Daily computer use creates a bunch of extra stuff on your system. As you use applications, browse Web sites, open documents, and generally go through your daily routine, you leave bread crumbs about your habits everywhere. If you use a computer on a corporate network, in a public location, or even share with family members, you may have reasons for not broadcasting every little thing you do to anyone who sits down at the computer. You may also not want a bunch of extra junk building up on your system even if you don’t care whether people know where you’ve been. Enter CleanAfterMe, a simple utility designed to remove temporary files, clear the recent documents list, flush the Windows Event Logs, remove the list of installed USB devices, disable auto-complete information, and eliminate cookies. My biggest complaint is the software doesn’t allow you to choose which cookies to keep, since there are some that come in handy for saving specific types of preferences. CleanAfterMe runs without an installer, making it a great solution for use on public networks where an admin may have control over what you can and can’t do with your computer. [Windows 2k/XP/Vista $0.00]
I’ve been actively encouraging people to sign up for Twitter because I think it’s a great way to keep up with sound bytes from lots of people. It’s a decent way to quickly find help with a problem if you are engaged with enough other people. And if selectively used, Twitter is a great way to filter some of the information that flows through your life. For an excellent (and more detailed) explanation of Twitter, watch Twitter in Plain English. After experimenting with only reading other people’s Tweets on my phone, only reading in a browser, and using a couple different desktop apps, TweetDeck comes out as the clear winner for organizing information in a way I can quickly digest, showing me the tweets from everyone, the tweets directed at me, and direct messages only I can see in separate panes. TweetDeck is built on the Adobe AIR platform, which feels like a slightly reinvented version of Flash, making it a cross-platform solution out of the gate. [Windows XP/Vista | Mac OS X | Linux $0.00]
When Sysinternals first became part of Microsoft, I was concerned their regular release of free apps would cease. Fortunately Microsoft continues to let them thrive. The recent release of Desktops is a perfect example. The app is a simple solution for creating up to 4 virtual desktops for Windows. Virtual desktops come in handy because it can get confusing when you have many application windows open simultaneously. With a virtual desktop, you can give each application function its own space. Put your email client on one desktop, your Web browser on another desktop, your photo editor on a third desktop and your favorite game on the fourth. I find it really handy for keeping interruptive instant messenger windows from getting in the way of whatever I’m doing. Desktops also separates taskbar items by desktop, making it easier to get to the screen you want. Clicking the icon in the system tray provides a visual of all four desktops (shown below) or you can simply use Win+1,2,3 ,or 4 to switch between them. Desktops isn’t a replacement for having two monitors but it goes a long way to reducing clutter on your desktop. [Windows XP/Vista $0.00]
There are many occasions where I want to combine a few PDF files into a single document for easy storage. If I get invoices, contracts and data about a project in several different files, I can archive them all as one file by combining them. Conversely, there are many instances where I get PDFs that have unnecessary blank pages or strange formatting that I eliminate by removing pages. I typically use the full version of Adobe Acrobat for these functions, but that’s overkill for most people. PDF Split and Merge helps make it easy to merge and split PDF files without needing to spend additional dollars on a more complex program. The interface is a little clunky, but once you get used to it’s quirks, splitting PDFs is a snap. The only possible disadvantage to this app is it lacks the ability to perform split and merge functions on password protected PDFs. [Windows 2k/XP/Vista $0.00]
I saw an early demonstration of WorldWide Telescope at a holiday party in December 2007. The room was blown away. Everything cool we’ve seen from mapping software for the Earth was bringing all the known universe into focus on screen in a completely different way. You can travel to galaxies and view photos from telescopes from around the world. Hear the leading researchers in astronomy share data on the stars in the sky. World Wide Telescope fundamentally shifts the way we all learn about the stars. One of the big wins here for we Earthlings is that Microsoft has succeed in getting scientists all over the globe to participate in sharing data with the unwashed masses. It’s fun to bash Microsoft as a big company that takes our money and frustrates us with lackluster products we’re forced to use, but World Wide Telescope is a massive example of the company diverting some of those dollars to something that ultimately benefits everyone on the planet with access to knowledge and information that’s primarily only been available to scientists, exposing it in a way that’s accessible to everyone. If you have an ASCOM compatible telescope, you can use it in combination with WorldWide Telescope. [Windows XP/Vista $0.00]
Almost two years ago I wrote about the Schmap player, which enabled interactive map guides for about 30 major U.S. cities at the time. Schmap has since expanded, now offering 200 guides covering cities in Europe, Canada, and the United States. You can download the massive 388MB collection for local access on your computer, or you can selectively download cities as you need them. If you’re planning a trip for business or leisure, Schmap offers an interesting way to find places you might otherwise miss, locate restaurants off the beaten path, or simply explore the city before you get there. After Schmap, you won’t look at travel planning the same way again. [Windows 2k/XP/Vista Mac OS X $0.00]
Scott Dunn over at Windows Secrets provides a list of the nine must-have freeware apps, based on the overlap in reviews from four respected publications. To make Scott’s list, an application had to appear on the list of three out of four of publications. You can read Scott’s methodology in picking the software, then download the apps. Most have been mentioned here before.
Avira AntiVir Personal is one of the most frequently updated free antivirus apps.
Comodo Firewall Pro is a solid upgrade to the Windows Firewall, providing protection for both inbound and outbound traffic.
TrueCrypt is my favorite disk encryption software. If you want to make sure files on your disk are locked down, use TrueCrypt with an external key on a USB drive.
CCleaner is a favorite registry cleaner and temp file remover.
Lightning for Thunderbird is a must-have because Thunderbird lacks a calendar.
Foxit Reader is a lightweight alternative to the slow-loading Adobe Reader for PDF browsing. It is free but the terms are confusing because Foxit tries hard to upgrade you to their “pro pack”.
Audacity is the best free multi-track audio recorder period. I’ve written several tutorials for audio recording and podcasting based on Audacity.
Wavosaur is the audio editor I affectionately think of as “Sound Forge lite”. It’s a great two-track audio editor with most of the functions you’d need from a pro app like Sound Forge.
Pidgin is my favorite unified instant messaging client. Since Yahoo, Microsoft, AOL, Google, and numerous other messaging apps refuse to collectively play nice, Pidgin bridges the gap for you.
My own lists of best freeware solutions are much longer, but it’s excellent to see Scott’s distilled list of freeware featuring nine overlapping greats.