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The First 10 Free Apps to Install on a New Windows PC

The First 10 Free Apps to Install on a New Windows PC

 

The First 10 Free Apps to Install on a New WIndows PC

    It’s about that time for me again: my desktop is a couple years part its prime and my laptop just died (no display, no hard drive activity, no wifi, and a recent history of turning off suddenly for no good reason – those are all bad signs, right?), which means the near future holds a new PC for me. Which means a blank slate on which to impose my computer-using will.

    Setting up a new computer goes through five stages:

    • Denial: I’ve got a new computer. Nothing can go wrong now!
    • Anger: No, I don’t want to subscribe to AOL. No, I don’t want Norton updates. No, I don’t want a 60-day trial of Office 2007. There are HOW MANY security updates?!
    • Bargaining: I’d do anything to be able to use this thing!
    • Depression: I’ve been uninstalling Norton components for 17 hours now. If I have to restart the PC one more time, I swear I’ll kill myself… All I want to do is update Twitter!
    • Acceptance: OK, let’s install some good stuff now!

    Once you’ve installed all the updates, uninstalled all the crapware, entered your wifi password, and set your screensaver, it’s time to make that shiny new PC do stuff, and for me the doing starts with installing a pretty fixed list of free applications.

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    1. Panda Cloud Antivirus

    If you did the right thing and uninstalled Norton or McAfee (the two antivirus programs PC manufacturers get paid big bucks to include on their machines), the Windows Security Center will be bugging you about your system being unprotected. So, first order of business is to install a new antivirus. I used to use the free AVG Antivirus, but I’ve found that at some point – in every version of AVG I’ve used – it stops updating automatically. So a few months ago I decided to try Panda’s free Cloud Antivirus, and I’ve been very happy: updates happen in the background, files and problems are quietly taken care of, and it only ever bugs me if it needs my attention to decide what to do about a detected virus. This is the antivirus I’ve installed on all my family’s PCs, too, since it runs virtually undetected.

    2. Firefox

    IE8 is a big improvement over previous incarnations of Internet Explorer, but so is a husband who only beats you once a week instead of everyday. Frankly, I’ve had enough of IE. It’s still packed with the same annoyances as always, and its neat new features are so dense and obscure I don’t think anyone will make much use of them any time soon.

    Firefox, on the other hand, is by now like a comfortable pair of shoes – it works well, it makes sense, and it’s getting better and better. Sure, it takes up about a Godzilla-byte of memory, but other than that, it’s Good Software. And of course, it’s vastly extensible, making it not just a browser for me but a research tool (with the addition of plugins for Evernote and Zotero) and webmastering tool (with Scribefire and FireFTP plugins). The only real downside is that every update seems to break every extension – but at least it has extensions!

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    3. OpenOffice.org

    I own a copy of Office 2007 Pro (I got it free at an industry event) but I still install OpenOffice.org. (The dot-org is part of the software’s name, for reasons known only to the demons who inhabit the 6th level of software marketing Hell.) The free productivity suite includes a word processor, spreadsheet, presentation creator, database, and graphics editor – everything just about anyone needs to get work done. Some things it does better than MS Office, like handling bibliographic citations. Most things it does just as well. And it’s some $400 less than the comparable version of MS Office.

    4. Thunderbird

    Although Microsoft’s Outlook Express got a new name and a facelift in Vista, it remains the same piece of cr-… er, software it’s always been, with all its limitations. Outlook is great for businesses, but it’s overkill for most people – and can bog down even powerful systems. Mozilla’s Thunderbird occupies the “just right” chair, offering an interface similar to the Outlook/Outlook Express interface and plenty of power. Plus, like Firefox, you can customize its functionality with a wide range of plugins.

    5. Picasa

    You might have thought I’d have said “The GIMP” for a free graphics editor, but most people don’t need that kind of power. For organizing snapshots and applying the occasional red-eye reduction, color or contrast adjustment, and novelty effect, I like Picasa. The interface is easy to use, it integrates easily with Google’s web-based Picasa Web Albums service, allowing me to easily share photos or groups of photos, and it does basic photo editing tasks well.

    6. Skype

    In class yesterday I mentioned Skype and a student asked “What’s Skype"?” Only 2 of 10 students had heard of it! Oh, man – get Skype!!! Skype is a voice-over-Internet system that works, and works well. Voice or video calls to other Skype users are free, no matter where they are and where you are. The optional SkypeIn and SkypeOut services let you accept calls from and make calls to regular phones (landlines or mobile) for very reasonable rates – I think I pay about $60 a year for the complete package, which gives me unlimited calls anywhere in the US and Canada, unlimited incoming calls at my own phone number in my area code, and of course voice mail. I use it all the time, too, to interview sources for articles – and back when I was doing Lifehack Live, I used it occasionally to record my podcasts (using the CallGraph plugin, a free Skype call recorder).

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    7. VLC Media Player

    While it lacks the style and pizzazz of iTunes or Windows Media Player, VLC has those other media players beat hands-down for one good reason: it plays everything. Oddball video formats, open source audio codecs, Flash videos – whatever you have, chances are, VLC plays it. It has other features, too, but I never use them. For me, VLC is simply the must-have video player. There’s a portable version that can be run off a flash drive, too, which is handy for me since I often want to show videos in class and I’m not sure the machine provided will have the right codecs.

    8. Handbrake

    You want to put videos on your portable media player, you get Handbrake. It’s that simple. Handbrake is easy to use (a lot of video transcoding software forces you to deal with all sorts of questions about muxing, bitrates, and so on; handbrake has a bunch of presets, although more advanced control is there if you need it). Handbrake works with DVDs or video on your hard drive, so whatever the source, you can likely get it onto your Zune (or even iPod if you’re one of the few that owns one).

    (OK, give a guy a break – it’s funny!)

    9. Digsby or Pidgin

    What instant messaging network is everyone you would ever want to chat with on? Wait, you mean, they’re not all on the same network? Where do you live, reality?!

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    If you do live in reality and your friends, family, and other contacts are scattered across several different IM networks, you’ll want to install either Digsby or Pidgin, both of which are fine IM clients that hook up to most of the available IM networks. I use Digsby, because I like the way I can theme the interface (with big, chunky text for my old eyes!), and because it includes Facebook support, which Pidgin doesn’t (but Pidgin works with a lot of networks Digsby doesn’t support – it’s a question of which ones you want or need to use). In both, you can log into all your IM networks at the same time, and see all your contacts regardless of which network they’re on.

    10. CDBurnerXP

    CDBurnerXP is neither limited to burning CDs not limited to systems running Windows XP. Go figure. Anyway, it burns CDs and DVDs, including Blu-Ray and HD-DVD discs, ISOs and other disc images – heck, it even supports LightScribe! A great substitute for expensive (and notoriously bug-prone) Nero and Roxio suites if neither came with your computer.

    Once I’ve installed those 10 apps, I’ve got a pretty good system set up, and I’m ready to get to work. What about you? What free software is at the top of your list when you’re setting up a new system? Let us know in the comments.

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    Last Updated on November 5, 2019

    How to Cultivate Continuous Learning to Stay Competitive

    How to Cultivate Continuous Learning to Stay Competitive

    Assuming the public school system didn’t crush your soul, learning is a great activity. It expands your viewpoint. It gives you new knowledge you can use to improve your life. It is important for your personal growth. Even if you discount the worldly benefits, the act of learning can be a source of enjoyment.

    “I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.” — Mark Twain

    But in a busy world, it can often be hard to fit in time to learn anything that isn’t essential. The only things learned are those that need to be. Everything beyond that is considered frivolous. Even those who do appreciate the practice of lifelong learning, can find it difficult to make the effort.

    Here are some tips for installing the habit of continuous learning:

    1. Always Have a Book

    It doesn’t matter if it takes you a year or a week to read a book. Always strive to have a book that you are reading through, and take it with you so you can read it when you have time.

    Just by shaving off a few minutes in-between activities in my day I can read about a book per week. That’s at least fifty each year.

    2. Keep a “To-Learn” List

    We all have to-do lists. These are the tasks we need to accomplish. Try to also have a “to-learn” list. On it you can write ideas for new areas of study.

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    Maybe you would like to take up a new language, learn a skill or read the collective works of Shakespeare. Whatever motivates you, write it down.

    3. Get More Intellectual Friends

    Start spending more time with people who think. Not just people who are smart, but people who actually invest much of their time in learning new skills. Their habits will rub off on you.

    Even better, they will probably share some of their knowledge with you.

    4. Guided Thinking

    Albert Einstein once said,

    “Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking.”

    Simply studying the wisdom of others isn’t enough, you have to think through ideas yourself. Spend time journaling, meditating or contemplating over ideas you have learned.

    5. Put it Into Practice

    Skill based learning is useless if it isn’t applied. Reading a book on C++ isn’t the same thing as writing a program. Studying painting isn’t the same as picking up a brush.

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    If your knowledge can be applied, put it into practice.

    In this information age, we’re all exposed to a lot of information, it’s important to re-learn how to learn so as to put the knowledge into practice.

    6. Teach Others

    You learn what you teach. If you have an outlet of communicating ideas to others, you are more likely to solidify that learning.

    Start a blog, mentor someone or even discuss ideas with a friend.

    7. Clean Your Input

    Some forms of learning are easy to digest, but often lack substance.

    I make a point of regularly cleaning out my feed reader for blogs I subscribe to. Great blogs can be a powerful source of new ideas. But every few months, I realize I’m collecting posts from blogs that I am simply skimming.

    Every few months, purify your input to save time and focus on what counts.

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    8. Learn in Groups

    Lifelong learning doesn’t mean condemning yourself to a stack of dusty textbooks. Join organizations that teach skills.

    Workshops and group learning events can make educating yourself a fun, social experience.

    9. Unlearn Assumptions

    You can’t add water to a full cup. I always try to maintain a distance away from any idea. Too many convictions simply mean too few paths for new ideas.

    Actively seek out information that contradicts your worldview.

    Our minds can’t be trusted, but this is what we can do about it to be wiser.

    10. Find Jobs that Encourage Learning

    Pick a career that encourages continual learning. If you are in a job that doesn’t have much intellectual freedom, consider switching to one that does.

    Don’t spend forty hours of your week in a job that doesn’t challenge you.

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    11. Start a Project

    Set out to do something you don’t know how. Forced learning in this way can be fun and challenging.

    If you don’t know anything about computers, try building one. If you consider yourself a horrible artist, try a painting.

    12. Follow Your Intuition

    Lifelong learning is like wandering through the wilderness. You can’t be sure what to expect and there isn’t always an end goal in mind.

    Letting your intuition guide you can make self-education more enjoyable. Most of our lives have been broken down to completely logical decisions, that making choices on a whim has been stamped out.

    13. The Morning Fifteen

    Productive people always wake up early. Use the first fifteen minutes of your morning as a period for education.

    If you find yourself too groggy, you might want to wait a short time. Just don’t put it off later in the day where urgent activities will push it out of the way.

    14. Reap the Rewards

    Learn information you can use. Understanding the basics of programming allows me to handle projects that other people would require outside help. Meeting a situation that makes use of your educational efforts can be a source of pride.

    15. Make Learning a Priority

    Few external forces are going to persuade you to learn. The desire has to come from within. Once you decide you want to make lifelong learning a habit, it is up to you to make it a priority in your life.

    More About Continuous Learning

    Featured photo credit: Paul Schafer via unsplash.com

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