Friday, January 13, 2006

Recommended software

Wow, 6 months since my last post. Better be getting on with it...

I've decided to post a list of my tried and tested, and recommended applications for your PC (Windows ;) ). Believe me, I've been through a lot!

The key things I judge software on is size, speed, tidyness (does not make a mess of your PC, leaving unnecessary files everywhere), and is easy to use, and gets the job done.

I have singled out one or two pieces of software for almost any task you will need to do. All are *free*, and where possible, open-source.

Audio Tools

Audacity is quite simply one of the best (free, open source) audio editors around. It supports MP3, OGG, as well as standard uncompressed WAV formats. It is extendable with plugins of various sorts, which are linked to from the project's website. [The currently available beta version is a bit buggy, so treat with care, and save regularly.]

The best tool for converting your precious CDs into digital audio files (MP3 or OGG and more). Development has not been active on the project or several years, but the last release still works perfectly. I couldn't live without it. :-)

This excellent utility records audio as heard through your speaker. It is therefore possible to record all manner of audio streams, the output of music players etc. straight to Ogg (and MP3 of course). It supports timed recording, normalization, yet is small and simple to use.

Instant Messaging

Miranda IM
Miranda IM beats the competition hands down for fitting the criteria I listed at the top of this post. It is a multi-protocol instant messenger, built on the idea of modules called plugins. It is easy to make Miranda do everything, or nothing, depending on which you prefer. The testing builds at the Development Blog are well worth a try, since a lot of progress has been made since the last full release. Download size is ~1 MB.

If Miranda is not for you (I admit, it can be a test for new users sometimes), then Trillian will do. It is not small and fast, but it does the job well, easily, and is also extendable with plugins.

Media Playing

Winamp 2.9
Yep, you read correctly. I recommend the 2.9 version, as it fits my criteria listed. The latest version is 5, which adds a lot of features I know I will never want in a music player (v5 can play video amongst other enhancements). V2.9 however, just before the v3 release, is small, fast, and uncluttered. It is skinnable, with .wsz skins, not the new v3+ format (The old format skins are still in abundance, just make sure the skin ends in .wsz. Two skins I recommend (sorry, I hate the default one... :-) ):
SumeAmp and

Photo Management

Canon ZoomBrowser Ex
Ok ok, it only comes with Canon cameras, but I just had to congratulate it for it's ease of use, and intuitiveness. If only more programs were so simple... :-)

If you don't have a Canon camera, Picasa is surely the best alternative you will find. It allows extensive scanning of your hard disk to recover those pictures you even forgot you had! It allows filters, special effects, and photo restoration from within it's built-in editor. An essential to anyone with a digital camera.

Image Editing

An open-source image editor that easily rivals the leading retail software on the market. All manner of image editing tasks are possible, from photo retouching, to creating works of art on your PC! It can read practically every format of image file you will ever recieve.
I must confess that this program is not small, and older computers may struggle a bit. Serious image editing also requires quite an amount of free space on your hard disk (that's your cue to get tidying!)

Internet Clients

A *very* small and very fast browser, built on the same HTML rendering engine as Firefox by Mozilla. It is less feature packed than Firefox, resulting in significantly faster startup and page load times (especially on slower PCs).

Mozilla Firefox
The ever popular alternative to the 'Blue e'. Certainly an excellent application and browser, if a bit demanding on slow PCs sometimes. That aside, you can't beat the extensions available on the mozilla website. Firefox is the new browser of the masses.

Mozilla Thunderbird
The perfect email client has very good junk mail filtering as standard, that learns from what you mark as junk, and what you don't. One person's treasured mail is another person's spam eh? It is quite happy on all but the oldest PCs.

The best FTP client, for uploading your website to the internet, use this.

System Security

AVG Antivirus
A popular virus scanner since the early days of the internet, AVG remains the most popular free virus scanner available currently. Free regular updates are automatically downloaded on a 'set and forget' schedule.

A popular, and easy to use firewall. Simple guided configuration. Zonealarm is not small, but manages to just strike the balance between ease of use and resources.

Kerio Personal Firewall
The (very slightly) more technical user may prefer the extra control that Kerio gives to you. It uses about the same amount of system resources as Zonealarm. When I say technical user, Kerio is quite adequate for most people to use, but it lacks some graphical extravagence that Zonealarm has. Whether this is a reason to use it or not is your choice. :-)


You've probably heard of Winzip. If you've used it, you'll know the annoying box that pops up asking you to buy it. Well, there is no need, since Filzip handles all the compressed file formats you'll ever encounter. It is small fast and free.


If you just love playing with new and exciting programs, I have those too!

Google Earth
Amazing. Spin the earth, and the zoom down to ground level. In most major cities the aerial photographs are detailed enough to see people walking down the street. Find your house!

The all-in-one utility that does the small things everyone else missed. It allows you to create shortcuts on your desktop or taskbar to perform commands from turning off your monitor or PC, to ejecting your CD drive tray. Remarkable.

Caligari Truespace 3
This excellent *free* modelling software is easily the easiest to use free package available. It is an old version of a commercial package. Caligari now give Version 3 away for free, to promote the exciting things their product can do. Worth a play with.

Abyss Web Server
The best HTTP server there is. Small, fast and free (X1 is free, X2 supports several more features, but is not)


Er... I have none, can't help you here. Try taking a look outside once in a while...

Not Recommended

And which software would I never let near my PC? Here goes:


This piece of proprietary software is used for viewing/receiving streams of audio or video from websites. It is designed to ensure that recording of the audio or video is not possible. As you can imagine, it has not succeeded. :-)
Why don't I like it? It is large, slow, and funded by adverts. Yes, every so often it pops up a box on your desktop with a random advertisment in it. That's what I call privacy.
The alternative? RealAlternative uses the drivers from Realplayer, but uses them in a new media player, Media Player Classic. Having tried this, it is also hard to recommend as good software, so experiment yourself if you must.

MSN Messenger

A piece of Microsoft's finest, an large, noisy and generally annoying application. Also supported by adverts in the main window. There are plenty of alternatives (see above for 2^)

Generally, I keep all shareware at arms length from my PC. They tend to write files to all corners of your hard disk in order to keep track of whether they are registered. They also often make a mess of the Windows registry, often a cause conflicts and slow-downs. (Not *all* shareware can be tarred with this brush :-) )

This is *not* an exhaustive post. I'm sure I'll come back and edit it 1000 times, so I'll let you know when it's changed.