I thought I’d take a quick audit of the freeware (i.e., zero cost software) I use on Windows… and was surprised by how much there is of it and how good it all is! Here’s the latest list:
- 7-Zip – all your file compression requirements met in one, genuinely 64-bit, package.
- UltraDefrag – I don’t defrag often (Windows 7 has a pretty good self-defragging tool), but this does a good job when I really feel the need for it.
- Cobian Backup 11 – Invaluable for fully backing up 6+ TB of video, music etc to hard disks for off-site backup. Subsequent differential backups get all post-backup changes onto more 2TB USB hard disks stored on-site. Every 6 months, the off-site disks get a full backup refresh, and the cycle starts once more. Cobian is at the core of my data recovery setup, so I wouldn’t be without it.
- SyncBack Free – There are several ‘satellite’ PCs around the house whose contents need to be sync’d back to the servers, from where Cobian Backup will take care of them. But for that satellite-to-server synchronisation, SyncBack Free does the job nicely. (It’s a bit like Microsoft’s SyncToy, but without the bugs which cause files to duplicate or be lost entirely!) It doesn’t copy open files, but that’s not an issue here. If it were, SyncBackSE would cope with them for $35 or so. There are loads of free file synchronisers out there: I’ve pretty much tested them all and SyncBack is the pick of the crop as far as I’m concerned!
- Keepass – Cross-platform password manager. Protect its database with one very long, very strong password and you’ll never even have to know what your passwords to anything else are, ever again. Just get the program to auto-generate them, then paste the obscured password into a web page as it asks for it. Has trasnformed the way I interact with the Web, providing a peace of mind I’d never had before.
- TreeSize Free – When you need to know what’s occupying all your disk space, this works nicely. I’ve never felt the need to upgrade to the personal or pro versions.
- MP3Tag – Best tagger for FLAC, MP3, WMA, OGG and other music files out there, IMHO.
- ISOBuster – This invaluable tool can, slowly and laboriously, recover data from otherwise unreadable audio, video or data CDs and DVDs. It’s not actually freeware (US$40 gets you the full product), but the non-Pro version (which is free) has always done whatever I’ve needed it to do.
- Sumatra PDF Reader – Time was when Foxit was the freebie PDF reader of choice, but it got a bit too bloated and tricksy for my tastes. Sumatra does the job nicely, without fuss or funny business.
- Bullzip PDF Printer – Reading PDFs is one thing, but creating them is another. Bullzip works perfectly for that sort of thing. They also have some nice tools that come in handy for working with databases (an SMTP command-line mailing agent, for example).
- RD Tabs – Remote Desktop Connections in a tabbed document interface. When you have lots of Windows PCs or servers to connect to remotely, this saves having to launch the Windows built-in RDP client multiple times, and keeps things nice and tidy.
- Explorer++ – Windows Explorer replacement, complete with tabs… and fully 64-bit, if you need it to be. Doesn’t need to be installed, either (i.e., one of those “portable” apps).
- LockHunter – When you want to delete a file, but Windows declares it’s in use by some process or other… and you can’t think what process that might be! Only a beta, but fully 64-bit and I’ve not had issues with it.
- Foobar2000 – Windows Media Player is not actually too bad these days… except for the fact that it can’t play most codecs without a lot of fuss, bother and third-party codec packs of variable quality and dubiousness. Foobar2000, on the other hand, is pretty minimalist to look at, but plays everything from the get-go. It does all I need it to do, without much ‘glamour’, but cleanly and effectively. Its music organisation abilities are also excellent and suits my needs nicely.
- Calibre – E-book management made simple (and very effective). Keeps my Kindle organised, at least!
- Stellarium – For those cold, dark Winter nights when you’re wondering what heavenly body you’re looking at (and realising, sadly, that it’s not your own)
- Handbrake – Converts Blu-Ray and DVDs to Mastroska files in a (relative) jiffy. Does a nice line in converting films to be watched on my smartphone, too.
- Greenshot – An always-on, flexible and low-resource-consumption screenshot-taking utility. Great for putting illustrated documentation together.
- Quake-Style Console – Brilliant! A DOS Window that runs permanently in the background, but drops down for use at the press of [WinKey]+[~]. Another press of that key combination, and the window ‘folds’ back up, leaving everything running. Extremely convenient, very productive.
- Programmer’s Notepad – A small, highly-productive replacement for Notepad. Excellent code-writing assistance -and a nice line in being able to convert between Unix and DOS line endings!
- ImgBurn - Most effective DVD/CD writer I know of -and does Bluray, too, if pushed. Nasty habit of trying to sneak in the Ask toolbar on first installation, but that’s avoidable with just one mouse click, so nothing too evil.
- Irfanview – I’ve actually got Photoshop 5.5, but if I just want to do quick, lightweight edits to an image -perhaps a crop here, an auto-adjust there- Irfanview does the job so much more simply! Genuine tough-nut photographers will never be able to part with Photoshop (there’s nothing that runs it even close), but I’m happy most of the time with the capabilities Irfanview can provide.
- Media Player Classic : Home Cinema – MPC is great for playing just about any video file, no matter the format. It’s lightweight but highly functional, though it appears to have an annoying dependency on DirectX9 libraries: it will complain vociferously if they’re not installed, but seems to work fine without them, anyway. (The libraries can easily be downloaded and installed, just the same). That old standby, VLC, just doesn’t seem quite up to MPC’s standards these days, especially as far as integrating nicely with the rest of Windows 7. Besides which, MPC is fully 64-bit and VLC isn’t (or, at least, the 64-bit version of VLC is only marked “experimental”).
- Stardock Fences – Some people insist on a completely clean desktop; others allow the icons to pile up as they will. Me… I like the middle ground, where I can store things on the desktop -but in an organised way. Fences allows you to ‘corral’ your icons, shortcuts, files and folders into grouped and categorised areas on the desktop. I’ve never felt the need to pay for the Pro version.
- Putty and Filezilla – In a world where ssh’ing and ftp’ing are frequently necessary, these are the tools for the job as far as I’m concerned.
- Musescore – Perhaps just a tad specialist, but if I’m jotting down bars from my sixth string quartet, this will be the tool I use to do it with, the best free music composition/notation tool I know of. Does a good job with playing back what you’ve written, too, which is important. Cross-platform, too, which is comforting.
- Exact Audio Copy – It is not the most intuitive piece of software, but it’s free and capable and does perfect rips. If you don’t mind paying money, I think dbPoweramp is easier to use, though even its interface is a bit clunky at times. But given that CDs seem a quaint and antiquated technology these days, I think EAC is probably all you really need! If you need to switch between FLAC/WMA/MP3 or other formats after the initial rip, LameXP is pretty good. It comes with some seriously stupid sound effects, and it doesn’t output to WMA (it can read them but not output them). But it does do multi-threaded encodes.
- When it comes to virtualisation, I haven’t mentioned VirtualBox, because I prefer to pay for my VMware Workstation. However, VMware Player is completely zero-cost and lets you create virtual machines, as well as run them. So either way, it’s nice you have choice in the virtualisation world.
In that vein, indeed, let me just briefly list the Windows software I’ve paid for -and which I’d readily pay for again:
- VMware Workstation – polished, functional, vital for the work I do. ‘Nuff said. I wish 3D Graphics acceleration would work better, but that’s never the main focus of what I’m trying to do with virtualisation anyway, so I can live with it. I’ve found it consistently more robust (and faster) than VirtualBox over the years, too. US$199.
- Microsoft Technet Subscription – Giving me access to SQL Server, Office, Windows Server and Windows client software …and more. At US$199 for the standard technet subscription (and US$149 per year thereafter as a renewal fee), it’s an excellent, cost-effective way of getting the latest MS servers, clients and tools.
- Photoshop – As mentioned above, I don’t do a lot of photography work that justifies the outrageous price for this particular piece of software, but The Other Half does, so I have no choice. Apparently, it’s a great program… but I have no artistic ability whatsoever, so I couldn’t possibly comment. Pricing is so complicated, with a bazillion different options, but let’s just quote the AU$1,168 it costs for an outright purchase of Photoshop CS6 for starters!! Ouch. Thank God the upgrades are priced slightly more reasonably.
Finally, it is probably evident that I’m not a great one for playing games on the PC. I couldn’t, however, go without recommending:
- Angry Birds in Space – will cost you $6 for the full product, but the demo version is plenty of fun for free
And, to keep things strictly in your browser window, The Wiki Game is addictive!