Shaping up that new PC – Top 10 Free Software Packages

Free SoftwareTop 10 Free Software Packages

It’s about that time for me once again, my PC is more than a couple years old and on its last legs and well, its just about croaked (fading display, noisy hard drive, slow wifi, and a recent history of inexplicably rebooting all of a sudden being the generous guy that I am this qualifies me for a new PC right? That means a blank slate on which to enforce my technology will and I’m cheap so I want free software.

Typically setting up a new computer goes through five stages:

  • Denial: I’ve got a new computer. Nothing can go wrong now!
  • Anger: No, I don’t want to subscribe to twenty preinstalled software packages. No, I don’t want updates. No, I don’t want a 60-day trial of anything. OMG there are HOW MANY security updates?!
  • Bargaining: I’d do anything to be able to use this thing!
  • Depression: I’ve been uninstalling bloatware preinstalled software for 17 hours now. If I have to restart one more time, grrrrrr!
  • Acceptance: OK, let’s install some good stuff now!

When you’ve set up all the updates, uninstalled all the crapware, entered your wifi password, and set your screensaver, it’s time to make that shiny new PC do stuff, and for me the doing starts with installing rather select list “no charge free software” applications.

1. Handbrake

Free Software for Shrinking Video Files

You wish to put video clips on your ipod, ipad or just want to save space on your hard drive then the free software Handbrake fits the bill. Handbrake is easy to make use (and for the geeks it has a lot of video transcoding software capabilities that let you to take care of all sorts of settings like muxing, bitrates, and so on. Handbrake captures from DVDs or video on your hard drive, so whatever the source, you can likely get it onto your Zune (seriously does anyone still own a Zune?)

2. Picasa

Free Software for Graphics

You may have thought I ‘d have picked “The GIMP” for a free software graphics editor, but its over kill for the majority of people who don’t need that kind of power. For organizing pictures and applying the occasional edit I utilize Picasa for a free application. The interface is simple with built in links to Google’s online Picasa Web Albums service, so I can easily share images or groups of photos with family and friends.

3. Firefox

Free Software for Web Browsing

IE8 is a HUGE enhancement over previous versions of Web Explorer. But quite frankly I’ve had enough of IE. It’s still stuffed with the exact same nuisances as always, and its features are so dense and obscure I do not think anyone will figure any of them out before its time to get a new PC.

Firefox, on the other hand, is just like a comfortable pair of shoes– it works well, it makes sense, and it’s better with every update and it is completely free software. And naturally I pack on the lots of free software extensions and make it not just a browser but a high powered research tool and web authoring tool (with Scribefire and FireFTP plugins).

4. OpenOffice

Free Software for Productivity

I own a copy of ten different versions of Microsoft Office and got tired of the expensive updates making it harder and harder to use. I recommend OpenOffice. The cost-free software productivity suite includes a word processing program, spreadsheet, presentation creator, database, and graphics editor– everything needed to get work done. Some things it does WAY better than MS Office, most things it does simply as well. And it’s some $ 400 less than the comparable version of MS Office the proof is in the pudding if you want to save money.

5. Digsby or Pidgin

Free Software for IM Organization

What instant messaging network is everyone you would ever wish to chat with on? Wait, you want that but they’re not all on the same network? Argggg!

If your friends, family, and other contacts are spread around a number of various IM networks, you’ll w install either Digsby or Pidgin, both of which are great and free software IM tools that connect to many of the available IM networks. I use Digsby, since I like the method I can theme the interface (with huge, chunky text for my old eyes!), and since it includes Facebook support, which Pidgin does not (however Pidgin works with a great deal of networks Digsby does not support– it’s a question of which ones you want or have to make use of). In both, you can log into all your IM networks at the exact same time, and see all your contacts despite which network they’re on.

6. Thunderbird

Free Software for Email

Although Microsoft’s Outlook Express got a brand-new name and a facelift in Vista, it continues to be the exact same piece of cr – … er, software it’s always been, with all its limitations. Outlook is terrific for businesses, however it’s overkill for most people– and can bog down even effective systems. Mozilla’s Thunderbird occupies the “perfect free software” chair, offering an interface like the Outlook/Outlook Express interface and with lots and lots of power.

7. Skype

Free Software for VOIP

What’s Skype”?” Skype is a free software messaging and voice-over-Internet-Protocol (VOIP) system that works, and works very very well well. Voice or video phone calls to other Skype users are cost-free, no matter where they are and where you are. The optional SkypeIn and SkypeOut services let you accept telephone calls from and make calls to regular phones (landlines or mobile) for extremely affordable rates if you want to add that capability to this free software application. I utilize it all the time, too, to interview sources for articles and to sometimes tape my podcasts (making use of the CallGraph plugin, a complimentary Skype call recorder).

8. VLC

Free Software Media Player

While it does not have the design and flair of iTunes or Windows Media Member, VLC has those other players beat hands-down for one excellent reason: it plays everything. Oddball video formats, open source audio codecs, Flash video clips– whatever you have VLC plays it. For me, VLC is THE must-have video player and it’s FREE Software.

9. Panda Cloud

Free Software for Antivirus

First off uninstall Norton or McAfee (the two antivirus expensive “trial” packages), the Windows Protection Center will immediately complain that your system is vulnerable. So, time to set up a new antivirus. I used to recommend and use the free AVG Antivirus, but I’ve unfortunately at some point– in every variation of AVG I have actually used– it stops updating automatically. So a few months ago switched to Panda’s free Cloud Antivirus, and I’ve been extremely delighted: updates happen, problems are quietly taken care of, and it only ever bugs me if it requires my attention . This is the free software antivirus I have actually installed on all my PCs because it runs practically unseen.

10. CDBurnerXP

Free Software for burning CD’s and DVD’s

CDBurnerXP is NOT restricted to burning CDs and not restricted to just systems running Windows XP. It burns CDs and DVDs, including Blu-Ray and HD-DVD discs, ISOs and other disc images– heck, it even supports LightScribe! A great free software replacement for expensive (and notoriously bug-prone) Nero and Roxio suites.

Free Software Summary:

As soon as I have actually put in those 10 free software apps on my new computer , I’ve got a respectable system set up, and I’m ready get to work. What about you? What free software goes to the top of your list when you’re building out a new computer system?