Freeware programs that increase your productivity
I do a thorough selection of programs I install (especially if they’re free) mainly because you have to have a balance between the number of installed programs and your computers’ resources. Every program consumes memory, cpu and this reflects in the performance of your overall system. I have a list of (mainly) free programs that I use and make me more productive, and thought it would be nice to share them in case you, my reader(s), didn’t hear about them. So, here’s my list of free programs:
- Maxthon2 – this is a freeware browser which was named in its beginnings MyIE2 but because of the confusion with IE they had to rename it. After many (many) tests I ended up using it as my main browser because of several features that come installed by default and increase my online productivity. Such features: super drag-and-drop (drag a keyword and is searched through Google in a separate tab, drag a link and it opens in background), seamless integration with RoboForm (one of the best password managers), reduced memory footprint compared to FireFox (this is discussable, but one thing you’ll notice about Maxthon2 is that when minimized it "flushes" the memory used – feature that FireFox doesn’t have), the Paste and Go feature (copy a word/link from somewhere else, right-click on the URL field and select Paste and Go to open that link or search for that keyword – ok, it might not be that original since Opera had it first but still counts), uses the same layout engine as Internet Explorer (it’s a plus in many cases, one being the smooth integration with RoboForm), handles feeds quite well (an RSS reader on the left hand side panel), offers a built-in screenshot utility, and has many more features that are however common among other browsers too (multi-tab browsing, mouse gestures). It’s one of the most popular (if not the most popular) browsers in China (its origins).
- AVG8 (free edition) – The best antivirus I ever tested (and used for a while) is NOD32 considering the ratio between detection rate and resources used. However, since they don’t provide a free version, I had to choose one between avast! antivirus, AVG and Avira AntiVir. After some tests I decided AVG is the way to go and since then I never had a problem with any viruses (I use additional security programs though, mentioned below).
- Spybot Search and Destroy – This is a free anti-spyware program I use from time to time to scan my system for "unwanted goodies". It does a good job, but when the problem is more acute, I also use HijackThis.
- Autoruns and Process Explorer – Developed by Sysinternals (now part of Microsoft) these programs are a must if you want to have control over what programs run at startup, what services are enabled and other information about your system. This way you can get rid easier of the ever-present qtask autorun, or any adobe speed-up one which are consuming resources practically for nothing (merely 2 examples, many more other programs add small processes at startup without asking).
- DeskPins – this small utility makes any window topmost, so you can have your own Always On Top option for any program window. This is very productive when you want to copy/paste things for example. I’ve covered it in the past too (an alternative to it would be the PowerMenu, this program adding the Always on Top option to the right-click menu of your window).
- Ditto – This is an extension (free) for the windows clipboard. This lets you access any information that you store in your clipboard (text, images, html), not only the latest item.
- Freenote – It’s important to stay organized, but I don’t like having to use a program that requires more time scheduling what you have to do than it actually saves you time (hint Outlook). So, I use Freenote to put sticky notes on my desktop, you simply double click the tray icon and a new freenote shows on your desktop where you can put any schedules you want. Just make sure when you install the program that you don’t install the toolbar it comes with too (there’s an option checked by default) – unless you want to (there are other ways to support the developer, a donation being one).
- Unlocker – Ever wanted to delete a file and got the "Access is denied" error? Well this is where Unlocker comes in, it lets you "unlock" any file that is locked by other windows programs and you can delete it without headaches.
- Total Commander – Best file manager, an excellent replacement for Windows Explorer. It’s not free though, but one of the rare commercial programs that deserve being purchased. If you cannot pay for it, you’ll have to stick with clicking on the "press the x button to start the program" nag screen.
- WinRAR – again, not a free program, but an wonderful zip/rar compression/decompression tool. And, there is a way to get WinRAR version 3.51 for free here.
- Foxit PDF reader – Adobe Reader is a bloated 20-something-MB download that lets you open PDF files, so if you are looking for a replacement Foxit PDF reader is the solution.
- Windows Live Writer – If you publish a blog this is a must-have tool. Even if it’s developed by Microsoft, this is an excellent free destkop blog-publishing program. It lets you publish blog entries without logging in to Blogger, Windows Live Spaces, LiveJournal, TypePad, WordPress, Community Server and other blogging platforms. What’s best is the support for image uploading too (via Picasa for platforms other than Windows Live Spaces). There are some plugins for it too, but the main program is good enough.
- Skype – Everybody knows (or should know) about Skype, but I couldn’t leave it behind because it’s an excellent program that lets you make VOIP calls for free.
- RoboForm – Not free (ok, there’s a free basic version, but kind of limited) but RoboForm it’s the best password manager. Integrated within Maxthon2 and you’re worry free about losing your passwords. Lets you save filled forms too, add identities (saving you from entering every time your name, address, …) and nevertheless save logins. Can be used successfully as a bookmark manager too for password protected websites. If you’re considering paying for it, there are some roboform discounts available.
- uTorrent with PeerGuardian 2 – uTorrent is the smallest BitTorrent Client, but I always recommend using PeerGuardian 2 with it too (it’s an IP blocker, mainly it blocks incoming and outgoing connections based on an IP blocklist – that can keep out of your computer government institutions, anti peer-to-peer companies and many others).
- ScreenshotCaptor – it’s a free screenshot taking utility, a good alternative to commercial programs such as Snagit, that lets you capture images from your desktop.
- Colorpix – This is a useful little utility (for designers mainly) that lets you grab the color code of any pixel from your screen.
- FireFox with FireBug installed – I use Maxthon2 for most of my browsing, but for web development I used the combination of FireFox and FireBug. This lets me see in real-time how a change in the CSS file will modify the look of the website I’m working on – excellent tool that surpasses by much Internet Explorer’s Developer Toolbar.
- TaskbarShuffle – this is a program that sits in your tray and lets you organize the way the windows are shown in your Taskbar, if you want to move a window in front or after another one you can do it, as well as closing a window by double-clicking on it or clicking the middle button (just like in the browser).
- CDBurnerXP – Why pay for expensive CD/DVD burning tools like Nero when this freeware will do the same thing (well, about 90% of what Nero does). It will let you burn CDs and DVDs (don’t be fooled by its name, it burns dvds too), including Blu-Ray and HD-DVD discs. Plus, it lets you create ISO files and also burn them. An excellent free CD/DVD burner.
- mPlayer – This is a free movie player that plays about everything and runs on both Windows and Linux. It plays mpeg/vob, avi, ogg/ogm, vivo, asf/wma/wmv, realmedia movies, videocd/svcd/dvd/3vix/divx movies and many more formats supported. The best part is that it comes with a set of pre-installed codecs that play every movie (almost).
If you have any freeware programs to share please do so.