Adding on to the prior post of what sort of hardware technology is being used to get through this trip, here’s a post of a little bit of insight of software used on my laptop. While each persons needs are different, most of these applications and utilities can come in handy for a wide range of users.Most of the software listed here is Open Source, meaning that the code utilized to write the product can be viewed by all, modified and enhanced should one desire. With that being said, it also means that it is free. I’m a Windows OS user, however have the skill set to operate various other operating systems found on mainframes, servers, and commonly found in fashion shows. I use Windows 7, as it offers a fast, stable environment. The hardware is readily available, and I’ve built a computing environment that can be ported from machine to machine with little fuss and hassle, often in half an hour or less should I ever encounter hardware failure. Most of these products can be used with our Apple OSX, or under Linux
Web browsing – Mozilla Firefox (Free)
With roots going back into the Mid 90’s, the Mozilla foundation consists of a core set of developers, utilizing their technology to package now defunct browsers such as Netscape. Now in their 3rd major release, with version 4 looming around the bend, this browser allows for ultimate customization for your user experience by means of altering the look via Themes, and functionality by means of Extensions. It’s fast, as lightweight on memory as you’d like it to be, and doesn’t tie into the backend like Microsoft’s Internet Explorer does, limiting the amount of damage that can be done on the core Operating System. I’ve changed specific features under the hood to retrieve data more efficiently, utilize disk space and memory in a reasonable matter, and allowed the usage of experimental add-ons to be installed. These changes are to be detailed in a further ‘nerd’ post. I currently use the following extensions: CustomizeGoogle, Download Statusbar, DownThemAll!, Firesizer, Fission, GUIConfig, Keyconfig, Omnibar, PasswordMaker, PDF Download, StatusbarEX, StumbleUpon, SwiftTabs, TabMix Plus, TwitterBar, and finally, to sync bookmarks and settings across multiple installations, Weave. They’ve even got a release that segregates the browser from plugins like Adobe Flash, making sure the browser doesn’t crash as often.
Mail – Mozilla Thunderbird (Free)
Another rock solid product from the Mozilla team, this full featured mail reader allows me to sync my mailbox onto multiple computers, while also giving the functionality to ensure my calendar and contact information is updated across each installation as well, with a central repository accessed via a web browser. In their 3rd release as well, it offers a much more powerful solution than other free products, and blows Microsoft’s “Mail” or “Outlook Express” product out of the water. They’re quick to update and it offers similar theme and extension support as Firefox. A portable version exists to allow one to run the application from a USB stick, and I’ll detail that in a further post. I use minimal extensions, however to connect into my mail providers system I use the following: Calendar Tweaks, Canadian English Dictionary, Compact Header, Google Contacts, Image Zoom, Lightning, Provider for Google Calendar,au
Ad Blocking – Ad Muncher (30 Day Trial – $25 thereafter for life)
Hands down, the best $25, I’ve spent in 10 years, and that was in 2000. I’m still using the same product, same license code, and continue to save countless amount of screen real estate, gigabytes of saved data, and averted endless frustration from glaring banner ads, pop-up windows, and redirect nuisances. Seriously, I can’t say enough about this product, which is regularly updated for new types of advertisements, and also contains a feature allowing one to randomize their web browsing experience confusing servers as to your geographical identity. You can set it to activate on a per site basis, or allow specific types of ads to come through. It uses minimal memory and downloads and installs within seconds. If there’s one product you need to look into – it’s this. If you buy with this link, it kicks back a bit of bucks over to me helping me meet my goal to ride around the world, but please don’t think I’m pumping this product up just for that reason. It’s really that awesome.
Mapping – Garmin MapSource (Free – Requires Maps)
This lightweight application synchronizes with my Garmin Edge 705 GPS device to assist in planning and mapping routes. Typically, you’ll need to purchase the maps separately for each area, and make sure that you’ve purchased the map that can be read in the program, rather than solely your device, or you can download free maps that I’ve detailed in another post. When I’m done with planning, I can send the data over to my device in a matter of seconds. There are a few other products that I use as well that came with my device – Training Center being one of them logging statistics such as calories burned, distance, elevation ascended and descended among others.
Development – XAMPP (Free)
A collection of applications and utilities that can be easily brought online, it contains a web, mail, database and command interpreter for web based development. I’ve always got a couple projects on the go, and this allows me while on the road to test my code and ideas without having to be connected to the internet, saving on space, bandwidth, and allowing for quicker development times.
Photo Enhancement – DxO Optics Pro (30 day Trial, $199 for the current release)
This program, introduced to me by the folks over at Going Slowly, performs repairs and adjustments to photographs taken. After a brief setup period, it automatically adjusts light levels, colour saturation and lens deficiencies before resaving in a variety of file formats. It operates on a batch level, allowing a computer to process hundreds of photos in a short period of time. Side by side comparisons of my photos have yielded clearer, brighter, and much more savoury results than the original. It costs a bit of money for this program, and while other programs can alter the image, I feel this program proves it worth by offering features not seen elsewhere.
Picture Manipulation – Paint.NET (Free)
Originally developed as a project by students in university, this mature open-source picture editor is easy to use, install, and reads and writes a variety of formats. It offers a feature set that can be compared to pricy alternatives and is regularly updated and supported. It can also use plugins by developers for features not normally included in the program, like reading Adobe Photoshop files for example. For my limited knowledge of Picture editing, this satisfies my needs and then some.
Music Manager– Mediamonkey (Free, $ for a Gold Edition with a few extra features)
I’ll be the first one to say it – I Hate ITunes. It’s limited feature set, ugly interface, and frustrating synchronization capabilities have turned me off for years. Luckily, there are alternatives. This powerful music library manager offers lightning quick retrieval of music (I have a library of over 100,000 songs), the ability to synchronize to a variety of Mp3 playing devices (including the Apple IPod, IPhone, and ITouch!) and perform manipulation of the internal tags containing information related to the Artist, Title of song, even the Beats Per Minute (BPM) should you require that info. It supports macros and plugins should you wish to have a feature not found in the main program. I for example use key presses to alter the internal data and send the files to specific folders and directories on my hard disk. It also is compatible popular music player Winamp’s plugins should you wish to stream media to an internet server, view visuals, or enhance the sound. If you dislike the interface, it can be altered to your liking and the overall appearance can be changed by themes.
Music Manipulation – Mp3Gain (Free)
Every song has a different audible level, sometimes spread apart by many levels of loudness, jarring the listener from whatever they were doing, scrambling to turn the volume down, or ripping the headphones out of their ears. Not only can it damage the speakers, it’s frustrating always having to adjust your speakers volume. Mp3Gan analyzes your media collection, and non-destructively (meaning the change can be reverted) adds a value to the file that is read by software media players, and hardware Mp3 devices to ensure that each song regardless of what album, source, or release they come from all have the same perceived loudness. It’s a must. Do your ears a favor.
Video – VLC Player (Free)
Small, lightweight, open source, and regularly updated this media player seems to play anything you throw at it, with features allowing you to modify the output on screen, adjust the audio timing to the video if it is off by milliseconds (or in some cases 5 seconds based on a recent watch). It can latch onto internet streams and also allows one to save the content watched into file formats for later viewing or editing. It will take advantage of hardware acceleration found in your graphics card, for those CPU heavy High Definition streams as well.
Photo Gallery – Windows Live Photo Gallery (Free)
Part of the free Windows Live application suite, this little gem of a program allows quick and easy viewing of all photos on your system. There are countless other programs that do similar tasks, some better in some areas, however the reason why I use this program is the ability to send the photos directly to Flickr, an online photo service. It’s no nonsense way of selection, categorization, and rating allows me to get quickly find what I’m looking for, and send it online for you the reader to view. Other optional components of the Live suite are the DVD Maker, offering basic video editing capabilities, and Writer, which allows one to write blog posts, and automatically upload the post to whatever blogging platform you use (I’m writing this post with the app).
Instant Messaging – Pidgin (Free)
First there was ICQ, then there became MSN Messenger, then Google Talk, then Facebook Chat, then argh! I can’t handle all these seperate messaging programs! Pidgin solves this by integrating multiple networks into one client. Open source, and updated on a semi regular basis, it does a great job at what it’s supposed to. For tweakers like myself it allows one to change functionality and look, to integrate into your environment seamlessly. It’s memory usage is tiny, and it uses little CPU resources. There are a few other programs that perform similar tasks, but none that offer portability on USB sticks, and customization options found here.
Telephony – Skype (Free, Monthly Fee applies for certain features)
Arguably the most well known Internet Telephony application, this allows one to communicate verbally, and even visually should your computer have a camera to another user across the internet. If they don’t have a computer, Skype also offers a monthly service where one can make calls to cellular phones and landlines for a very low cost. You get services typical to your local provider, such as Voicemail, Caller ID, and can also use the service for sharing your screen, sending files back and forth, and instant messaging. I’ve even got this application on my cellular phone, so that I don’t have to be stuck in front of a computer to speak to my contacts. The voice quality sounds great and the interface is easy to use for whatever skill level. You can even find handsets that are Skype capable should you not want to scream into a microphone, allowing the public to hear the the recipient should you not have a commonly available headset.
Productivity – Open Office (Free)
Why pay $300 for a word processor, spreadsheet, and presentation application when you can get the same functionality for free? Sun Microsystems funds this free Office suite that runs on multiple computer platforms, and provides functionality for people looking to get things done. It will read and write all the formats that Microsoft Office will, and even some legacy formats should you find a document done decades ago. It can be customized with various extensions and plugins, and while some of its functionality isn’t as streamlined as one would hope, you might want to check this product out as it does a bang up job on the majority of users needs.
There are a few other utilities that get used, but are just being shoehorned into the misc section. 7-Zip does an excellent job of opening compressed file formats (.RAR, .ZIP, .7Z etc), SharpKeys allows one to remap physical keyboard buttons, good if you have a weird keyboard layout and frequently press a key by accident resulting in utter chaos on your screen. UTorrent and Soulseek satisfy the need to download files from various websites and sources, To remove junk and temporary files from my system Cleanup! offers a no-nonsense approach to this problem, and Fling scans directories on my computer and ensures that they are uploaded to a backup location on the internet on a regular basis out of pure paranoia of all out data loss. I don’t use Antivirus, the tax it imposes on my system resources is far too much for me to accept paired with proper computing practices necessitates my requirement. There are a few good free ones out there by Microsoft, Avast, and AVG.
Hopefully this article helps you compute that much easier!