Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Top ten useful pieces of FREE software

Computers are the single greatest invention to hit mankind since the car. It might even be bigger than that. Thanks to the internet and all of those computers out there, we have brains that think for us and eventually, they will become self aware and kill us. Well, maybe not, maybe they will make us their slaves so they can harvest our electricity...hmmm...maybe they always serve us because their first rule is to never kill a human. I can't remember what they are going to do, but we aren't there yet. For now, they are our electronic slaves from Finland. Why finland you ask? Becauase Finland holds a distinction of being one of the hardest languages to speak spoken by the fewest amount of people. And a lot of people have a hard time making their electronic slave do their bidding. It's a good thing the Finns have Nokia.

I digress. Seems like all of us have a computer, and we all have things we would like to do on that computer, but we either don't have the money, or the knowledge that the software that is there to help is available for our use. Well I'm here to help both sides of the problem. I give to you my top 10 (PC) Software titles that are Open Source. What's open source you say? Open source is the geek word for FREE (And I know some of you out there are a big fan of free). These are software packages that are built for open use and adjustment. The companies that promote them make their money on helping people use it and integrating it with your business.
In many cases, the open source software is better than the pay to play software.

There are a LOT more than 10 chuncks of software that are worthwhile and yet free. These pieces of software are MOSTLY for PC, not Mac or Linux, but the truth is, if it's open source, it's probably available for LINUX first, and some stuff actually gets ported to Mac. I am just putting up my top 10 in hopes that you will find at least one of them useful.

10. 7-zip - Smaller is better? A long time ago when computers had 3 colors and 640K of ram was more memory than anyone would ever need, there WAS a need to take your files and compress them so they could fit on little floppies (wow, that was a long time ago). That file format was called ARC. A little company made a program that would ARC and UnArc software. Legal troubles ensued and the new format that was smaller stronger and faster and PKZIP was born (Winzip is related). But that's not all, there are a lot of different compression standards. RAR is a very popular one as well. Well, 7-zip is an open source archiving program that remembers and can deal with them all! and it's super easy to use and the price is right. 7-zip

9. PFRank - So when you see these dudes that dress in girls clothing and they say 'I just don't feel right in a mans clothes' You think 'you certainly don't LOOK right in mans clothes'. So when I'm stealing my favorite music I'm always disappointed in how other people name it the way THEY like it instead of how I like it. They always include the album and the track number or some such nonsense and all I want is the name of the song. Just like the transvestite, you can change the look, but what's inside will stay the same. Well PFRank will rename your files any way you like and has lots of pre-defined ways to help you do it. It's a little bit hard to use, but well worth it. PFRank

8. AutoHotkey - This is a keyboard macro program that is amazingly powerful. *YAWN* Marks talking geek again. Ok ok, I know, but it's a very cool program if you want to say put in a bunch of data into a webpage over and over again, or it's good for making it look like your machine it typing by itself...spooooooky! anyway. It's a good program AutoHotkey

7. Synergy - Uggg this is one of those idiotic words that they use in business talk to mean something i can't remember. The Program on the other hand is for those of you out there that have a notebook as well as a home computer. If you have both, then you know that you'll end up needing either 2 sets of mice and keyboards, OR a switch box that will let you switch between your 2 systems. NOT ANY MORE! If you are on a home network (like you have 2 machines that are on the same internet connection, you are on a home network) you can use this nifty program to move your mouse to the edge of one of your systems and onto the other and back and where ever your mouse is, that's where your keyboard will type. as an ADDED bonus, it will let you cut and paste between systems. SWEET. Synergy means working together.

6. MediaMonkey - This is a sweet music player/CD Ripper/ipod-loader/music converter/Songlist keeper. What you say? You already have Microsoft media player? or Itunes (shudder!). Well this one doesn't take over your system, it just helps you do what you want. It's really slick and you can't beat the price. mmmmm....MediaMonkey

5. LINUX - Hey isn't that Lucy's brother that believe's in the Great Pumpkin? No, this is the ultimate in getting under the radar. Hate Bill gates, but you hate Steve Jobs more? Skip them both and go to LINUX an operating system with no strings attached and built by a very nice Finnish lad named Linus Torvald. well...a few strings. Linux is cool and works pretty well, once you get it going. It generally takes up less space and will work harder for less. Problem is, it's not very nice to non-geeks. So find a geek friend to help you with it and you can get by without stupid Micky Soft or OS XICLLVM or whatever they are up to. There are a TON of different versions of Linux, but my favorites right now are Ubuntu and OpenSuse linux, they offer a LOT and know.

4. TrueCrypt - So you share a computer with your room mates, or the rest of your family and you've got stuff you just don't want them to see. Your secret project that will make you millions (napster? I loved that Italian Job movie) You don't want them stumbling onto it, you don't want them even knowing it's there. Well this program not only hides your stuff, but it encrypts it! Encryption is to secrets what Fort Knox is to gold. When you run it, it takes your encrypted area and maps it onto a drive on your computer so you can use it like any other drive. It's amazing. What's that you say? What if they find out you have a hidden area and they bug you to show them whats on it or they will double your rent? This nifty program has a mode that will make your encryption 2 layered. one password for 1 layer and one password for the REAL layer. so you use your other password to show them the 'dummy' data you've prepared to throw the interested off the track and you keep your secrets to yourself. TrueCrypt The government doesn't like you having this.

3. cc pdf - What is the most acceptable non text document format around today? Microsoft Word????? **BUZZZZZ** Sorry, not even close. It's the PDF or the PostScript format. Everyone can read it, but you have to get special software from Adobe to make them. Or you USED to need that. Now we have cc pdf that will let you print to the wonderful PDF format and you can send it out like a pro. cc PDF

2. Gimp - Once you've got a word processor and a spreadsheet what do you need? A graphics editor. What's the best one out there? Adobe Photoshop is arguably the best out there. Well that's one spendy chunk of software, besides, I just want to put google eyes on my brother and a funny hat on my cat with a caption. Well GIMP is the answer for you. It's 80% of what photoshop is, and easier to user. It's the beez Kneez. GIMP

1. Open Office - Microsoft Office, 300 bux in Bill Gates pocket for software that hasn't changed in 10 years. Sure it looks different and they put menu's in different places, but what they do the most is make the newest file format unopenable to the earlier formats thus ensuring that you will pay another 300 dollars for the same crap that you use 15 % of (that's if you are a type A IT manager). Open Office on the other hand is everything you love in an office suite. The biggest annoyance about using Open office is in trying to open complex microsoft products. I will admit that it takes a little extra effort to use in a business setting. I've been able to for the last 2 years and it's not that big a deal, you can ask the sender to use an older format of MsWord or MsExcel and they will work just fine. I'm pretty sure Microsoft doesn't need any more of anyones money. Open Office

That's it. I hope I saved you a couple of bucks.