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  1. #1
    2 Star Lounger
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    BEST SOFTWARE

    For some applications, free is not good enough


    By Ian "Gizmo" Richards

    Anyone who's read my column more than once or twice knows I'm a long-time advocate of free software, which is why only eight of the 40 programs on my laptop are commercial products.

    Those eight are applications that simply work better than any of their free competitors — I'm going to tell you about five of them, and why I still use them.

    The full text of this column is posted at WindowsSecrets.com/2010/06/03/07 (paid content, opens in a new window/tab).

    Columnists typically cannot reply to comments here, but do incorporate the best tips into future columns.
    Last edited by revia; 2011-01-19 at 18:34.

  2. #2
    New Lounger
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    Sorry, but after reading this column I had to chime in. The current version of Open Office does everything - and more - than MS Office at a savings of hundreds of dollars. With MS changing the look & feel with the "ribbon" I just can't see paying THAT piper to keep up with the Joneses - to mix metaphors. Open Office loads plenty fast - on my machine and the many I support. And the "not having Outlook" argument is a red herring. I use Evolution as my mail client and have for years. It has the look and feel of Outlook, includes Spamassasin support and is not "bloated" which you say about Outlook (and doesn't your "Sure, Outlook is bloated and slow" comment contradict your complaint about Open Office being slow???)

    OO's database connectivity is superb as well offering support for many real databases. And I've used the spreadsheet in OO to repair corrupted Excel sheets many many times. I have yet to encounter file incompatibility issues othre than minor formatting differences for any of the OO programs.

    I/we've saved a ton of money by using OO instead of MSO over the years. Not just for the software costs but the time for retraining required to get used to MSO's needless GUI changes.

    (And in the interest of full-disclosure my main personal PC runs the above apps on Linux but I also use and support those Windows versions of OO and Evolution on the work PCs I support as well as my home Windows PC.)

  3. #3
    New Lounger
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    Additional benefit for RoboForm
    Logging into various accounts is fast and automated when you use RoboForm . One gets used to this, not needing to type user/password data. But there is another critical benefit that I have never seen written about. Security from phishing emails. Phishing emails invite you to click on a (fraudulent) URL, which looks like the real thing. If you click this and you type user/password details you've been compromised. But with RoboForm you would not type anything when you click the URL. You would expect to see a MatchingPasscard option on the RoboForm ribbon. For a kosher site you would click this to log in quickly. However, for a phishing site RoboForm will offer nothing at all. This is because each Passcard that it holds (passcards hold the account details) also includes the URL for the site. As the site is fraudulent it will find no match - so offer no form filling. This is the clue that the URL is a fraud. At that point you reflect that you nearly made a serious mistake.
    I should point out that whilst RoboForm makes internet access to accounts fast and easy it does take some effort to get used to it and to set it up. I made implementation even more complex because I took the opportunity to use its facilities to change my passwords to strong passwords which would be very difficult to crack. The difficulty with this password change was partially within RoboForm but mainly in the chaotic way sites offer password change facilities. With a little practise I got the hang of it and persevered. My access to on-line accounts is now both faster and more secure than before. If you intend to strengthen your passwords you have to have login automation so that you neither need to remember passwords nor record them on your PC unencrypted. I suggest that it is critical to backup the Passcard folder so you don't lose your account details in the event of loss of your PC.

  4. #4
    New Lounger
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    I've become addicted to Roboform, but it can be had for almost free. I was able to get it through TrialPay which enables me to get it free by purchasing business cards from VistaPrint which I also needed. Most of TrialPay's products aren't useful to me but as I've used VistaPrint cards for years this was a good deal for me. You may also want to look into options like that. Now every time I need business cards I look for a software offer to go along with it.

  5. #5
    Lounger Will Fastie's Avatar
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    Whether any image editor comes close to Adobe Photoshop depends upon the degree to which one uses the feature set of Photoshop. I believe the vast majority of users, excepting professional graphics artists, use a very small subset.

    The GIMP - It does come close to Photoshop, certainly closer than any other free product. It is significantly more advanced than any other free program.

    Paint.NET - I use Paint.NET almost every day because it is very lightweight (i.e., loads fast) and can handle a quick crop, resize, and save faster than any other program. However, it needs much more work before it can be considered a full-fledged editor. Its best feature is that it is a superb replacement for the paint program included with Windows, exactly its original intent when it was a class exercise at WSU.

    Photoshop Elements - Although PSE is not free, it is worth the roughly $90 you'll pay for it. From my experience, it represents abut 80% of the capability of its big brother at less than 20% of the cost. It is not suitable for a pro because the full Photoshop has many features that make repetitive tasks much easier and faster (such as layer organization), but for occasional editing it is fine, especially after a few well-documented techniques are learned. PSE's strongest feature is Save for Web, which works just as effectively as Photoshop's version. Save for Web does the best job, yielding the best image quality at the lowest file size, of any other image editing or processing program I've used including both The GIMPand Paint.net. Last but hardly least, PSE includes a rather decent media organization tool. Formerly sold independently as Adobe Album, it's been part of PSE since I think version 3 or perhaps 4. The integration of the editor and the organizer is a compelling feature.

    I use PSE for 90% of all my image editing.

    The bad news about Adobe products is that new versions tend to consume lots of resources, especially CPU cycles. PSE6 runs very well on my 3-year old laptop but PSE8 does not. Adobe always makes you need hardware.

  6. #6
    New Lounger
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    On anti-virus, I've found the combination of Windows Security Essentials and Immunet (www.immunet.com) to be unbeatable. Immunet is free and uses so little of your system resources that there is no noticeable impact. I'd say that this free combination beats your paid anti-virus program. You should check out Immunet, a cloud anti-virus system that's been put together by some of the top anti-virus engineers who all used to work for big commercial anti-virus companies.

  7. #7
    New Lounger
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    I hate Photoshop: It's slow, expensive, and, as mentioned, mind numbingly painful to learn. It's like the programmers were competing to see who could come up with the most obtuse UI.

    My choice? For five years, I've been using Xara Extreme. This easily does 99% of what photoshop does, is able to use most of the photoshop plugins, is incredibly fast, even with 60MB files, and by comparison, extremely easy to use. I've had a several clients who are Photoshop pro's switch after trying Xara. Fairly painless, as it also imports/exports to .EPS & .PSD.

    Oh, and the whole thing is $249. (If you do not need pantone and color sep tools, the the non-pro version is a measly $89.)

  8. #8
    2 Star Lounger
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    passpack.com for passwords. It's entirely Web based (though you can also download a Windows app for offline use). It has all the usual password generation, storage, etc. The advantage is significant: one place for your passwords. Now you don't have to keep everything on a USB flash drive, or update password databases between your different computers. And, by the way, it's free.

  9. #9
    2 Star Lounger
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    Quote Originally Posted by Greg Smela View Post
    I/we've saved a ton of money by using OO instead of MSO over the years. Not just for the software costs but the time for retraining required to get used to MSO's needless GUI changes.
    And not only the less-than-useless GUI changes, but MSO2007's help is a huge step backwards. Before, help worked fairly well: fast, pertinent, and the question-mark context-sensitive help was, indeed, context sensitive. Now in 2007 the help feels like a badly done initial try.

    Furthermore Word is still buggy when trying to do modestly advanced features. For instance, I'm spending hours trying to fix its buggy handling of a Table of Figures. Even their much-hyped Ribbon is a productivity killer, and not just because it's different. Want to insert a Section change that doesn't insert a page change? Go to the Insert tab...gee, it's not there! Instead, you have to guess it's on Page Layout->Breaks. And then the Continuous still inserts a page! Buggy as hell...you still think MSO is a productivity enhancer?

  10. #10
    New Lounger
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    Suggest try Password Corral; I've been using this free app for years, and find it helpful and easy to use.

  11. #11
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    Roboform now has an online manager, "RoboForm Online" similar to LastPass.

  12. #12
    New Lounger
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    I've become a big fan of evolution over outlook. At least on linux since it does easy synchronization with Google's services, particularly the calendar.

  13. #13
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    A couple of comments.

    Re Office suites - all my clients use MS Office. I have tried many times to check if alternatives read and write MS Office correctly and it has never happened yet. Otherwise I would switch in a heartbeat. I am very surprised Greg has not had this problem, for me it comes up every time.

    Regarding password keepers. I had a scary experience recently when mine stopped working.What does one do then!!?? No backup of anything will necessarily help under these circumstances. The only solution I know is to use two types of product. Have a password keeper, and every time you add a new password output a plain text (e.g. CSV) listing of your passwords. Then lock the list up in a crypt - pc or physical!

  14. #14
    Plutonium Lounger Medico's Avatar
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    I also use the Last Pass free password manager. This does everything that Roboform does and more. And did I mention it's free!!!
    BACKUP...BACKUP...BACKUP
    Have a Great Day! Ted


    Sony Vaio Laptop, 2.53 GHz Duo Core Intel CPU, 8 GB RAM, 320 GB HD
    Win 8 Pro (64 Bit), IE 10 (64 Bit)


    Complete PC Specs: By Speccy

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