Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Standard PC Software I Use

I frequently get asked what software should I install on my PC. I also frequently set up machines for people. In either case, here is the checklist I use when advising or installing software on a new PC. I never save copies of free software, rather opting for downloading the latest copy at the time of installation. There are no URLs in this list, but if you search Google for the names in bold font, you will find the latest and greatest reference to the item on the web.
  1. AVG, an excellent free Virus Protection system. It's the one that I use. Better than the commercial virus protections because it is simple. This is the very first thing I make sure is running. Actually, on Windows XP, there is a firewall that runs as soon as the machine is started so that when you first connect to the Internet, you machine will be protected.

  2. Ad-aware, an excellent free anti-spyware program I use. Run this once a month or more frequently if you feel besieged by spontaneous ads appearing in windows on your machine. There are a variety of pop up ad blockers in place, but you don't need to worry about them.

  3. Update to the latest version of Windows XP or Vista using the Microsoft Windows Update site. I also do a little tuning of the desktop and toolbars. I usually make the desktop a solid color because it is less confusing. I enable the quickstart toolbar (left side of the bottom toolbar) and add several vital applications and remove all others. I also create a new toolbar typically named "stuff" and put it at the top of the display. This is where I put shortcuts to more frequently used applications. You can add shorts here just by dragging them to the toolbar. I usually make that toolbar autohide so that it isn't in the way -- just move your mouse to the top of the screen and it will appear. If the machine has a small display, I also make the bottom toolbar autohide.

  4. Several small improvements to Windows UI for control freaks like me:
    1. Single click to open is a setting for windows that changes the normal double click to open making the entire user interface more like that of the web. I find it much better to have one paradigm for getting things done, rather than having to think Do I double click or single click? all the time.
    2. Allsnap will help you keep your desktop tidy by urging icons and windows towards a grid.
    3. Power Menu adds some useful functions to the menu you get when you right click on the icon in the upper left corner of a window. Two that I particularly like are 1) the ability to keep a window on top of everything else and 2) the ability to reduce a window to the tray as a small icon rather than in the list of running applications in the task bar.
    4. Task Shuffle allows you to rearrange the horizontal list of running apps in the task bar: drag the app to the position you want.
    5. Tweak how your task bar appears: This is a list of useful tweaks to make the controls on your Windows XP machine (Start menu, task bar) be just what you want them to be.
    6. TweakUI: This is one of the unofficial WIndows XP powertools that allows you to change a number of the settings used in controlling Windows XP. There are some other interesting tools in the "powertools" set that you can get on the Microsoft Website.

  5. Foxit Reader PDF Reader: Better than Adobe Reader

  6. PDFCreator: A great tool for creating PDF's from any application that can print. Essential.

  7. Adobe Flash: Essential

  8. Firefox and configure it with several Firefox extensions that I find very useful:
    1. Add Bookmark Here 2: Allows you to add a bookmark to a folder in your Firefox bookmarks
    2. Dictionary Search: Allows you to highlight text on a web page and right click choose this and get a definition from the American Heritage Dictionary
    3. Forecastfox Enhanced: Puts weather information at the bottom of your Firefox browser
    4. Go Up: A simple addition in the top toolbar which allows you to go up on level in a web site's directory structure. Useful if you go to a page and then wonder what else is at this web site.
    5. IE Tab: Allows you to say "Always show this web site in a tab that runs the Internet Explorer browser engine. Useful for web sites that only work with IE.
    6. IE View: Allows you to start up IE showing the current page (Right Click to invoke)
    7. SearchBar Autosizer: The search bar (Google, or which ever search you prefer (it's configurable)) at the top right of the Browser display will expand as needed when you type characters of a search string
    8. Tab Mix Plus: Additional functions which allow you to change the behavior of how tabs are controlled and created.
    9. Tiny Menu: Makes the menu at the top of the browser take up much less space.
    10. XMarks: Synchronizes book marks between multiple computers.

  9. MS Office 2000 (Word, Excel, Powerpoint)

  10. iTunes, essential

  11. Google Earth, magical application

  12. Stickies, small notes you can leave for yourself. In this version, there is an alarm system so you can leave notes for yourself that pop up at a given time. Just to be clear, they come from http://www.zhornsoftware.co.uk/

  13. Yahoo Widgets, desktop widgets. Although it says desktop I find that my desktop gets pretty cluttered and so I opt for hiding them in a toolbar which is docked on the right side of the screen. Slide your mouse over to the right edge to see them. I usually download and enable the following widgets:
    1. Clock
    2. WiFi meter
    3. CPU load

  14. Google ScreenSaver along with some nice images. This screen saver has two great features. First, it is almost as good as the Macintosh OSX panning/zooming screensaver -- the best version of this I've ever seen on a PC. Second -- and this is better than the Mac OSX screensaver -- is that this screensaver allows you to draw images from a wide variety of sources and reference styles, including images in your file system (pretty standard) as well as the really innovative Photo RSS feeds. I have initialized the feed to draw from a flickr.com RSS feed. To change where images come from, right click on the desktop and choose screensaver. The rest is obvious.

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