Windows Essentials

One of the USP Apple claims for its Macs is that they work out of the box as against Windows where you have to pick and choose your applications. And there are millions of those out there. Finding the right fit for you is a matter of chance. I am very finicky about things and so finding the right software and tuning them to my precise need has become a matter of habit. Having worked on Windows for a good 6 years and having wasted a lot of my time finding the perfect software, I have arrived at my own set of applications which make my life easier and simpler. Recently I came across the list of essential software needed on Windows, and I thought it would be nice to share my gyan. I’ll try to be generic and cover as much base as I can, and stick to freeware as much as I can.

1. Antivirus: I prefer AVG Free. It protects against virus, spyware, has an email scanner, and also scans the sites you visit for threats. And it’s free. The virus definitions are updated pretty regularly, so if you make sure its update is turned on, it does the job pretty well, without being noticed, and without hogging resources. There might be other anti-virus software which do all this and more, but they are not free, and they are all resource intensive, slowing down your computer considerably.
a. Pros: Simple to set up and use. Easy on resources (which no other anti-virus is).
b. Cons: Needs firewall.
c. Alternatives: Plenty. None worth mentioning for the simple reason they aren’t so light on resources, and they slow down the computer considerably.

2. Firewall: Zone Alarm Pro. The best out there. Simple as that. Not only protects foreign intrusion, but also protects the OS from installed programs.

a. Pros: Just doesn’t fail.
b. Cons: In the initial days, it asks you a lot about which program to allow and which to block. But eventually learns its way through. Once in a while it might bug you for allowing which program to run or not, but it does its job pretty well, so I don’t think you would complain.
c. Alternatives: None I’ve tried, which seem comparable. Provides overall protection.

3. Browser and Mail: Here I will be a little biased, but then that’s what this article is about. I use Opera for both browsing and mail. I use 10.6 beta, and it is blitzing fast and every benchmark proves it’s the fastest out there, beating Chrome by a small margin. One of the advantages of Opera is it integrates all your internet needs into one small, elegant software. Browsing and mail apart, you can subscribe to RSS feeds, set up a web server, store all your bookmarks online and sync it with all your computers and mobile phones. It comes with inbuilt mouse gestures which is very simple intuitive to use. Once you are versed with the mouse gestures, and know some elementary key board shortcuts, you won’t need to look for the buttons etc, making it very easy and convenient to use.
a. Pros:
i. Browser: Very fast. Very easy to use. Secure. Inbuilt ad blocker and phishing support etc. Speed dial. Bookmark manager. Download manager.
ii. Mail: Very simple to use. Intuitive. Excellent use of labels. Fast. No frills.

b. Cons:
i. Browser: Some sites might not open properly. It is not Opera’s fault. It is the first browser to score a perfect 100 in the Acid3 tests, which means it is the most Web Standards complaint browser there. But many sites which are designed for Internet Explorer might not get rendered correctly.
ii. Mail: No calendar integration. Having an inbuilt calendar would make this software as complete as possible.
c. Alternatives:
i. Browser: Chrome because it’s fast. But has very few customizations. Firefox is there, but it’s become slow compared to Opera and Chrome.
ii. Mail: Thunderbird and Outlook. There are plenty, but these two are the most popular ones.

4. Music Player: J River Media Center wins it hands down for Windows. Better sound quality than most players I’ve tried. Library handling is very good. I have over 120 Gb of songs, and it has no problems managing them, and even the loading times are very fast. Very responsive. Customizable to a great detail. Can sync your iPod and other hand held devices. Ripping etc can be done in all formats. Plays almost all music formats. Can be used to watch movies as well, but there are better players for that. It is useful for watching DVDs because most other players become unresponsive, but this runs like a charm.

a. Pros: Easy to use. Customizable. Good sound quality. All in one media application
b. Cons: Sound not as good as that on a Mac, but the roots of that problem lies with Windows. Some players can claim to have better sound quality.
c. Alternatives: iTunes, foobar, Winamp etc.. None compare...

5. Video Player: Tossup between GOM and VLC. Both do everything, and mostly right. There shouldn’t be anything to complain about, and it’s about your choice. VLC has good display quality, I would say a shade better than GOM. But GOM has simple navigation control. VLC navigation controls are complicated at best.

6. Text Editor: Notepad++. Designed primarily for coding, but very useful even for general text editing. Not much fuss and fanfare but simple and elegant, so a must have.

7. Office Application: MS Office 2007 is the standard across the globe for this, and I would not fight this. It might have its niggling glitches, but it mostly works. Open Office and Lotus Symphony are options, but they are difficult to work and formatting is lost if using cross-platform. Better stick with the standard.

8. Launchy: Keystroke application launcher. If you prefer keyboards more than mouse, this is a must have. It indexes all your applications and learns which ones you use more. So most of your applications can be launched just by typing in a single or a couple of letters.

9. File Indexing: Copernic Desktop Search. It indexes all the files on your system and makes them instantly searchable. It even makes the words in the text documents and emails searchable. It is very useful for anyone who uses lots of pdfs, docs, etc because even if you don’t remember the filename or the file location, you can enter the keywords in the document and find it. Very neat. Very useful. Google desktop search is an alternative, but that uses a lot of disc space, and slows down the computer considerably. Copernic is very light, and uses very little hard drive space for indexing.

10. PDF Viewer: Foxit Phantom. Alternative to Adobe reader and acrobat. Light, low on resources, and most importantly uses tabs instead of windows, so doesn’t clutter your taskbar. It comes with browser integration plugin as well.

11. Chat Clients: I use only Gmail, and Gtalk is simple to use. Other chat clients that I use are Yahoo and Skype.

12. VOIP: Action VOIP. Cheap, and it comes with an application for Symbian phones. Since I have one, I can make a call through my phone using wifi. And its much cheaper than Skype.

13. Archiving: WinRar. Simple. No frills. All the un-archiving options added to the right click options, so very easy to use.

14. Dictionary: Word Web Pro. All you have to do is highlight the word, press control+alt+w and out pops the word meaning, with list of synonyms, antonyms, and anagrams. The dictionary database might not appeal to a linguist, but its comprehensive enough for personal use.

15. Document Backup on the net : Dropbox and dropbox folder sync. Install these, get an account on dropbox, and you can right click on any folder you want backed up and add to dropbox. Simple as that. And you get those files from the net on any computer you want. Pretty neat, and simple to use. And mighty useful, I might add. There are many documents you just cannot afford to lose, and this is the best way to back them up. You never know when a comp crash or a hdd crash can leave you stranded. And the implications. Be safe.

There are a few other applications which I use, but do not necessarily endorse. I’ll just list them –
• Āµtorrent and Vuze for torrent download
• Everest Ultimate edition to track your hardware

They have served me well, and I haven’t had many problems with my machine. It’s all about finding your right configuration. I’ve found mine, and just wanted to share my gyan...