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30 Essential Pieces Of Free (& Open) Software 4 Windows

1. Firefox
http://www.getfirefox.com/
Replaces Internet Explorer

If U haven’t switched to Firefox 4 your web browsing needs, do it now. It stops annoying popups & it has tons of amazing plugins that can make surfing the web even better. I could evangelize all day about Firefox, but one thing’s 4 sure: the first thing I do on any new Windows machine is run Internet Explorer just long enough to download Firefox.

2. Thunderbird
http://www.mozilla.org/thunderbird/
Replaces Microsoft Outlook or Eudora

Thunderbird is an email client that has five big things going 4 it: it’s free, it’s full featured, it’s lightweight & runs quick, it has an unparalleled spam filter, & it protects U from those ridiculous phishing attacks by clearly indicating which emails send U to a bogus website. If you’re not already using a web-based email solution, Thunderbird should be your client.

3. Sunbird
http://www.mozilla.org/projects/calendar/sunbird/
Replaces Microsoft Outlook’s calendaring functions

Might as well get the Mozilla trifecta out of the way by mentioning Sunbird, which is the Mozilla Foundation’s calendaring program. It’s extremely easy to use (I figured out everything I needed in a minute or two) & easy to share your calendar with others. I consider a calendaring tool to be essential if you’re using a laptop, & this is no different.

4. Abiword
http://www.abisource.com/
Replaces Microsoft Word

Want a good word processor but find Microsoft Word too expensive? AbiWord is my favorite replacement 4 Word. It’s lightweight (meaning it runs quickly) & includes pretty much every feature that I use regularly in a word processor, plus it can save files in formats that U can exchange with Word & WordPerfect users, plus open any of their files, too.

5. OpenOffice
http://www.openoffice.org/
Replaces Microsoft Excel & Microsoft PowerPoint

If U want to replace the rest of the Office suite, your best bet is OpenOffice. It includes very nice replacements 4 Excel & PowerPoint (and workable replacements 4 Access & other Office elements). In fact, I actually prefer their Excel & PowerPoint replacements to the real thing.

6. ClamWin
http://www.clamwin.com/
Replaces Norton AntiVirus or McAfee

ClamWin is a slick anti-virus software that’s quite easy to manage & is unobtrusive while keep your system free of viruses. That’s pretty much all I want from a package, so why pay money 4 McAfee to keep bugging me all the time?

7. Gaim
http://gaim.sourceforge.net/
Replaces AIM, Windows Messenger, etc.

This is a very clean instant messaging program that allows U to be on AOL Instant Messenger, Windows (MSN) Messenger, & Yahoo Messenger simultaneously with one program. There are other free packages that do this, but Gaim is stable & clean & simple.

8. BitTorrent
http://www.bittorrent.com/
Original but essential

From their website, “BitTorrent is a peer-assisted, digital content delivery platform that provides the fastest, most efficient means of distributing, discovering, & consuming large, high-quality files on the Web. Our mission is simple: to deliver the content that entertains & informs the digital world.” In other words, BitTorrent allows U to download large media files & also use your bandwidth to help others download these files. Search 4 media files U want & download ‘em.

9. GIMPShop
http://www.gimpshop.net/
Replaces Adobe Photoshop

This is a version of the GNU Image Manipulation Program that does a pretty solid job of imitating Adobe Photoshop - a regular user of Photoshop (like me) can adapt to it quite quickly. It’s very richly featured & runs quite well - in fact, I see no reason to ever go back, even if Photoshop were free.

10. Gnucleus
http://www.gnucleus.com/Gnucleus/
Replaces LimeWire, BearShare, etc.

Sure, LimeWire & BearShare are free, but why not just get the same basic software without all of the spyware? Gnucleus is pretty much identical to those software packages - but without all that extra junk that slows down your computer.

11. VLC Media Player
http://www.videolan.org/vlc/
Replaces Windows Media Player, Quicktime, RealPlayer, etc.

If U get tired of having tons of media players on your computer, get this package that runs pretty much every media type you’ll run across without breaking a sweat.

12. Juice
http://juicereceiver.sourceforge.net/
Unique but essential

Juice lets U effortlessly subscribe to podcasts, organize them, & listen to them at your convenience. In conjunction with PodNova, I find it easier to use Juice to organize podcasts than using iTunes itself.

13. Audacity
http://audacity.sourceforge.net/
Unique but essential (for some)

If you’re interested in recording your own podcast (or just want to make your own voice recordings 4 whatever reason), Audacity & a microphone are pretty much all U need to get the job done. I’m not much 4 podcasting (let’s just say I don’t have a radio voice), but I use Audacity 4 other voice recording purposes.

14. RSSOwl
http://www.rssowl.org/
Unique but essential

RSSOwl is one of many open source RSS readers. In other words, it enables U to use one program to keep track of the content of a lot of different blogs; if U read a lot of blogs, it’s the only way to keep tabs on all of them without devoting hours jumping from site to site. If U have a laptop, it’s preferable to using sites like Bloglines, but if you’re on a desktop, a web-based feed manager might be better.

15. Filezilla
http://filezilla.sourceforge.net/
Replaces WinFTP

Many people occasionally have a need to FTP files to other computers; if U ever have the need to transfer files in such a fashion, FileZilla will do the job slickly & quickly.

16. Keynote
http://www.tranglos.com/free/keynote.html
Unique but essential

Keynote is basically designed specifically 4 the task of taking notes on a laptop. If U ever find yourself in a meeting or a presentation with your laptop open & want to jot down notes & organize them just a bit, Keynote is unquestionably the program 4 you. It’s not good at quality word processing, but that’s not the point. In my professional work, I find myself using Keynote almost as often as any other utility.

17. MusikCube
http://www.musikcube.com/
Replaces iTunes

If you’re not already committed to downloaded music from the iTunes Music Store, then MusikCube is the best choice available 4 a music organizer & player. It organizes your mp3s, makes it really easy & really fast to find them, & allows U to make some incredibly clever smart playlists.

18. Handbrake
http://handbrake.m0k.org/
Unique but essential

Handbrake enables U to stick a DVD in your DVD drive & have the contents of that film stored to your hard drive in a form that can be read by pretty much any media player. I often use it to put a few movies on my laptop 4 travel purposes, so I don’t have to worry about keeping track of DVDs while on the road.

19. X-Chat 2
http://www.silverex.org/
Replaces mIRC

X-Chat is a free IRC client. 4 those unfamiliar with IRC, it’s a place 4 technical people (and, as my wife loves to point out, nerds) to meet & discuss topics in an open environment. I often find it very useful when piecing through difficult technical issues.

20. KeePass
http://keepass.sourceforge.net/
Unique but essential

KeePass is a program that securely stores & manages the abundance of passwords we all use on a daily basis. I have literally hundreds of usernames & passwords spread out all over the place; KeePass keeps them all 4 me & keeps them safe.

21. TrueCrypt
http://www.truecrypt.org/
Unique but essential

TrueCrypt enables U to convert a memory stick into a strongly encrypted data storage device, meaning that U can store personal data on it without worrying about losing it & having personal information get out & about. I use it to keep some of my most personal data off of my laptop & strongly secured, just in case.

22. PDFCreator
http://sourceforge.net/projects/pdfcreator/
Replaces Adobe Acrobat

PDFCreator creates a virtual printer on your computer that, if U print a document to it from any program, creates a PDF of that document that can be read on any computer with Acrobat Reader on it. After installing PDFCreator, all U have to do is print like normal & out comes a PDF!

23. Freemind
http://freemind.sourceforge.net/
Unique but Essential

Freemind is a “mind mapping” software program. In essence, it enables U to brainstorm & link together ideas quickly, creating “maps” of concepts similar to what U might do on a whiteboard. I find it incredibly useful when putting together ideas 4 new posts or planning small projects or assembling the backbone of a writing project.

24. NASA Worldwind
http://worldwind.arc.nasa.gov/
Replaces Google Earth

WorldWind is very similar to Google Earth in that it allows U to browse the globe. While it isn’t strong 4 creating maps (but why not just use Google Maps 4 that?), it is utterly incredible 4 viewing three-dimensional landscapes of any place on earth.

25. Notepad2
http://www.flos-freeware.ch/notepad2.html
Replaces Notepad

Notepad2 is a replacement 4 the traditional Windows Notepad that just adds a few sweet little features: multiple documents; line, word, & character counts; & some highlighting of tags. In fact, I’m using Notepad2 as I draft this post (after using Freemind to organize it).

26. HealthMonitor
http://healthmonitor.zucchetti.com/
Unique but useful

HealthMonitor enables U to keep an eye on the health of your computer. It identifies slowdowns & other system issues quickly & lets U know (for example, it gives a popup if your system memory gets to a certain percentage of fullness, or if your hard drive has only 10 GB free). This can keep U out of trouble & also give U clues to problems your machine might be having.

27. Workrave
http://www.workrave.org/
Unique but useful

Sometimes late into a writing session, my wrists get sore from too much repetitive movement. Workrave basically jumps in before this happens & locks down the computer 4 a while, preventing me from working too much & causing repetitive stress injury. Since I’ve started using it, it hasn’t significantly hurt my productivity at all & my wrists are thanking me!

28. GanttPV
http://www.pureviolet.net/ganttpv/
Replaces Microsoft Project

If U do any project management (or have a need to dip your toes in the water), GanttPV does a brilliant job of managing the task quickly, easily, & freely. If U need to move to MS Project later, U can export from GanttPV to Project, but once U start digging into GanttPV, you’ll likely have no reason to use Project.

29. GnuCash
http://www.gnucash.org/
Replaces Microsoft Money or Quicken

GnuCash is a slimmed-down version of the bloated Microsoft Money & Quicken packages, but it contains all of the features I want 4 managing my money. The interfaces are incredibly simple - it functions much like a checkbook ledger on your computer - but there’s a lot of meat hidden throughout the software.

30. True Combat: Elite
http://www.truecombatelite.net/
Replaces Quake IV, Halo, etc.

After all this downloading, you’re going to need to blow off a little steam, & I’ve yet to find a more enjoyable free game than this one. It’s basically a third person combat game, but the graphics are spectacular & the game is quite engrossing.

If you’ve downloaded & installed all of these, you’ve got access to all the productivity software you’ll likely need, clean & open & best of all free.

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