Finding Free, Useful Windows Applications

Everyone has their favorite set of applications. Over time, these applications accumulate to the point that you do not realize how many of these applications have actually been installed… until they need to be reinstalled, that is. But if you are starting from scratch, either you want to dispense with the past and start fresh or you simply do not know where to start, to cull through all the cruft you’d accumulated on your old machine.

There is a great site that helps with selecting and installing an initial set of high-quality free applications at Ninite.com. The web site presents commonly needed applications in categories and packages them up into a single custom installation executable that is downloaded and installed locally. After downloading, all the applications can be installed, running a single installation program. It’s also a great site to simply survey what applications you might want to consider.

AlternativeTo.net is another site for finding great applications. If you are familiar with an application but it is too expensive, its features not quite right, or it does not exist on the platform you need, this site will return all kinds of alternatives to the familiar one.
For idle curiosity and interest, here are a list of the applications I am installing (many of which are commercial, since they are less obvious in the two sites I mentioned above):

Utilities

Synergy
An open source utility that allows the keyboard/mouse of one machine to be shared with another. This is useful when you have your laptop sitting next to your desktop and you do not want to have to keep stretching for the laptop’s keyboard.
Live Sync
If you are using more than one computer and manually shuttling a USB stick between them is a pain or keeping track of which version is the current one, this is the utility for you. It keeps any directory of one machine in sync with another. The interesting thing is that no data is stored in the “cloud”; instead, both machines exchange their data (encrypted) peer-to-peer. The configurations are performed over a web page, for maximum convenience.
VMware Workstation
I can not say enough about this great software product. It is not free, but it is a great product. You can get away with the free VMware Player for some of the functionality, but you need someone with VMware Workstation to help ease the creation of virtual machines. I will write more about this later.
WinPatrol
This utility keeps a watch over all the “hidden” startup programs and services on your machine to make sure that some rogue application does not try to sneak something in.
WinDirStat
A great way to visually see how all the disk storage space is being used.
4NT
I still use the command-line a lot. This is an extension of the built-in cmd.exe command-line program.
cygwin
I also do a lot of stuff with Unix and Linux boxes, so this command-line program comes with a vast set of command-line utilities.

Audio/Media

iTunes
This is not the best media organizer/player, but if you have an iPod or iPhone…

Web/Internet

Chrome
The constant race for improving standards compatibility and speed, Chrome is currently leading the race.
Firefox
The most open and innovative web browser with the widest array of plugins of any browser. There are some usability features of Firefox that I prefer over Chrome (namely, bookmark organizing, Delicious integration (via plugins), and sidebar displays—which make better use of wide screen displays).
Skype
Digsby
Filezilla
putty
RealVNC

Photography/Imaging/Graphics

Picasa
I love this image management software for reasons beyond what I will cover here. If you do not use software to organize your images download this, now!
PhotoShop
Because I am pretty serious about my photography and my work benefits from editing images.
Illustrator
Because I intend to learn how to use this for all the original art that I’ve yet to create.
Canon EOS Utility and Digital Photo Professional
If you are a Canon EOS user and are serious about your photography, then you need to become familiar with these tools since, for certain things, they are the only way to eek out the best quality out of RAW images.
PhotoMatix
One of the hot topics in photography is HDR, High Dynamic Range. This is the only tool (until, perhaps, recent versions of Adobe products) that yields decent HDR results.
AutoPano Pro
The stitch programs that come with most cameras is crap! The technology of the AutoStitch project is included in AutoPano Pro, generating amazing stitched panoramics without the tedium and meticulousness needed for lesser programs.
Sketchup
If you ever need to do any 3-dimensional drawing, the free version of this program cannot be beat.

Text Editors

Kedit
EditPlus
Notepad++

Misc

Quicken
There is still no other consumer-grade application that tracks personal accounting in detail.

That’s enough for now.

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