it’s good to know that at least the product you use is from someone whose survival depends on being competitive. If you must go free, however, try Avast! or AVG antivirus. Each has a free version that is better than nothing at all.