Yesterday I attended the Minneapolis St. Paul WordCamp 2010. A collection of people who embrace WordPress as their blog platform and/or CMS of choice came together to celebrate a fantastic open-source software package and explore its possibilities.
After a miserably cold slog through the heaviest snowflakes I’d ever experienced, and a Bruegger’s Bagel sandwich that was so bland it made the snowflakes seem tasty, I arrived at the luxurious Best Buy Headquarters. After loading up on t-shirts, stickers and even a pint glass from the nice folks at iphouse, I killed off a Saturday with seminars on everything from coding plugins and themes to custom post types and e-commerce. Lunch was catered by Buca.
At the Customizing WordPress class, Josh Byers gave the audience this geek test: [Read more…]
Who would have thought it, but by day I’m a mild-mannered I.T. guy. As you can imagine, I get asked for software recommendations all the time. Free software on the internet is confusing for those who don’t constantly dabble, tinker, and have the occasional discovery of crapware that jacks their operating system.
The names of softwares give you no clue about their quality. Some of the best software is poorly named (“Spybot Search And Destroy”? “Malwarebytes Anti-malware”? Seriously?) and even the most trustworthy-sounding software can be corrupt. Anyone who shivers at the mention of “AntiVirus 2007” knows what I’m talking about. People need help determining which programs can be trusted.
Last year, I sent out an e-mail listing several free programs and services that I use often. Website services and software that I not only use and trust, but they are so good I’d consider buying the full version just to reward a job well-done. You can review the list from 2008 here, but I’ve revised the list and added some new items for the 2009 holiday season. I’ve also asked IT guru Saveau (Literally the guru’s guru) for his own wisdom in this area. With his help, I’ve compiled a list of software and services that have been tested and trusted by professionals… but most importantly, it’s all FREE.
The 2009 List of I.T. Approved FREE Website Services:
The following services require you to register a username/password. They should work for any computer that can browse the internet.
Windows only. This software/service from Microsoft creates a folder on your computer that automagically synchronizes with your account on the internet. Can you say Fully Automated Backup? Can haz 5GB of storage space? Yes, you can haz. Better yet, any other computers connected to your mesh will be auto-synchronized too. Not good enough? How about this: Your data in the mesh is available on any computer running windows – just log into your online account. Still not enough? How about this: You can remote control any of your computers currently connected to your mesh. If that isn’t good enough for you, stop reading now.
Saveau swears by Avast! and I’ve used and recommended AVG for people who don’t want to shell out for off-the-shelf AntiVirus. I know plenty of people who use Symantec, McAffee, or ESET NOD32 AntiVirus. I don’t think it really matters so much which anti-virus program you use, but you really should have one. Only one. Do not load more than one anti-virus program unless it’s your last resort.
These three poorly named anti-spyware programs are designed to get rid of things your AntiVirus program never dreamed of. Part of my standard “tune up” is to run CCleaner then Malwarebytes AntiMalware, then the installed AntiVirus program. For more intensive cleanup download Spybot, Malwarebytes AND SuperAntiSpyware. Install and run all of them until they all come back clean. Yes, this takes a long time. Yes, I’ll be glad to do this for you. Yes, I charge by the hour.
Don’t upgrade this program. The updated version only works for a limited time unless you pay. The free version is what you want. Ashampoo is easy to use, burns anything to anything, and it isn’t a background hog or “notice whore” like Nero and Roxio.
For Windows XP. Significantly improves the usefulness of the Windows XP clock. Change the color and font of the clock. Change to 24-hour time. Micro-tweak position of the digits. Add in the day of the week. Click on the clock and a calendar pops up. Imagine that! (Microsoft didn’t.)
K-Lite allows your computer to play back every form of non-mechanical media known to have been in use in this sector of the galaxy. Ever. It will integrate with Windows Media Player, or use the included Media Player Classic, or both, and runs without issue on XP, Vista, and Windows 7. It can even allow older, slower computers to play back some modern HD content. If you run into a media file that Windows won’t play or you get a “missing codec” error, you need this program.
I’ve never used TeamViewer but I’m going to start, because it sounds like a useful utility and Saveau gives it his blessing. TeamViewer allows you to set up a remote session on any other PC with an internet connection by simply having them read off the session ID and password when they launch TeamViewer on their end. Makes it simple to help people with computer problems from remote.
Disc Copy is another Easeus product endorsed by Saveau, and I can vouch for Clonezilla. Both programs are free knockoffs of the popular Norton Ghost and Acronis True Image – They allow the user to make a complete duplicate of their hard drive. Operating system, installed programs and all. Disc Copy has a limitation of copying only to a drive of equal or greater size – but since most people will be doing precisely this, it shouldn’t pose a problem. Clonezilla is a linux based copy program using a command line interface and is awkward to use but very flexible, allowing you to clone to and from pretty much anything. Clonezilla is the only disc cloning utility I’ve found that will clone drives with a bootable Linux OS installed.
As a Christmas present to you all, I’ve compiled this list of 10 Free Softwares and Services for your computing needs. As an IT guy, I’ve tested and trusted these programs over the last year, so I can vouch for their non-evilness. (Just make sure you’re downloading them from the right site!)
Ditch Microsoft Office! Gmail is a must-have. The mail program alone is awesome, allowing you 7GB of mail, built-in antivirus, excellent spam filtering, tagging and searching ability, auto responder, etc., but they keep adding features that make it an all-in-one replacement for Microsoft Office on your home computer. Google Docs gives you the ability to create, edit and save Word Documents, PowerPoint Presentations, and Excel Spreadsheets. Google Chat allows text, audio and now even video chats between people (much like Skype). The Calendar function can send you SMS or e-mail notices of events. It does Contacts and Tasks too. No software to install on your computer, all the data is kept online, so there’s no need to back-up, and it’s available from any internet-connected computer.
Ditch OneNote! Evernote is a place to create your own database of information – store text, drawings, task lists, webpage clips, recipes, meeting notes, pictures and screenshots, random thoughts and have them all tagged, labeled, and easy to search. Those who already use Microsoft’s fabulous OneNote program will want to switch to Evernote. Why? Because instead of a file on your computer, your data lives on Evernote’s online servers, available through their website from any computer connected to the internet. Better yet, they have a local program that you can install on any computer, mobile phone or pocket pc, and use offline, and it can SYNCRONIZE with the online data.
Ditch bookmarks! Delicious allows you to save website bookmarks in an online account. Never lose your bookmarks again, and make them available from any computer. Share your bookmarks with others, and see how many people have bookmarked the same links. Check out their simple-to-install buttons for Internet Explorer and Firefox which makes saving bookmarks easy. Tip: Use igoogle.com as your homepage, and add the delicious bookmark gadget, and your bookmarks are available as soon as you open your browser.
Ditch Spyware! A horribly named program, but it works really well. Gets rid of all the things AntiVirus does not. It always finds things, even on brand new computers, clears out junky programs and cookies. Takes forever to run, but can improve your computer’s performance. Install it Before you have problems. Windows only.
Ditch Metallica! Jagged Spiral is way better. Download their debut album Days From Evil for free; just follow this link and scroll down to “Days From Evil Downloadable Tracks” [Update Aug 2015 – Both Jagged Spiral albums are available for free here: Jagged Spiral on Bandcamp and Jagged Spiral On Souncloud.]
Ditch I-tunes! Songbird works with all operating systems, your I-pod, other audio devices, and your existing music library. It’s a strange musicplayer/webbrowser hybrid, so it has a few tricks up its sleeve. It can display song lyrics, artist news, flickr pictures, and even concert info auto-magically as it changes songs! It even links to where you can purchase concert tickets. Songbird is open source software (by the same nice people who brought you Firefox) so there’s plenty of user-generated plugins and color themes for it. All operating systems.
Ditch Google Maps! Google Earth is an amazing program that lets you scroll around the world with a camera’s eye view that you can mark up, add pictures, notes, reviews, and share them with the world. Download sightseeing tours, create and zoom through 3D models of cities, and make sure to Track Santa’s Progress on Christmas Eve! Note: Your computer will need some horsepower to run this application.
It’s really simple. The Windows clock sits on the taskbar and when you put the cursor over it, you’re supposed to get the date. Amazingly this does not always happen. Windows 95/98/ME/2000/XP ALL have this problem. The problem was solved with Windows Vista, but thankfully, a Smart person created LClock so we don’t have to upgrade to a new operating system just to get a clock that works. Run LClock and you will actually get the date when you hover your cursor over the time, click the time and a calendar of the current month pops up. Scroll back and forth through the months. Configure the color, font and position of your clock, switch to military time, etc. Basically all the things Windows clock should have done 13 years ago.
So there you go, a virtual boatload of Christmas Free-Softwareness, tested and approved by yours truly. Check back next year for more. If I missed anything make sure to leave a comment below.
An open letter to companies of virtual “products” that are actually “services.”
We are way beyond the magical year 2000 now. Turns out Nostradamus didn’t know shit. The world did not end, and I’m still paying for the end-of-the-world party I had in 1999. (still slightly hungover too…)
So here we are in 2007, and there are 3 things that Should Be, but Are Not:
1- Flying Cars
Where the hell are they already?
2- Virtual Reality
We been looking forward to Virtual Reality ever since seeing the Holodeck on Star Trek, and the closest we ever got was this crap. Oh yeah, and SecondLife.
3- Software as a Service, not a Product
Alright, so we ain’t been waiting on this one for near as long, but I loaded up the new Adobe Reader 8 and I’m wondering how is this different from version 7? Version 6? Version 3?
What Adobe Reader changed from previous versions is to hide all the buttons people used to use (Like ‘Save A Copy’? Yeah, glad you got rid of *that* useless button) and replace them with things like BEYOND Adobe Reader. Seriously? What the fuck is Beyond Adobe Reader? BEYOND Adobe Reader? And a meeting button? In Adobe Reader? WTF?
The casual user doesn’t use any of those ‘Value Subtracted’ features. They use it to view PDF files. Let me rephrase that in a parable for Adobe:
[Setting: The Pearly Gates]
God – “Alright mortal, before you can enter Heaven, you must answer this question, and answer it honest and truthfully, or shalt thou forever burn in a fiery pit of, um… of Fire!”
Adobe Reader User (terrified) – “Yes Lord.”
God – “What is the purpose for Adobe Acrobat Reader?”
Adobe Reader User (sweating) – “Um, to read PDF files?”
God – “Correct!”
It isn’t just Adobe. Microsoft Money and Intuit’s Quicken programs haven’t changed functionality in a decade, but they have continued to release new versions every year. And Windows? Exactly what I am talking about. These companies have bought into the paradigm that a Software Product is a living, breathing entity, which ebbs and flows like the tide, continually morphing into new and exciting user experiences under the guidance and direction of their marketing department…
…but they are wrong. Sorry, into the fiery pit of Fire with you.
If you can’t write a piece of software and call it done then you don’t have a Product. You have a Service. If customers buy your software off the shelf, install it on their computers and never look back, then you have a product. But what we have instead is a mindset I call Version Release Syndrome.
It isn’t hard to understand why. You have hundreds of people working on the project. For months. Years. You fine tune, and you beta test, and you work work work. Suddenly, the shareholders scream in unison. The press has been notified, the preorder checks have already been spent, and the market is buckling under the stress of waiting. The drop dead date is etched in bits on the internet. The bloggers scream! “It’s gonna suck!” “It’s gonna rock!” There is no more time, and not enough caffeine in the world.
Somewhere a file is transferred to the duplicator. You just went gold.
After the programmers come out of their comas, then comes all the frustration of shoulda/woulda/coulda. Shoulda added this feature. Woulda got more user feedback. Coulda done more QA testing. If we only had more time.
And now we sit here, in this big money-making-machine, and it’s a shame to shut it all down now. I mean, what are all these talented people going to *DO*? The juggernaut pauses for just a breath. It would be SO DIFFICULT to shut it down, and SO EASY to…
The beauty of the internet has only enabled this attitude. Software companies can ship unfinished and untested ‘product’ and provide patches later. Just slip in a clause into the EULA, and bam! You can make money today on software that isn’t even finished! Game companies are the most notorious for this, but at least They draw the line on their releases at some point, so they truly are a Product. Imagine if music or movies did this! (although with DVD re-releases and CD remasters this can be done to some extent)
This is NOT the way.
What companies will eventually realize is that software in all its forms, movies, music, e-books, webpages, RSS News Feeds, blogs, and even operating systems should be distributed as services, not products. Charge a subscription for them. In case no one noticed, they already are, but it’s about the clumsiest system I can imagine.
Instead of trying to trick your customers into upgrading to the new version, get them to sign on as subscribing customers. Which method do you think will make more money? Think long tail. AOL understood this. Give the software away. Free. Charge a subscription for the service, like a utility.
In case you didn’t know, Real Networks, Inc. is Real Evil. Their intense desire to strongarm all known audio into their proprietary Real Media formats is only matched by the legendarily suck-tastic performance of their products.
Please do not endorse this company or their products.
Thankfully, you don’t have to use Real Player to play Real Media files:
Real Alternative will allow you to play RealMedia files without having to install RealPlayer. All RealMedia formats (.ra .rm .rmvb .ram .rpm .rv .rp .rt .rnx .smi .smil) are supported, including streaming content and RealMedia content that is embedded in Web pages
[Jan 2010 Update: C-Net calls Real Media the “Biggest Disappointment of the Decade” and the “Prince of Crapware and Annoyance” in their 5 worst downloads of 2009 article.
It makes me happy to look back on this post from 5 years ago and realize that finally, there was a Bad Guy in the real world who didn’t eventually win through their own evil perseverance. I’d like to think this blog post played some small part in the demise of Real Networks.
Also, I’ve changed the Real Alternative link over to download.com although if you run across any Real Media files beyond the year 2010, you should send the website host a scathing e-mail.]