Why pay for something when you can get it free? Especially in this economy. I have used and/or still use all of the following programs and can attest to their reliability and integrity. Note that while these programs are 100% free many of the developers have ways to donate to them, if you have the means and are impressed with the quality of the program please donate to the developer.
OpenOffice – Why are you still using Microshaft Office? Why should you pay for yearly “upgrades” and “improvements” you don’t need? OpenOffice is 100% free and in many ways far superior to MS Office. Writer’s ability to add Post-It style notes to my stories while I’m writing has proven invaluable to me. Calc replaces MS Excel for spreadsheets, Impress replaces PowerPoint, Draw replaces Visio, and Base replaces Access. Everything you’ll ever need, all for free.
Scribus Open Source Desktop Publishing – Like Quark or MS Publisher. Create pamphlets, books, magazines, zines, etc. in a format that will be printer shop friendly.
GIMP the GNU Image Manipulation Program – Don’t have $1000 to shell out for Adobe’s Photoshop? Yah, me neither. Go get GIMP instead, it does all the things Photoshop does and it does them for free.
Meazure – What are the dimensions of that image? How big is this window? Does this layout fit on an NTSC display? What color are these pixels? What does this icon look like close up? How can I capture an arbitrary portion of the screen? USE MEAZURE. This tool is invaluable. Along with GIMP it helped me create the banner at the top of this blog.
PaintDotNet – Image and photo editing software. Not as extensive as GIMP for graphic design work but a much better tool to use if all you are doing is touching up your photographs.
FreeMind (mind mapping software) – A mind map is a way to diagram, visualize and structure your ideas or map out your story plot and character development. I created a mind map that contains everything I’ve read on the topics of plot, story development and English language usage along with advice and pearls of wisdom from my favorite authors. I have a look at it at least once a month, it makes for a good refresher course. Maybe I’ll share it with you all one day.
keynote-nf – A tabbed notebook rich text editor. Basically, it’s a better notepad. I use this to organize my story notes. Character sheets and development, plot outlines, research, world notes, etc. All organized and easy to find in a document that I can keep open while I’m writing the story in Writer.
Honorable mentions – Pencil, a drawing and animation program. Blender, a free open source 3D content creation suite. Moffsoft FreeCalc, a basic calculator with a simulated history tape. ESBCalc, a scientific calculator. ESBUnitConv, easily convert between units of measurement. PureText, allows you to copy text from a web page without its formatting. EditPad Lite, a general purpose text editor, if you use notepad a lot try this instead. WordWeb, a one-click English thesaurus and dictionary for Windows that can look up words in almost any program.
PC UTILITY/MAINTENANCE PROGRAMS
Keep your PC running in top shape with these tried, true and tested utilities. These are the only utility programs you will ever need. In fact, the following 5 programs are a must have for any novice PC user.
CCleaner – Cleans up the garbage on your PC. Deletes the trash. Wipes out your internet history which can make browsing faster and protects your privacy (you don’t want your kids knowing you visited monkeylove.net while you were drunk last night do you?) Cleans up your system registry and can wipe clean the empty space on your hard drive(s) so thoroughly the NSA couldn’t scour it for lost info. All with one simple button click.
avast! Free Antivirus – I have an old school hate for McAfee and Norton’s antivirus software. Their business philosophy is nefarious and their programs have always been resource hogs even on today’s more powerful machines. avast! is free. avast! is dependable. avast! is all you need.
SpywareBlaster – Blocks and prevents spyware, adware, browser hijackers, and dialers from wrecking havoc on your life and it does this silently, behind the scenes without bothering you. If you register with the developer, SpywareBlaster will update itself regularly. If you do not register you will have to perform manual updates. I suggest doing this once a month.
Spybot Search and Destroy – Another layer of protection against spyware. Use this WITH SpywareBlaster not instead of it. SpywareBlaster blocks malware before it gets on your PC. Spybot S&D does that as well but it can also seek out and and remove malware that is already on your PC. It also comes with a bunch of tools that more tech savvy people will find useful. You will have to perform manual updates to the program’s detection database. I suggest doing this once a month.
Karen’s Replicator – The only backup program you’ll ever need. Automatically backup files, directories, even entire drives! Karen’s Replicator copies selected files from one drive/folder to another. Source and Destination folders can reside anywhere on your network.
More advanced users may find these programs useful – Karen’s Power Tools, a slew of useful advanced utility programs. Unlocker – unlocks locked files so you can delete them. Windows Sysinternals, a host of advanced system utilities created by a couple of MS tech gurus, AutoRuns and Process Explorer are my favorites. SIW-System Information for Windows, tells you everything you need to know about your PC or laptop (you only need the freeware version). Ultimate Boot CD, a must have for troubleshooting your PC.
FOR MUSICIANS, AUDIOPHILES & VIDEOPHILES
Try these programs if you need to get files off your iTouch/iPod without jumping through the flaming hoops Apple wants you to.
LMMS- Linux Multimedia Studio – a free cross-platform alternative to commercial programs like FL Studio®, which allow you to produce music with your computer. This includes the creation of melodies and beats, the synthesis and mixing of sounds, and arranging of samples. You can have fun with your MIDI-keyboard and much more; all in a user-friendly and modern interface.
Hydrogen Drum Machine – Hydrogen is an advanced drum machine for GNU/Linux. It’s main goal is to bring professional yet simple and intuitive pattern-based drum programming. Download the Windows Installer Here.
Audacity – a free, open source software for recording and editing sounds.
Exact Audio Copy – an audio grabber for audio CDs using standard CD and DVD-ROM drives. It works with a technology, which reads audio CDs almost perfectly.
TagScanner – a multifunction program for organizing and managing your music collection. It can edit tags of most state-of-the-art audio formats, rename files based on the tag information, generate tag information from filenames, and perform any transformations of the text from tags and filenames.
dvdshrink – software to backup DVD discs. You can use this software in conjunction with DVD burning software of your choice, to make a backup copy of any DVD video disc.
IsoBuster – a highly specialized and easy to use CD, DVD and blu-ray (BD, HD DVD) data recovery tool.
FreeCommander – an easy-to-use alternative to the standard windows file manager.
Amaya – a tool used to create and update documents directly on the Web.
Sandboxie – Sandboxie runs your programs in an isolated space which prevents them from making permanent changes to other programs and data in your computer. Browse the internet in utter safety.