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Thursday, February 13, 2014

Useful Programs

The following is a list of some of the programs that I have on my computers that you may find useful. Most of these programs are free, via Open Source development. I have found that these programs are superior to their paid counterparts. The paid programs are noted with an asterisk (*) and reason for buying them is generally given. You likely will not need all of these programs, but you have here a list to learn about some of the extended functions you can perform with your computer.

Download desired files to your Download folder by clicking on the name.  Install by double-clicking on the downloaded file.

Always be careful whenever you download software from the Internet.  The links shown below go directly to the creator of the software. There are many sources other than the creator for software, and these often embed bloatware or viruses with the files you want to get. Even Adobe, for Reader and Flash, tries to get you to download McAfee, which you don't need with Windows Defender, built into Windows.

Reading, Writing, Arithmetic

  • Web Browser
    •  Firefox: Great functionality and security that you can tailor to your preferences. See my review on Firefox on this blog.
  • Word Processing, Spreadsheet, Presentation
    • Apache Open Office: Free alternative to Window Office like Word, Excel, Powerpoint, Access. Compatible with all Word, Excel, Powerpoint, so you can exchange files with those who have MS Office.
  • Email Client
  • PDF
    • Adobe Reader - displays any pdf (Portable Data Format documet on your computer. Uncheck the Optional Offer for McAfee Security before downloading
    • CutePDF Writer  - Create a pdf file from any program by simply printing
    • pdfMerge - Combine or split pdf files into separate documents
  • Outlining:  
    • Treepad Lite for Windows - Sometimes it's easier to figure things out by creating an outline and rearranging the various items.  If you are like me, this program does a good job.  There is also an Android app - Outliner - that will sync with it via Dropbox

Graphics and Multimedia

  • Photography Organize, Edit
    • Picasa: Excellent photo organizer, touchup, and sharing software. Recommend you decline to load other programs, such as Chrome, when installing this.
  • Video Display: 
    • Adobe Flash: Add functionality to your browser to play most videos, such as YouTube, etc. If you don't have it, your browser will request it when it is needed.Uncheck the Optional Offer for McAfee Security before downloading
    • Windows Media Player:  Included with Window; set it as your default program. A full featured Audio and Video player, that can organize and play your favorite media. 
  • Media Server
    • KooRaRoo* - Have you ever wanted to easily display the photos, videos, and music on your TV that is currently on your computer.  This program allows you to do so, using DLNA which is a standard with many DVD players,  TV's and DirecTV DVRs. Terrific customer support, and reasonably priced.
  • Win 8 Tile Creator
    • OblyTile -  Create your own Windows 8 Tiles from any image for files, folders, web addresses. You can also create your own custom tiles and share with others using export and import.
  • Graphics/Image Editor:
    • Gimp is the Open Source alternative to Photoshop. Edit, touch-up, create images with special effects and layers. This is an incredibly powerful program that can do just about any graphics action, if you take the time to learn how to use it.
  •  Screen Capture:
    • Snipping Tool comes with Windows 8. It lets you capture any area of the displayed screen to an image file it will will store in your Pictures folder, under Screenshots.  Just go to the Start screen, start to type Snipping Tool, then right click on the icon, and Pin to Taskbar.
    • TIP... Press the + Prt Sc key and you will capture whatever screen is currently  be displayed into the Pictures:Screenshots folder.

Communication / Sharing Between Computers and Smart Phones/Tablet

Some of the programs below (marked with **) operate via the "Cloud", meaning someone else is maintaining a server on the Internet.  No matter how secure this is claimed to be, it is highly advisable to never put sensitive information onto these servers. This includes financial information, SSA #, passwords, or anything else that could cause hardship if was know by others or the public.

  • Notes Share: 
    • Evernote**: Write notes on one device and they are available on all the others. You can organize by notes and notebooks. Set up a free account and download to each of your computers, smart phones, and/or tablets
  • File Share: 
    • Dropbox**: Share files easily between computers, smart phones, tablets, as well as others you specify. Set up a free account and download to each of your computers, smart phones, and/or tablets.  This performs the sames functions as GoogleDrive, MS Skydrive, and others, but I prefer Dropbox due to it's track record and security. You won't need the other "Drives".
  • File Syncronization: 
    • FreeFileSync: If you have multiple computers in your home or location, it's likely you have these networked together to share programs and files.  FreeFileSync allows to you automatically keep specific files synchronized between the computers by always selecting the newest file and copying to the other computers.
  • Remote Control: 
    • UltraVNC:   I have both a desktop and a laptop computer. I often want to do something on my desktop when I am running the laptop.  UltraVNC (Virtual Network Controller) allows me to literally run the desktop from the laptop as if I were actually sitting at the desktop keyboard.  Requires installation of specific parts of software on both client (laptop) and server (desktop).  I also use it to help people fix things at a remote location.


  • Virus Protection:
    • Windows Defender comes with Windows 8.1 and does an excellent job.  Be sure it is working by typing Defender in the Start screen and opening the program. In my opinion, there is no need to purchase commercial products like McAfee or Norton; the windows does a fine job without effecting the performance of your computer.
      In fact, I would recommend removing other Virus protection software from your computer. Never run more than one virus protection software at a time.

  • Password Vault:  
    • Keepass Classic Edition: You can prevent identity theft...never use the same password on more than one website. This password vault eliminates the need to remember passwords. If you can't remember your password, it's more likely someone else won't be able to crack it. This program enables you to securely keep all of your user ids and passwords under lock and key. Everyone should use this to easily store and retrieve your user ids and passwords by remembering only one very secure passkey.
  • Firewall:  
    • Comodo Firewall - Windows Firewall is generally good enough for most users; if you are a geek like me, you may want to have the ability to have more selective control over traffic in and out of your computer. This program has great flexibility. Never run more than one firewall on your computer at the same time... they will interfere with each other.
      Be careful if you decide to download this program. It will try to install a number of other programs. Watch each step carefully and be sure to use the Customized install to uncheck ALL other programs.
  • Full Backup:  
    • EaseUS ToDo Backup - This program allows you to create a full image duplicate of your entire hard disk onto an external portable hard drive, like a WD Passport drive.In the event of a total disk crash, you can restore to exactly the system and settings you had at the time of backup.

Ebooks and Audio Books

Did you know that there are thousands of books available for free or to borrow that you can read on your computer, tablet, or smartphone?  Your local library likely has an Ebook site where all you need is a library card to borrow books. Furthermore there are many websites that list books that are free on every subject you can imagine.
  • Kindle - One of the first Ebook readers, there is free Kindle software to load on your laptop or desktop, with which you can read Kindle formatted books purchased or borrowed from libraries. You'll need a Kindle account, but you don't need to enter a credit card if you don't want to.
  • Adobe Digital Editions -  Transfer and read ebooks in Epub format from your library or other sources. Requires you set up a free Adobe account, which will be used to decode the DRM (Digital Rights Management) that libraries put on borrowed ebooks to enable automatic expiration after 2 or 3 weeks.
  • Calibre -  The best program to exchange the different formats in the Ebook world. If you have open (non-DRM) books, you may change between Kindle and Epub format. Also good for adding cover art.

Social Communication

  • Trillian - A very versatile chat program that enables you to chat among all of the standards: GoogleTalk, AOL, Yahoo, Facebook. All in one program, you can have multiple chats running at the same time. Also available for Android devices.
  • Skype -Video chatting standard for Computer-to-Computer via the Internet. Also available for Android.


  • Genealogy: 
    • RootsMagic 6 - an outstanding family tree software for a very reasonable price. Free trial. In my opinion, much better and less expensive than Family Tree Maker.


  1. I posted a comment for this thread and it "somehow" went to the Firefox how to thread. I know most people will just Google the program they want to find the download, but if they search CNET's Downloads.com they can read reviews, specific system requirements, and pick up the free programs they want. It's been completely trustworthy for me over the years.However, as with all programs, be wary of the free ones, in the case of being bloated.Free programs have to be developed by working people who would like to get paid, so "suggested programs" sponsor the freebies. Adobe is notorious for slipping McAfee to you, in every download, and update, and its annoying. However unchecking the tick box is a small price to pay for what youre getting for free. Its best to select "customize" when given the option to "express install" or the latter from the install wizards. That way you can be sure youre not bloated with piggybacked programs.

  2. Thanks for the info! Another great screen capture program thats free is FastoneCapture. You can click and drag to get the exact size and area of the screen you want, and a mini window open to show enlargement for pixel by pixel selection. You can even notate and draw directly on the image before saving. Camstudio is good for free on screen video capture, but it needs a lot of plug ins. Maybe someone knows of a better program? Oh and I like Gimp too, but in case people are used to Photoshop, Adobe is offering CS 2 for free, since its becoming so obsolete.(I have CS5, but prefer CS2, and theres really not that much difference) You can go to the Adobe website to get it, but they warn you that it will no longer be supported.

    1. Actually, Adobe is not offering CS2 for free. They are making it available to those who already own a license. (http://forums.adobe.com/message/4985957)

      The FastoneCapture, sounds interesting, but I think the Snipping Tool that comes with Windows 8 does exactly the same thing you describe.