First a few sites where you can search for shareware. I like to read reviews about what I’m trying so I like the following shareware sites:
- CNET or Downloads.com : Decent editorial reviews but I’ve seen some reviews that were entirely off the mark here.
- Snapfiles : Lots of ads but also aggregates user reviews.
- Tucows : Older well known site with reviews.
- LifeHacker : Along with everything else he reviews software. Good straightforward reviews of unique apps.
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There are probably many I missed so add a comment if you think I should add to that list.
What follows is my list of programs that I personally have found to be extremely useful, and that you may have not heard of:
|Backup and Synchronization|
Macro Express – Automation/Keyboard Shortcuts/Scheduling
Use this program to automate everything you do. There is no easier way to write powerful scripts than this. This program has all the power of a programming language made as simple as possible. I often find myself making a macro in Macro Express to solve something, even with my knowledge of programming and the windows API it’s just so much easier and faster to do it in Macro Express.
You can have it schedule to do a macro any way you like. Every hour, at 11pm on Wednesdays, every second, when a certain window pops up, whatever.
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It can do all sorts of stuff, change window settings, close windows, display a message, pop out the cd tray, turn the volume down, turn the whole computer off, kill programs, launch programs, launch websites, type stuff in for you, move the mouse around, click on a certain thing, the list goes on an on.
The great thing is any layman can figure this out and make use of it. Knowing a little programming only helps you create real workhorse macros.
Some things I have Macro Express do:
- Kill a silly popup window that keeps popping up asking for confirmation.
- Check my ftp server logs for brute force attacks and if found shut down the server and block that ip and then start the server again.
- Do a bunch of stuff as soon as the computer boots up.
- Shut down my kids computers at bedtime.
- Check all my hard drives if they are getting too full it sends me a text message saying which drive and what’s wrong.
- Remind me when rent is due every 3rd of the month.
- Play a sound reminder at 28, 10, 5, and 1 minute before time for me to leave for work only on the days I work to make sure I’m never late.
Some of those things like the ftp server and the hard drive check took a lot of work. But the others are really simple. I like it because no matter what I want to do it can do it the easiest way possible. I’ve worked out a complicated, yet crazy cool system using macro express that lets me send a pop up message to any of my pcs, shut them down remotely, reboot them, and run any of my macros remotely.
Avira – Antivirus
People constantly ask me what antivirus to use. The answer is use one that doesn’t take up all the system resources, one that doesn’t try to latch it’s claws into every aspect of the system and becomes impossible to uninstall, and finally a good detection rate. In the day Norton was good then it got terrible. Now I have read that Norton 360 has solved all it’s issues and is a good deal if you are looking to pay for antivirus. I never have liked Mcafee. It’s got it’s good points but it tries too hard and takes up system resources, and it’s expensive. Other excellent (probably better that Norton and Mcafee) non-free antivirus apps are Kaspersky and NOD32.
Of the free antivirus apps I have settled on Avira due to it’s low false positive rate and low resource usage. It’s straightforward and gets the job done. Some other good ones are AVG and Avast. Why must they all start with A? No idea.
Update: I have to reconsider my previous recommendation for Panda. After a week or two of usage Panda went out of control, it started marking important files as potential viruses, text files, reg files, for no reason? Worse, it would banish them to some inaccessible quarantine that I couldn’t seem to restore them from… Even WORSE, files in quarantine were being automatically deleted if I didn’t take action on them within a week! Not cool! This all happened with version 2 and they came out with version 3 that was supposed to fix these problems soon after, but I had had my fill of Panda. If I ever try 3 it will be on someone else’s pc first!
Wowwww! Panda just came out of nowhere and hit a home run with this Cloud Antivirus thing. All other virus programs check for virus updates at a certain interval, and then store those updates on the computer. Panda just sends the file info to it’s server and the file get’s checked by the very latest signatures. No finicky updates and overhead. PC World testing showed it caught like 99.x percent of viruses. It is also very efficient. Instead of having your home computer churn away analyzing each file, Panda just sends the file’s signature to some mega-beast processor out on the net to do the work. Best of all it’s free! Unbelievable. The only drawback is you have to be connected to the net for the system to work (that’s why it’s called ‘cloud’ cloud=internet). So I still keep Avira installed, but I disabled the real-time “Guard” to prevent conflicts with Panda. Now I just have Avira run a daily full scan.
Roboform – Internet auto-login/password manager/form filler
Roboform is a huge time and hassle saver on the internet. It saves your passwords and login for any website. Sure you can have Firefox or IE save your passwords, but Roboform works across both and it’s way easier to backup and copy your passwords to other pc’s. It also fills out webforms automatically for you. [ad name=”Google Adsense”] I enter all my info such as my name, address, phone number; the stuff every site always asks for. Then when I’m signing up to a new site or buying something online I just click on Roboform and poof it fills out most of the form for me. Also great for filling out online job applications and contests.
Sunbelt Kerio personal firewall – Free firewall
Kerio is a small, nimble firewall that is free! Make sure you install it in ‘Advanced mode’ or some things may just not work. Kerio doesn’t try to do too much, and is much more configurable than other apps that want money for access to such configuring. When you first install it you will get all these prompts coming up asking you if you want such and such to be able to connect to the net. If yes checkmark the box to make it permanent and you won’t see that box again. Do this and after a few days you won’t see those prompts.
On other free firewalls: Everybody likes ZoneAlarm but I found it to be a PITA.
I tried Comodo on my vista laptop and it looked cool at first but then had a real hard time getting my stuff to work.
Microsoft Live Mesh – Synchronization/Backup/Remote control
This program is so cool! It’s free in live beta now and is a very well-thought out app. You install it on one pc and select which folders you want to sync/backup. You then install it on other pc and tell it to sync up the mirror folder on it. For instance I have some project folders in my My Documents that I want to keep synced up at work and also at my laptop.
The other thing it does is allow you remote access to any of your pc’s you have it installed on. So you can just click on ‘Laptop’ and remote control your laptop from your home pc or vice versa. (I think this is why they blocked Live Mesh up at work… they could have just blocked the remote part of it and left the sync alone but oh well overkill as usual)
[ad name=”Google Adsense”]Finally you can get to your files on the web if say you’re at your friends house or a public pc. You could probably also login to your home pc from your friend’s house also.
Super Flexible file Synchronizer – Synchronization/Backup
This is an old school sync app I still use. It’s quick and has a bazillion options. You should probably be a power user before delving into the advance options. My only problem with is it is that it can create ‘resurrecting files’. Which means you delete a file on one side but then when you sync folders it gets copied back from your sync folder. The problem is multiplied if you have multiple pcs or locations synced. You can stop this by using the SmartTracking, but that doesn’t work over ftp which is what I was using to sync everything.
ZumoDrive – Synchronization/Backup/Media
ZumoDrive is sorta like Live Mesh. The difference is no remote control. But Zumo has an Iphone app and seems to be geared more for sharing your music files. It works great for sharing whatever files though, and gives you a gig of online storage. It also adapts well to sharing files from your pc to your iphone or netbook because it doesn’t make a local copy if the drive is small. One issue I have is that it makes you put the stuff you want to share on a ‘Z’ drive. So if you already have your stuff in My Documents you have to move it or use something else to sync it to the ‘Z’ drive. I use Super Flexible to sync my stuff to the ‘Z’ drive because I can’t just relocate all my files over like that.
Acronis – Backup
Know how they’re always saying to backup your computer? This is it, this is the best app for that. It’s super fast at backing up the entire drive. You can make incremental backups so say if you get a virus or things go wonky some day you can go back in time to the last backup when it was working ok. Also handy if you accidentally deleted a file, sync programs don’t work like that. You can also backup just certain files/folders instead of the whole drive. [ad name=”Google Adsense”]This saves space but takes longer to process. I have a backup of essential files scheduled twice a day.
Go buy an extra hard drive and then use acronis to backup. Someday when your hard drive crashes you’ll be glad you did it.
Returnil – Security
Ever had antivirus, firewall, and anti-spyware all installed and you STILL somehow get a virus? Or do certain people just not get it that they can’t click on those popups? Returnil ENDS all this, the finger pointing, the frustration. Install it, turn it on, and from then on you can do whatever idiotic thing you want to the computer. Click on popup ads, click on email links from mysterious people, install programs. Totally hose the computer. When you reboot, it’s as if nothing happened, it was all a dream. Groundhog day for computers.
Returnil makes a virtual space for your Windows to run. Windows runs perfect but the actual files are never changed. I put this on my kids computers so they can click on ads and look up Xbox cheat codes all day long.
The only problem is you need to configure your My documents to be real. Otherwise their homework they worked on all night will also go *poof* in the morning along with all the viruses they downloaded.
So you can switch Returnil off and reboot into ‘Real Windows’ when it’s time to:
– Let big sis work on her project.
– Install some program.
– Install Windows updates.
– Let antivirus update itself.
– Make tweaks or changes, change the background etc
UltraVNC – Remote Control
VNC is a very old school remote control app, one of the first. It’s been updated and split into various versions over the years. My favorite is version is UltraVNC for it’s ease, features, speed, and it’s free. It works great for point-to-point remote control over the net, but has a hard time working around firewalls. Some remote control apps blank the target pc’s screen or logoff the user. Vnc just puts you on so it’s great for demonstrating live to grandma how to do email while talking to her on the phone. Powerusers or determined people only should attempt to use this due to difficult setup and use requires a little knowledge.
GoToMyPC – Remote Control
GoToMyPC is great. The only drawback is that it costs and it’s also blocked in some places. If you provide tech support regularly to people it’s really easy to have them install it and log into your account. It’s fast, has tons of features, and works perfect over any firewalls unless they have specifically blocked it. [ad name=”Google Adsense”]I found it easy to write a script that automates most of the installation for my clients. Thanks to this I have saved enormous amounts of time getting peoples problems fixed. There’s nothing like being there.
LogMein – Remote Control
LogMein is like GoToMyPC but it was free last time I checked. I’m not sure how easy it is to have people install it like GoToMyPC is. I didn’t use it much but it did work well and in some cases where GoToMyPC is blocked, LogMein is not.
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