This is a more-or-less straightforward list of software I use on Windows and, briefly, why. From this list you can see I generally find something that I like and keep using it. I’m also a big fan of free software.
- Firefox web browser. I like it because it’s not IE, because it is free, and because it is customizable with a large number of plugins to do nearly anything you want. For example, I use a plug-in called Style Sheet Chooser Plus. That allows me to revert to simple formatting when some web designer does something ‘artistic’ and unreadable on their page.
- Forte Agent for e-mail and newsgroups. It’s simple and above all, supports plain text email which is frugal of bandwidth and much safer than HTML email. I must say that I use an older version as this program has suffered from creeping elegance in later versions.
- Media Player Classic for playing video and some types of streaming audio. Again it is simple and it is free. Not bloated like Windows Media Player is now.
- Open Office For word processing, spreadsheets, presentations and everything else that MicroSoft Office does, only it is free and open source. It can read most Office file formats and can produce files that are compatible with Office. No need to pay the Micro$oft tax to do normal office work.
- Drive Snapshot This one isn’t free but it is still one of the best programs for backing up your hard drive. You can image the whole drive so it is easy to return to your software configuration without having to reinstall every progran and set their options the way you want them.
- TrueCrypt Free open-source disk encryption software for Windows 7/Vista/XP, Mac OS X, and Linux. If you want rock solid, unbreakable encryption, this is the program that will do it for you.
- Streets & Trips. Yes, it’s from Micro$oft but it is the only decent trip planning program out there. I use it for every long trip we take and when people are coming to visit, I can provide them with a map and customized driving directions. It allows you to get up-to-date road construction information and you can look up sights and attractions along the way. Not too expensive and worth the price.
- Skype. Simply the only application for free internet calling, with or without video.
- Foxit. An alternative (also free) to Adobe Acrobat. I like it because it isn’t the bloated crapware that Acrobat has become.
- Palm Desktop. Even though I no longer use a Palm PDA, but the Palm Desktop is still a great general purpose calendar and contact manager. I use version 4.1.4 and I believe it is still a free download.
- Winzip. I use version 8 and that is still good enough for everything I do. I don’t know if you can still download that version or not but I would think you can find it somewhere.
- CDEX Open Source Digital Audio CD Extractor. My favorite CD ripping software. It does all that I need for converting CD’s to MP3’s
- TightVNC A free remote control software package. I use this to control the computer in my observatory, 400 feet from the house via WiFi. I also use it to access the computer connected to my ham radio station so I can monitor activity without leaving my normal desk. I would not recommend this program if you are trying to control a machine over the internet or on a network you don’t physically control.
- IrfanView A great little program for viewing photos, making slideshows and doing simple photo touchup. Won’t replace Photoshop but it is free and does all the simple day-to-day things like cropping, resizing, simple color adjustment and adding captions.
- SpinRite This is definitely not free and not really a Windows program but I think it is something everyone with one or more hard drives should have. It the event of a crash, SpinRite can often repair the crashed drive and allow you to recover data that would otherwise be lost. If you regularly run SpinRite it will maintain your drive, detecting impending problems and remapping the sectors to prevent crashes.
Of course I have a lot of other bits of favorite software but these are the ones I think will most likely be useful to others. Of course YMMV.