I was going for a fresh start with my computer. It’s been running slow. There’s a lot of stuff installed that I don’t need. So I did some autumn cleaning, opening the case to dust it up and then doing a fresh format and install of Windows 7 Ultimate. (All my documents, photos, videos, music, and other files are stored off the “C” drive. (See this article for more info on “Clean Starting” your PC)

Besides Office and iTunes, and this handy guide I created a while back, here are some more programs (in no particular order) that you should download and install:

10. Foxit Reader

Adobe/Acrobat Reader was a default for me for years. Every time I configured a new computer, it was one of the first programs I installed. Until now.

Thanks to MaximumPC, a magazine I’ve read and subscribed to for years, I found Foxit Reader. Apparently, 100 million other people have found it too.

It’s fast and light, allowing you to view PDFs with just 3MB of memory used. It’s free, but there’s also a professional version for $40 if you want to do some PDF editing. I think I’m in love.

One warning, when you install it, it does try to bundle a browser toolbar with it. Just uncheck that option.

9. 7-Zip

Sure every new version of Windows supports Zip files natively, but what about the occasional RAR or ISO file? What about GZIP and TAR files?

7-Zip is a tiny program that integrates into the Windows 7 shell to give you native-looking support for all these formats. It is a great program that does not hog resources.

8. Filezilla

Sure iCloud and Dropbox are great, but I back up a lot of my files on personal webservers, and I still like FTP as the way to go when it comes to accessing those files. It also comes in handy for editing website files on the fly.

Filezilla is the best way to use FTP in Windows. You can download a client and a server app for free under the GNU license. It’s a great way to handle files.

7. Notepad++

Good ole Notepad. One of the last unchanged vestiges of Windows 3.1 days. Personally, I love Notepad, but my eyes don’t. Neither does my head after a migraine induced by a difficult CSS editing session.

Notepad++ is just that. It is a basic text editor that does two things that we tech nerds need: It supports more than one document, and it highlights HTML and programming code in easily recognizable colors.

It is a smart text editor that is also amazingly fast, almost as fast and unassuming as the original Notepad. But once you install Notepad++, you’ll know why I’m never going back.

6. Audacity

This isn’t new at all, but if it is to you, then shame!

I love Sony’s Acid software for music projects and anything that requires a lot of power, but for everything else, including podcasts and streaming interviews, it’s Audacity. Audacity does for free almost as much as hundreds of dollars worth of audio software can do, and it’s so easy to use.

Audacity is a default app for Emerson College as well, and if the journalism and multimedia students are using it, you should too.

The only pain is that you have to download the MP3 plugin separately.

5. Gimp or Photoshop Elements?

Gimp is the open-source response to $500 for Adobe Photoshop. It’s very decent software. It is what Open Office is to Microsoft Office. Powerful, but lacking in the polish department. It’s also free.

If you want to buy something, Photoshop Elements is an under-$100 alternative to the full version, and it’s worth a glance. If you primarily do photo editing, retouching, and the like, Elements is really all you need. It gives you layers and most of the tools you use in the full version.

Still…I don’t use either. I admit it. I have the full version. I use it for Blast’s graphical needs, and I also need things like Adobe InDesign and Contribute.

4. Secunia PSI

This is a new one for me, but I’ve started to really enjoy it. Secunia Personal Software Inspector keeps tabs on all the software you have installed on your computer and checks them against a database of known vulnerabilities. It will tell you if you need a new patch or if your older software is at end-of-life, possibly leaving it vulnerable to exploits.

You can disable the tray icon and just scan your computer manually, but I have it running right now, it it only uses 1.2MB of memory, so I’m happy. When you’re doing a clean start install of Windows, it’s great to have this one running, because it will tell you what you still have to patch, even when you think you’re done.

3. bioPDF

Here’s another one that goes against the Adobe grain. bioPDF is a PDF Printer that lets you do just that. Everyone runs into a time when they need to create a PDF, and there are a lot of bloated or adware-filled options out there. This is not one of those. This is a quick, tiny, and free PDF creator.

2. GnuCash

We all need a little accounting software in our lives. For most people, that’s Quicken. For small business owners, it’s QuickBooks. But both cost money, and people tend to think they have to buy it new all the time, because new versions keep coming out every year.

I use GnuCash. It’s larger than your usual free app (about 400MB) but that works in its favor in this case. GnuCash is also the only title of its kind to make PCMag.com’s Best Free Software of 2011 list.

The best thing is, if you have an old version of Quicken of Microsoft Money, you can import your old backup files into GnuCash.

1. TrueCrypt

TrueCrypt is an encryption program. Not everyone needs it. Some people really need it. No matter. TrueCrypt won’t stop the CIA or a police raid on your computer, but if you want to hide sensitive, uh, photos from a snooping friend, roommate, or significant other, it will do the trick.

All snark aside, there are perfectly valid reasons to use this software. People store all kinds of sensitive information on their computers (see Gnucash) and this software lets you protect it.

About The Author

John Guilfoil is the editor-in-chief of Blast: Boston's Online Magazine and the Blast Magazine Network. He can be reached at [email protected]. Tweet @johnguilfoil.

3 Responses

  1. Shannon

    Binfer is another must have app to send large files directly from person to person, without uploading to a server. You can send hundreds of files of any size with a simple drag and drop. Binfer will manage the transfers with auto resumes, encryption, notifications etc. Check it out: http://www.binfer.com

  2. Soru

    So why wouldn’t Truecrypt stop the CIA or police from a raid on your computer? From my research, it is a excellent encryption program which can’t be broken by any law enforcement if used wisely. There was an article about someone using Truecrypt, and the FBI was unable to crack it.


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