Advertising
Advertising

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.

    Advertising

    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!

    Advertising

    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).

    Advertising

    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?!

    Advertising

    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.

    More by this author

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide) The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work) How to Admit Your Mistakes How to Take Notes: 3 Effective Note-Taking Techniques How to Learn Something New Every Day and Stay Smart

    Trending in Featured

    1 Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide) 2 5 Steps To Move Out Of Stagnancy In Life 3 The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work) 4 How to Master the Art of Prioritization 5 40 Top Productivity Apps for iPhone (2020 Updated)

    Read Next

    Advertising
    Advertising
    Advertising

    Last Updated on January 21, 2020

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Most of the skills I use to make a living are skills I’ve learned on my own: Web design, desktop publishing, marketing, personal productivity skills, even teaching! And most of what I know about science, politics, computers, art, guitar-playing, world history, writing, and a dozen other topics, I’ve picked up outside of any formal education.

    This is not to toot my own horn at all; if you stop to think about it, much of what you know how to do you’ve picked up on your own. But we rarely think about the process of becoming self-taught. This is too bad, because often, we shy away from things we don’t know how to do without stopping to think about how we might learn it — in many cases, fairly easily.

    The way you approach the world around you dictates to a great degree whether you will find learning something new easy or hard.

    The Keys to Learning Anything Easily

    Learning comes easily to people who have developed:

    Curiosity

    Being curious means you look forward to learning new things and are troubled by gaps in your understanding of the world. New words and ideas are received as challenges and the work of understanding them is embraced.

    People who lack curiosity see learning new things as a chore — or worse, as beyond their capacities.

    Patience

    Depending on the complexity of a topic, learning something new can take a long time. And it’s bound to be frustrating as you grapple with new terminologies, new models, and apparently irrelevant information.

    When you are learning something by yourself, there is nobody to control the flow of information, to make sure you move from basic knowledge to intermediate and finally advanced concepts.

    Advertising

    Patience with your topic, and more importantly with yourself is crucial — there’s no field of knowledge that someone in the world hasn’t managed to learn, starting from exactly where you are.

    A Feeling for Connectedness

    This is the hardest talent to cultivate, and is where most people flounder when approaching a new topic.

    A new body of knowledge is always easiest to learn if you can figure out the way it connects to what you already know. For years, I struggled with calculus in college until one day, my chemistry professor demonstrated how to do half-life calculations using integrals. From then on, calculus came much easier, because I had made a connection between a concept I understood well (the chemistry of half-lifes) and a field I had always struggled in (higher maths).

    The more you look for and pay attention to the connections between different fields, the more readily your mind will be able to latch onto new concepts.

    How to Self-Taught Effectively

    With a learning attitude in place, working your way into a new topic is simply a matter of research, practice, networking, and scheduling:

    1. Research

    Of course, the most important step in learning something new is actually finding out stuff about it. I tend to go through three distinct phases when I’m teaching myself a new topic:

    Learning the Basics

    Start as all things start today: Google it! Somehow people managed to learn before Google ( I learned HTML when Altavista was the best we got!) but nowadays a well-formed search on Google will get you a wealth of information on any topic in seconds.

    Advertising

    Surfing Wikipedia articles is a great way to get a basic grounding in a new field, too — and usually the Wikipedia entry for your search term will be on the first page of your Google search.

    What I look for is basic information and then the work of experts — blogs by researchers in a field, forums about a topic, organizational websites, magazines. I subscribe to a bunch of RSS feeds to keep up with new material as it’s posted, I print out articles to read in-depth later, and I look for the names of top authors or top books in the field.

    Hitting the Books

    Once I have a good outline of a field of knowledge, I hit the library. I look up the key names and titles I came across online, and then scan the shelves around those titles for other books that look interesting.

    Then, I go to the children’s section of the library and look up the same call numbers — a good overview for teens is probably going to be clearer, more concise, and more geared towards learning than many adult books.

    Long-Term Reference

    While I’m reading my stack of books from the library, I start keeping my eyes out for books I will want to give a permanent place on my shelves. I check online and brick-and-mortar bookstores, but also search thrift stores, used bookstores, library book sales, garage sales, wherever I happen to find myself in the presence of books.

    My goal is a collection of reference manuals and top books that I will come back to either to answer thorny questions or to refresh my knowledge as I put new skills into practice. And to do this cheaply and quickly.

    Advertising

    2. Practice

    Putting new knowledges into practice helps us develop better understandings now and remember more later. Although a lot of books offer exercises and self-tests, I prefer to jump right in and build something: a website, an essay, a desk, whatever.

    A great way to put any new body of knowledge into action is to start a blog on it — put it out there for the world to see and comment on.

    Just don’t lock your learning up in your head where nobody ever sees how much you know about something, and you never see how much you still don’t know.

    Check out this guide for useful techniques to help you practice efficiently: The Beginner’s Guide to Deliberate Practice

    3. Network

    One of the most powerful sources of knowledge and understanding in my life have been the social networks I have become embedded in over the years — the websites I write on, the LISTSERV I belong to, the people I talk with and present alongside at conferences, my colleagues in the department where I studied and the department where I now teach, and so on.

    These networks are crucial to extending my knowledge in areas I am already involved, and for referring me to contacts in areas where I have no prior experience. Joining an email list, emailing someone working in the field, asking colleagues for recommendations, all are useful ways of getting a foothold in a new field.

    Networking also allows you to test your newly-acquired knowledge against others’ understandings, giving you a chance to grow and further develop.

    Here find out How to Network So You’ll Get Way Ahead in Your Professional Life.

    Advertising

    4. Schedule

    For anything more complex than a simple overview, it pays to schedule time to commit to learning. Having the books on the shelf, the top websites bookmarked, and a string of contacts does no good if you don’t give yourself time to focus on reading, digesting, and implementing your knowledge.

    Give yourself a deadline, even if there is no externally imposed time limit, and work out a schedule to reach that deadline.

    Final Thoughts

    In a sense, even formal education is a form of self-guided learning — in the end, a teacher can only suggest and encourage a path to learning, at best cutting out some of the work of finding reliable sources to learn from.

    If you’re already working, or have a range of interests beside the purely academic, formal instruction may be too inconvenient or too expensive to undertake. That doesn’t mean you have to set aside the possibility of learning, though; history is full of self-taught successes.

    At its best, even a formal education is meant to prepare you for a life of self-guided learning; with the power of the Internet and the mass media at our disposal, there’s really no reason not to follow your muse wherever it may lead.

    More About Self-Learning

    Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

    Read Next