Ten Amazing Free Programs to Make Life Better
Sometimes the greatest little tricks are the ones we take for granted. I've known about a lot of neat free programs, applications and utilities for ages, and never stopped to think about how they had such a positive influence on my life - let alone think about mentioning them to other people who could use them too. So here are ten great programs that will make your computer experience even better.
Irfanview has got to be the handiest little graphics viewer I've ever found. It will install quickly and simply, and then proceed to open just about anything. It's like a little Swiss Army Knife for graphics files of all kinds, or it would be if Swiss Army Knives came with bottle opener, corkscrew, can opener, lockpicks, crowbar, blowtorch, sledgehammer and napalm... and still managed to fit easily into your pocket. Want to mess with the colors in your pictures? No problem! Flip it, or apply basic graphics effects? Sure! Crop it, edit it, copy and paste it, create your own slideshow (as a Windows .SCR screensaver file or an executable .EXE), scan images from a scanner... it will even play many of your video multimedia and wavs, if you'd like it to. It's also totally customizable. I've used it for years, and it never ceases to make me happy.
Do a lot of reading, on or off the Hubs? Then you'll want SayzMe, a free text-to-speech reader. SayzMe will read any text you Paste into it, or if you'd prefer, any text you Copy to the Clipboard. This is terrific for reading your Hubs to you while you do something else, or even entire e-texts. That means you can read a book with your laptop while driving or doing just about anything else. You'll need the Microsoft Speech API installed first, and you can always get additional voices for it. The interface is a little clunky, but it has so many neat applications for it that who cares? It's free! Prepare to get a lot more reading done, and without any eyestrain.
It's always the same. There'll be times that you'll want to keep one window on top of another, but you click on the one that isn't and it comes to the front, blocking out the other one. AlwaysOnTop is a neat free solution to this problem. Load it, and just hit Ctrl-T when you're on a window to keep it on top. You can have a text file open on one part of the screen while you type into a webpage behind it, allowing you to keep an eye on your notes. You can shrink a multimedia window into a corner of the screen, set it to be On Top, and watch TV or movies out of the corner of your eye while you surf through webpages in a browser window behind it. So snazzy.
Want to set up macros and global commands that you can set off with a certain mouse gesture? Definitely pick up StrokeIt. You can establish a mouse gesture you execute while holding the right mouse button down, and then tell it what you want it to do when you do that. You can emulate keyboard input (not only text but key-combinations), play a sound, run a program, go to a website, all kinds of things. And you can create all kinds of commands that an action can set off. I have it enter my email password and play a sound effect when I hit a certain combination. I've set it to emulate WinAmp's Global Hotkeys, so I can gesture left to go back to the last song and right to skip to the next one. I've created a WinAmp Pause gesture that allows me to pause my music with a gesture - and play a retro Nintendo "Pause Game" sound effect when it does. There are so many neat things you can do with StrokeIt. Definitely check it out.
If you use an Instant Messenger to chat with your friends live, you already know that there are quite a few different kinds out there - and they're not really compatible with each other. So if you want to talk to someone on AIM, someone on ICQ, and someone on Yahoo, you have to have three different IM clients open.
Not anymore. You can access your accounts on the different major IM networks through one program, Trillian. This simplifies everything, and all of your contacts are accessible from the same panel. It also keeps you from having your machine lag from having several different applications open and running when you only need one. It's a simple concept, but it's so nifty to have. Especially when you drop offline and then need to reconnect all your IM clients once again. I've used it for years, and love it.
So you've downloaded this video, and it won't play. For the love of God, why won't it play? Who knows! Well before you go consulting the I Ching about it, check out a superb little freebie called GSpot. Load it, drag and drop a video file onto it, and it will tell you what codecs the video uses, so you know just what to download and install to make your video go. It just doesn't get any simpler than that, and it's free!
Speaking of playing videos, ZoomPlayer does for videos what Irfanview does for image files. It'll read all kinds of formats, even DVD, is totally customizable, and takes up so little overhead - as opposed to most video applications - that your computer almost won't notice that it's there. This is good, because it means your computer will worry less about the video player it has to run, and can concentrate on bringing you better picture and motion quality on your video files. The result? A great little app that will play your video files for you beautifully, and free. And that's what you want in a video player ultimately, isn't it?
Not everyone will use this, but it's great to be able to do this when you need it. TightVNC allows you to remote-control another of your computers from the one you're actually on. You can go to the computer in the other room, tell it to go start a long process or go to a website, upload a video, anything you could do from it, all from whatever computer you're actually on. I use it for uploading long videos to Google, since it pretty much requires a computer of its own, left undisturbed, while the movie uploads. I go in, tell my other machine to start uploading, and then go back to what I was doing. It's also great if you have an older computer to set up as a mere server for a website or FTP site, because you don't even need to keep a monitor connected to it. When you want to access it and make adjustments, you log in through TIghtVNC from a more modern computer. You can have an obsolete computer plugged in and being a server, with no monitor and taking up very little space, and still access it whenever you want. This is especially great for old laptops, which you can just stick on a shelf somewhere and use it to run a website from.
Ever wanted to record a voice conversation over your Instant Messenger? Maybe you wish you could download this really rare version of a song online, but there's no link. Record Anything to the rescue! It's demo shareware, but it will record anything that goes through your soundcard, and will turn it into an MP3 file. It's often the last resort for someone who can't Save As... for an MP3. And it works beautifully with SayzMe! You can have your computer dictate an e-text into an MP3 file, and load that onto your MP3 player! Now you can listen to books anywhere you can listen to your MP3 player, even working out or jogging. So nifty.
So you're trying to write a huge file, but your CDs are only 700 megs, and your file is twice that size. What do you do? HJSplit will neatly trim any file into chunks of whatever size you specify, and then reassemble those chunks perfectly. This means you can take huge video files or archives and span them across multiple CDs when you go to write them, and you'll be able to put the pieces back on your hard drive and join them back together again later, good as new. Now you can archive anything!
Bonus Tip - Stuff for HubPages users
There are a couple of tremendous add-ons for Firefox users who use HubPages that I just have to tell you about. And if you don't use Firefox - you might want to start.
I have an add-on called AdSense Notifier that will check my Google AdSense statistics every fifteen minutes and keep them displayed on the bottom right-hand side of my screen. Now I can see when someone's clicked on my ads!
I also use WebMail Notifier to check my e-mail address every fifteen minutes for new mail. I mention this for HubPages users in particular, because Hubpages sends you mail when someone has posted a new Hub, or left a Comment on one of your Hubs. That means that Notifier can pick up the e-mail, and you'll be able to respond to any HubPages event within 15 minutes. I have friends who marvel at how I'm so quick to read and leave Comments on their Hubs - of course I am. Firefox notifies me when something new has happened, and I'm right on it. I love it, and had to let you know about it.