Every now and then I’ll post a link to a cool new product that I think has promise, such as Jott or Jing. I got to thinking about how many of these I actually use, and which ones just seem cool at the time. I decided to make a list of my must-have software tools. These are the ones I use most on a day-to-day basis.
Some of these tools have been around for awhile and have gotten lots of press, and some are fairly new. I guess I tend to take for granted that everyone knows about Audacity and Firefox, but some may not have. So, some of these on this list will be ones that I’ve discussed at length, and some are those have just glossed over.
Anyone who’s followed this blog knows my hobbies – photography, anything dealing with maps and GPS, computer geekery, music and multimedia design. These tools tend to line up with those interests. What’s not on the list are tools which only function as file readers – Adobe Acrobat Reader and Flash Player, for example. They need to actually do something. Some are for productivity, and some are just for fun. I’ve also left off purely online applications, such as Bloglines, as useful as this might be. All these tools are geared toward the Windows environment (sorry, Mac and Linux folks), however some are cross-platform. I’ve also left off any shareware/crippleware tools with the possible exception of EasyGPS – all are free.
So, without further delay, and in no particular order, here’s my list…
- Google Earth – I’ve certainly written enough about this one. I won’t say more here, except that if you don’t have it yet, GET IT!
- WinAmp – WinAmp is my preferred media player. It was one of the first that had the ability to play MP3 files, all those many years ago, and it has just improved with age. The latest versions of Windows Media Player give it a run for its money, and probably do a better job with video files, but for music it can’t be beat. The latest versions of WinAmp even feature iPod integration, so you don’t have to fool with iTunes if you don’t want to.
- Audacity – If you do anything with audio production, you need Audacity. It’s the perfect thing for podcasters on a budget or for those that want to convert their vinyl collections into MP3s. Audacity is a recording studio. It lets you take input from various sources and record them as multiple tracks. You can even import MIDI files and overlay your own vocal tracks. There are also a variety of filters and effects that can be applied to each track. Once you’ve got your tracks the way you want them, you can save the files in a variety of formats including WAV and MP3.
- CDex – Keeping with the music/audio theme, another must-have is CDex. At it’s most basic level, CDex (CD Extractor) is a program for ripping CDs. It got it’s start back in the wild and wooley days when ripping your own CDs down to MP3s was considered a no-no, back before media players became ubiquitous. CDex will save the ripped tracks as either uncompressed WAV files for highest quality, or in MP3 format. If you’re connected to the Internet, CDex will read the checksum data from the CD files, will try to identify the CD being ripped, and will download the ID3 tag data from various online resources. Now days iTunes also does a pretty good job of ripping, but CDex is a nice alternative. It’s particularly useful when I just need one track from a CD.
- Picasa – If you’ve got lots of digital images, you need Picasa. It will organize all of the images in various folders, and provides basic tools for fixing images, such as straightening, red-eye, color fixes, etc. There are tools for importing images from cameras and scanners, and the ability to geotag with Google Earth. It also has some excellent printing tools. If it lacked something, I would say it needs the ability to edit EXIF data directly, but it does enough without that to make it a real time-saver when it comes to dealing with images.
- Groupshot – I’m always hesitant to include something from Microsoft because it might appear that I’m endorsing the giant. However, Groupshot is just a fun program. It was designed to assist with photographing large groups of people. Invariable, someone has their eyes shut, is looking the wrong way, etc., etc. Groupshot was supposed to let you merge the best features of a variety of shots. The unintended consequence was that you could also clone yourself by changing position in between shots. The biggest drawback to the program is that it limits the resolution of the final product to less than 800X600.
- Photostory – Another Microsoft product, Photostory 3 is a video editing suite. It’s biggest appeal is the ability to create slide shows with music and narration, then save that as an AVI file. You can also import video clips. I honestly haven’t used this one as much as I would like, but that’s something I plan to change. The biggest drawback is that it is an MS product, and checks to make sure you’ve got a licensed version of Windows installed before it lets you download or install it.
- Firefox – Why anyone still uses Internet Explorer to surf the Internet is beyond me. I guess there are still some compatibilty issues with pages that want to play by Microsoft’s rules, rather than adhere to open standards. Firefox was the first browser to feature tabbed browsing and to be customizable with plugins. It’s quicker and cleaner than IE ever was, and doesn’t have some of the security holes that IE does.
- Flock – Flock is my second-favorite browser. It features lots of integration with Web 2.0 applications such as Flickr, Del.icio.us, YouTube, and other blogging tools. One of its best features is a clipboard which allows you to drag-n-drop images and text clips for inclusion in blog posts. It will even create a back link with references when you use the clip.
- EasyGPS – EasyGPS talks to your GPS and lets you send and receive waypoints, track data and routes. It has a built-in viewer for geotagged images, and even has tools for geocaching. It doesn’t have all of the tools of its bigger brother, ExpertGPS, but it’s free, and does enough to make it extremely useful.
- Geosetter – Geosetter is a geotagging program. In order for it to work, you synchronize your camera’s clock with the clock on the GPS. Geosetter matches the time stamp from the image’s EXIF data with the location time stamp from the GPS, and writes that location data back to the EXIF data. It’s quick, clean, and doesn’t return quite as many errors as some of the programs I’ve used.
- PrimoPDF/doPDF – If you need to create a quick PDF file from a document, you really don’t need the full-blown version of Adobe Acrobat. PrimoPDF was the first of these. It sets itself up as a printer, and you print your file to a PDF file. Unfortunately, I understand that the latest version of PrimoPDF dumps a lot of junk on you computer upon install. doPDF is a nice alternative as a lightweight PDF writer. Just like Primo, it sets itself up as a printer.
I’m sure there are other tools I’ve overlooked, but these are the ones I would suggest if you have interests similar to mine. Again, these are the ones that I use – not just the ones that I think are kind of cool and I might get around to at some point in the future.
[tags]software, tools, open source[/tags]