In my previous post about Freeware, I focused on programs and utilities that I most often use for my work as an author/writer/publisher. In this installment, I’ll look at those utilities that help out with various other tasks. Whether keeping my computers running smoothly, doing programming, or simply browsing the web, there’s no sense in paying for things when a free alternative does a good job. Here are my favorites:
Probably the most important utility that I use day-to-day. KeePass is a Password Safe and Password Manager all in one. If you’ve read my previous post about password security, you know how important this issue is to me. KeePass helps tremendously by managing all of my passwords, allowing me to use them all by only remembering one single master password that opens KeePass. Not only does it keep my passwords securely encrypted, but it has many other features. Here’s a basic screen shot:
You can group types of passwords together, if you want, such as for banking, or social media, for work, or for personal accounts. KeePass offers strong encryption, strong password generation using highly advanced methods, and great organization features. Each login entry can be individually customized and edited so that you can add notes, any related URLs, your security questions and answers, and other information that might be useful for that particular site or login. Like some of the other software that I’ve written about, KeePass probably deserves its own post since there’s a ton of features available.
Keepass is also portable. That means that you can stick it on a flash drive and securely use it on any machine. That’s a great feature! And since you can create customized lists (files) of your passwords, you can safely share those critical logins with your spouse or coworkers who might need access to your accounts in an emergency.
Firefox Web Browser
No surprise here. Firefox has come a long way from its Netscape roots (is my age telling on me?). I’ve used many browsers, but I consider Firefox the best one out there, and here are the most important reasons why:
- Privacy. Unlike Edge, IE, Chrome and other browsers, Firefox does not track your browsing history, and when you activate its security settings, it does not save any history after you close it. You can control which and whether sites install cookies, too.
- Add-Ons. There’s an extensive collection of Add-Ons, Plug-ins, and extensions available for Firefox. My favorites are VideoDownloadHelper, Https Everywhere, and Web Developer’s Toolbox, and EPubReader. Each of these is worthy of its own blog post.
- Speed. Firefox might not be the fastest browser, but it consistently comes in as one of the top three fastest browsers, most often in top place (according to various tests).
- Open Source Code. This means that people are constantly looking at Firefox to determine how it can be improved.
As everyone knows, you have to take out the trash now and then. Computers are no different, only it’s sometimes hard to find all those temp files and junk that need to be deleted. What’s worse, even when you “delete” them, they are really still sitting there on your machine…you’ve only told your computer that the space they reside in can be used if needed. This is where Secure File Deletion comes in, and its the main feature of CCleaner. After selecting a few basic settings, CCleaner will find and delete all those junk files that your programs produce and leave behind. Temp files, cookies, etc. And it will do it securely, that is, they’ll really and truly be gone.
But CCleaner has many other valuable features, including:
- Registry Cleanup. Okay, we know that the programs we run create junk files, but they also create junk registry entries. These are the basic bits of information your system needs in order to run, but the more entries there are, the slower your computer will run. CCleaner looks for junk entries, broken registry links, and etc., and cleans them up. And if you’re leery about messing around with your registry, CCleaner lets you keep backups of your registry just in case.
- Start Up Programs Utilities. This is handy for speeding up startup, but also for freeing RAM and resources. You can look at all of the programs that automatically load when you turn on your computer and decide if you really need them all. If you see one that you don’t really need at startup, you can disable it. You’ll still be able to launch it when you do need it, but the program won’t preload into your computer’s memory, slowing it down.
- Uninstall. CCleaner come with an uninstaller utility that lets you review all of the programs on your machine. If you don’t like one, you can uninstall it.
- Wipe Free Space. This is a cleaning option valuable for when you get rid of your computer. CCleaner will securely wipe all of the free space on your hard drive, making sure snoops who get your computer on down the road can’t piece together any personal information about you. A little added peace of mind for when you give that old computer of yours to Goodwill or to your nephew who’s an aspiring hacker.
CCleaner has many other features, and I highly recommend it as part of your basic tool kit. Everyone needs to be able to securely delete and clean up files.
Have you ever wondered if you could upgrade your machine by adding RAM? Need to know what CPU you’re running, or the amount of RAM available to you before laying out big bucks for that new software package? Enter Speccy, an easy-t0-use system information utility. It will give you a ton of information in a well-organized, easy-to-read manner. Here’s a screen shot of the Summary View:
By clicking on one of the links on the left of the window, I can get more detailed information. For example, here’s a screen shot of the RAM info it give me for the computer that I’m using right now:
It tells me that I have a little over 8GB of RAM, but that I can’t expand any more than I have already because I have zero Memory Slots that are free. So I’d be wasting my time investigating increasing my RAM.
Speccy will also tell you about all of the Peripheral devices installed for your computer, including printers, cameras, monitors, and other hardware, as well as virtual devices, such as print-to-pdf converters.
Very handy tool!
For 32-bit machines: http://filehippo.com/download_nitro_pdf_reader_32/
For 64-bit machines: http://filehippo.com/download_nitro_pdf_reader_64/
The free version that I use outperforms others that I’ve tried. Not only is it a powerful PDF Viewer, but it can also run as a virtual printer, allowing you to “print to pdf” documents, images, and web pages. The free version lacks conversion from pdf to Word, and it does not let you design pdfs from scratch (I use Scribus or Word for that), but it does include test notations, copying, and other basic and helpful features.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t include Perl in this list. It is not a program but a programming language. I use Perl version 5.10.0. Why do I list it here? Because I use it for a TON of stuff. Data mining and organization, reformatting jobs, web application programming, the list goes on. Yes, it is a language (or rather, a family of languages), and, yes, it takes a good while to learn and to get to the point that it is useful. But since it is 1. Free, 2. Robust, and 3. Runs on both Windows and on most web servers, it is very hard to beat.
For years, I used Perl to do work-related programming, but more recently I discovered (or “realized”) ways that it could help me with my writing projects (which I’ll share in an upcoming post). So I must give a big tip of the hat to Perl and the Perl Foundation.
Okay, so those are my favorites. I do use other free and almost-free programs, but the ones that I list in this post and in my previous post are my favorites.
If you have a favorite or highly useful free program that you use, I’d love to hear about it!