That's right, three posts in two days! For great justice!
So, it's been several months since I did a technological post. I'm a computer science major. This is not good. I've been feeling a bit out of the loop with my major (and a good deal of my life) since going on project, and I'm trying to get back in the swing of things with the time I have left at home. Anyway, a good deal of the problems I regularly use on my laptop are free. In fact, pretty much the only paid programs I regularly use are in Microsoft Office. Since they're all free, if any of them sound useful or cool, I've included links to download them.
1. Google Chrome
Okay, so this one isn't really freeware in the purest sense of the word since it's made by a huge corporation and all that. But hey, it's free, so onto the list it goes! Google Chrome is my internet browser of choice. It's sleek, fast, and minimalistic. When I switched from Internet Explorer to it during my freshman year at the U, it was basically a night and day difference in terms of speed. It's technically still in beta, but it works fine for everything I've tried. It focuses more on simply delivering fast internet browsing and not on clunky add-ons like Firefox.
The display aesthetic is also designed to get out of the way; the top simply has tabs, the address bar/options, and a bookmark bar that let you navigate to your favorite websites in seconds. I've moved my taskbar to the top so that my screen has nothing on the bottom when I'm online; it's really handy having everything at the top. Since it's Google's browser, the address bar also doubles as a Google search, which is really handy (you can switch it to other searches if you want). It also has other handy stuff like searchable browsing history, an incognito mode that doesn't save browsing data or cookies, and tabs you can drag around to rearrange and form new windows. It's a very secure browser that warns you of potentially harmful pages, and is efficient at cleaning up system resources when you close a tab. Basically, Chrome is a simple browser that does its job extremely well, and I can't recommend it highly enough. I compulsively install it on random computers I find; I'm doing them a favor.
2. The GIMP
Short for GNU Image Manipulation Program, the GIMP is basically a free, simplified version of Photoshop. I haven't used Photoshop much due to the cost, so I don't know exactly how they compare, but the GIMP has always met my image editing needs. It can handle everything from simple photo touchups and cropping to drawing/making art to splicing Nintendo characters together. Unless you're a professional graphic artist or something, chances are the GIMP will be able to do anything you need in the way of image editing. I'm still discovering all the features; it has tons of various filters that apply different effects. (Even a fractal explorer!) It's a massive upgrade over the also-free Paint, and certainly worth a download.
Once again, this one is kind of a cop-out since it's made by a large and well-known (and slightly infamous) corporation. But still free! I realize that most people probably already have iTunes, and if you don't you probably have a really good reason not to, but it's still some of the free software I use most, so on it goes. In case you've been living under a rock or something, iTunes lets you access, organize, and play your music library conveniently. It's also pretty much a must for putting stuff onto your iPod if you have one, which is probably why most already have it. Anyway, iTunes is nice! I like to compulsively organize my music into hundreds of playlists, which can easily be scrolled through and played via iTunes. Even better is its auto playlists, which let me get at songs of a certain genre, length, or degree of epic-ness.
One of the newer features of iTunes, which I had been eagerly awaiting for a while, is the ability to filter music in auto playlists with complex boolean expressions. For those who haven't taken multiple courses on computer logic, basically it lets you automatically sort music any way you can think of. And, of course, the iTunes store has a huge selection and lets you get more music easily and all that. Pretty much the only downfall of iTunes I can think of is that it is does take more system resources to run than more minimalistic music players, but if you have a relatively/remotely modern computer this shouldn't be an issue. Go iTunes!
Another cop-out! If you run Windows, you already have Notepad! If not, you should have some analog of it that you know about better than I. Notepad is my text editor of choice, and if you're just interesting in turning your thoughts into ones and zeros, it is superb. None of those formatting bells and whistles, just you and your keyboard. You can even turn word wrap off if you want to be ridiculous. It opens instantly and the basic text files you save with it take up virtually no disc space. I have my list of my top 10 freeware open on it now so I don't forget. Whenever I want to remember something, I just pop open Notepad and jot it down. In the way of special features, it has Undo/Redo, Find, Replace, Font (I guess it is in there, but I never worry about it), and...that's about it. You probably already have Notepad, use it!
What the GIMP is to images, Audacity is to sound files. It's a simpler, free version of fancy digital audio workstations like Protools. Did I mention it's free? It lets you open up sound files and edit them in all kinds of ways. If you happen upon a song with a skip in it, just open it in Audacity, select the skip, and delete. if you want to make a crazy medley of your favorite guitar solos, just put them together in Audacity (I have done this). You can also record audio from your computer or a microphone and edit it to remove noise or awkward pauses; do your own podcasts! The possibilities are endless. It also has some basic effects that are shared by more professional software, such as equalization, speed adjustment (make chipmunk versions of your songs!), fade in/out, and hard limiting (the tool responsible for modern music being so loud). I still haven't tried everything I can do, but even using only part of it, Audacity is extremely useful. Highly recommend.
Treesize is a lifesaver if your hard drive is getting too cluttered. It lets you display the relative sizes of the files and folders on your computer so you can see what's taking up all the space and know what and where to clean.
Ad-Aware has free and paid versions. Obviously I have the free version. It protects you from harmful software, and can also runs scans to find anything suspicious on your computer. I've found quite a few questionable files on my computer, and who knows what they might have done to me if I hadn't found and eliminated them? Anti-malware software is important, and if you're not going to pay for it get something free like Ad-Aware.
8. Google Earth
MapQuest? Google Maps? Pshaw! It's handy having a separate program for all my cartographic needs. It handles directions as well as Google Maps, and is much more customizable, letting you save locations and routes for quick reference and access all kinds of information like photos, store locations, and of course street view. It also has a measurer for finding distances and the ability to view historical imagery (not that historical, since it's all satellite photos). You can even view the sky, the Moon, and Mars!
Many of you have also likely heard of Skype. It lets you video and voice chat (assuming you have a web camera and microphone) with friends, which is great for staying in touch. My project friends and I are making pretty heavy use of it to stay close.
Okay, maybe I'm the only one who still uses instant messaging. If you do, you should definitely check out Trillian. It merges many different IM programs (AIM, Windows Messenger, Yahoo, Skype, and even Facebook chat) into one program so you can sign into them all quickly and have all your contacts in one place. Very handy.
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