I have been having a lot of fun recently looking for specific software tools that avoid having to purchase multiple licenses of the high-priced programs. Here are a list of my picks of free and low-cost software tools. I am sticking with Samplitude Professional for audio and Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Photoshop Lightroom for photo-graphics. The other alternatives, however, are wide open.
While I generally write on audio subjects here, computers also interest me. I started using Microsoft Word in 1985 and continue to use it, 25 years later, and own several licenses to Office (2002, 2003, 2007, and 2010), but as the number of computers grows, I find that the other office suites are truly viable alternatives for Microsoft, at least for what I do. On complex documents, I try and compose them in the version that the client is using, but for simple documents, my current tool of choice is LibreOffice from The Document Foundation. It offers the same basic functionality as the OpenOffice suite, but it is a fork in the code and is being run by a non-profit foundation rather than as part of a commercial enterprise.
Using the open-source suite solves my problem of having the suite available on all my computers plus it solves the problem of having the home/student licensing level on a computer I want to use for a business project.
I still use an older version of Adobe InDesign and Microsoft Publisher, I am planning on trying out Scribus on my next page-layout project. Both Publisher and InDesign are high-end products (Microsoft seems to be pushing Publisher up-market in more recent versions of Office) and the cost for my infrequent applications is not warranted.
I have been looking for a Visio replacement. While not apparently compatible with Visio, Dia has received some good press. I am looking forward to trying it when I need to do diagramming. GOOD NEWS 2013: Libre Office 4 has an advanced, stable and generally useful Visio import function and the Drawing module in LO is probably adequate, if not spectacular, for creating modest business graphics. I honestly haven’t done much in LO Drawing, but it seems intuitive and straight forward.
Please let me know if there are other worthy applications competing with Dia and Scribus as I have yet to go far down the learning curve on either of these.
For utilities, I have some favourites that I keep using. Many of these are NOT free, but are well worth it in my opinion.
I have retired the high-priced spread in virus protection in favour of Microsoft Security Essentials which is FREE!
File backup and copy ViceVersaPro—I cannot say too many wonderful things about this program that I’ve been using for almost ten years.
File renaming AdvancedRenamer—This is a bit difficult to understand at first, but is a very powerful batch renamer with many different “methods” of renaming. This is donationware.
Making JPEG files for reference AdvancedConverter—This shareware program is excellent at making JPEGs from scanned TIF files. I use this to create a reference JPG file for each TIF file I create in scanning. However, it does not seem to do as well with NEF files from my D100, so I’ll need to figure out other ways of doing this for those folders that do not already have JPEGs. It can be done through Lightroom, Photoshop, and various Nikon applications, but for the TIF scans, this is really fast and does a reasonably credible job.
I have recently found an excellent set of software calculators from Western Australia. This suite includes the widest-range unit conversion application I have seen to date (currently listing 758 units). It is part of the ESBCalc pro suite.
For ripping audio CDs, Exact Audio Copy is highly recommended.
For figuring out data network problems, I use Netscan from SoftPerfect.
For communicating with my Garmin GPS, I use G7ToWin. My new Garmin unit comes with its own link software.
Finally, I was sad to see that Chris Marriott is no longer updating his program SkyMap. The version I had would not run on a Windows 7 64 bit machine–but I bought it when I was using Win 3.1! Instead of buying the upgrade that is now several years old with no further upgrades promised, I found four fun free astronomy applications.
Stellarium—Perhaps the best all-around program for casual viewing of the sky. It’s real point of interest to me is it shows constellation art which suggests what the ancients might have seen in the stars. It helps me visualize the constellations better.
Cartes du Ciel (SkyChart)—Probably the closest to SkyMap though each has their good and bad points (and remember my experience is with an old version of SkyMap). This is a sophisticated mapping program with selectable star catalogs and more.
Celestia—While the above-two applications are mostly focused on Earth-bound observers, Celestia will have you flying all over the Universe! It is something you can spend a lot of time with.
Virtual Moon Atlas—This focuses just on the moon and provides a fascinating view in detail! I recall buying a paper Moon Atlas in the late 1960′s at a high-school book sale. This beats that (I still think I have that Moon Atlas).