Often Recommended On The Cauldron
There are a number of freeware (and occasional shareware) programs that are often recommended on our message board when people are looking for ways to block pop-up ads, find and remove spyware, and generally improve their computing experience.We have collected these programs here and provided short descriptions and a link to the program's web site. While a few of these programs have Linux or Mac versions, most of these programs are for Windows XP, Vista, or Seven. (Assume Windows only if it is not mentioned.)
The decision to actually download and use one of these programs is yours. While most of these programs have been used successfully by at least one Cauldron member, that does not mean they will work on your computer! None of these programs are stored on The Cauldron's web site, so be doubly sure to check them for viruses with a good virus scanner with up to date virus signature files before you use them.
- (Adware/Spyware Remover -- Freeware)
Some "free" programs and web sites place tracking codes and ad software on your computer. AdAware scans your memory, registry, hard, removable and optical drives for known data-mining, aggressive advertising, and tracking components. It then lists the results and offers to remove or quarantine the components. SpyBot Search & Destory (see below) generally finds more spyware, biut Ad-Aware catches some SpyBot does not. Be sure to read the documentation before having Ad-Aware remove any files.
- (Clipboard Extender -- Freeware)
Have you even wished the Windows clipboard could hold more than one item at a time? ArsClip allows this. It monitors the clipboard and keeps track of the entries. Press a configurable hotkey and select an item (or items) from a popup menu to quickly paste into another application. If you do a lot of cut and paste, you will soon fall in love with this program.
- EMS Free Surfer mk II
- (Popup Ad Blocker -- Freeware)
EMS Free Surfer mk II is a freeware popup stopper for Internet Explorer. Free Surfer does not in any way interfere with opening new windows. No white lists, block lists or anything else to configure; just start it and surf in peace. Optionally, it can also disable those annoying GIF and Flash animations so often used in ads in web pages.
- (Spelling Checker for Internet Explorer 5+ -- Freeware)
ieSpell is a free Internet Explorer browser extension that spell checks text input boxes on a webpage (using a dictionary on your computer, not on another web site so it is very fast). The program installs as a new button in the IE toolbar (as well as a new menu item under "Tools") - after filling in a form, just hit the ieSpell button and it pops up a dialog, similar to the MS Word spell check. It's great for checking messages you write on our message board.
- Magic Mail Monitor
- (Pop3 Mail Account Monitor -- Freeware)
Magic Mail Monitor (MMM) is a POP3 mail monitor with multiple accounts support. It sits silently in your system tray, and notifies you about new messages in one of your mailboxes. Then you can preview messages and delete unwanted mail in order to avoid spam and viruses.
- (Kitchen Sink Utility for Power Users -- Freeware)
PowerPro gives you a compact and powerful launch bar, menu, and tray icon facility. But this is just the start. With a little experimenting with its configuration, you'll find that you can use PowerPro to change the way you work with your Windows system. The source of its power is the way PowerPro integrates three capabilities: Running commands (tool bars, tray icons, hot keys, mouse actions, menus, timer, scheduler, etc.), Controlling other program's windows (close, minimize, maximize, roll-up to caption, tray minimize, position, etc.), Providing utility functions (send keystrokes to programs, run commands when windows first open, virtual desktops, clipboard extender, keyboard macros, shutdown, show all folder files in a menu, sounds, wallpaper, screensaver activation and randomization, etc.). This is a very complex, but very powerful tool for Windows power users.
- SpyBot Search & Destory
- (Adware/Spyware Remover -- Freeware)
Like Ad-Adware, SpyBot Search & Destory is an adware and spyware detection and removal tool. It also removes PC and Internet usage tracks, including browser history, temporary pages, cookies (with option to keep selected) and more. The program offers an attractive outlook-style interface and produces a detailed and easy to understand report before it deletes any files and allows you to deselect any item that you do not want to be processed. This is a more complex tool than Ad-Aware, but it seems to catch a lot of stuff that Ad-Aware misses. Be sure to read the documentation before having SpyBot remove any files.
Latest from Software Gadgets
The Software Gadgets Blog lists interesting and useful Windows software and online services -- mainly freeware or open source. A few items from this blog appear in the Cauldron and Candle newsletter each month. Here are the latest programs and onlive services listed in the Software Gadgets Blog.
- Font Runner -- Organize Your Fonts
It's easy to end up with a large number of fonts on your Windows computer. Even if you only install a few fonts yourself, many programs install a font or two (or a couple of dozen) when they install themselves on your system. Managing these fonts can be a real pain. If you have a really large number of fonts, keeping them all installing in your Fonts folder can slow your machine -- not to mention making it hard to find the fonts your really want in a programs drop-down font list. A good font manager can help.
Font Runner is a freeware font manager for Windows with a large number of features. Here's a list of the main features from the Font Runner web site:
Search for fonts by name, similarity or by a specific character. Finding the right font for your project has never been easier.
Font Projects allow you to group together sets of fonts for specific projects without having to move or install them.
Organizing your font collection with Font Runner is a breeze. Copy and move fonts with your mouse.
Fast and Easy Browsing
Easily browse through fonts your hard disk, network locations, removable disks or any other kind of media.
Preview Text, Style and Color
Preview sample text for fast comparison of fonts. Display it in the style and color of your choosing.
Share Fonts with Other Applications
The fonts being displayed by Font Runner can be shared with other applications as if they were installed.
Examine Fonts With the Font Map
Get up-close and personal with the font by browsing through its supported characters.
Quick Access to Favorite Font folders
Customize a list of your most frequently used font folders for convenient access.
Print Your Fonts
Create a hardcopy index of your font archive so you can easily thumb through it away from your computer.
Font Runner is available in both a 32 bit and a 64 bit version. Font Runner has a simple interface which makes it easy to use. However, it does not default to the Windows Font folder and it uses Explorer for some of its file manager. Whether these are drawbacks or points in the program's favor depends on how you prefer to work.
Operating System: Windows XP, Windows Vista, or Windows 7
Version Tested: 18.104.22.168
Web Site: http://www.jfamiglietti.com/john/?page_id=3
- Pinta -- Free Paint Program for Linux, MacOS, and Windows
Paint.net is a nice program. It is far more powerful than programs like Windows Paint, it is easy for the average person to use (unlike programs like Photoshop), and it is free. Unfortunately, it is a Windows only program. If you work on different computers with different operating systems, it can be a pain to learn different paint programs -- especially if you only use them once in a while to create an icon or retouch an important photograph.
Pinta to the rescue. Pinta is a cross-platform freeware paint program running on Windows, MacOS, and Linux. While it is not as powerful as some, it is far more powerful than the free paint programs that come with most operating systems. It is fairly easy to use, but has a good number of powerful features, including unlimited layers, full history undo (making it is to backup when you find that your multi-step "improvement" wasn't quite the improvement you expected it to be), a good number of adjustments and effects, the the basic drawing tools you expect from any good paint program. While it will never replace Photoshop, Pinta is an excellent paint program to consider if you would like to use the same program on your Windows box at home and your Mac or Linux box at work.
The only drawbacks are the extra requirements for some system. Mono for OS X needs to be installed on a Mac and GTK# needs to be installed on a Windows system (along with .Net 4, but most modern Windows setups already have it). Links to both are available on the Pinta download page.
Operating System: Linux, Mac OS X, Windows
License: Freeware (MIT X11 License)
Version Tested: 1.3
Web Site: http://pinta-project.com/
- Autokey - An Autohotkey Substitute for Linux
Autohotkey is one of the best "macro programs" for automating Windows. I first mentioned it on this site back in 2006: AutoHotKey. Unfortunately, there has never been anything quite like it for Linux. Now these is: Autokey. Autokey is not a Linux clone of Autohotkey, but it how most of the power of Autohotkey in a Linux friendly format. Like Autohotkey, Autokey lets you manage a collection of scripts and phrases, and assign abbreviations and hotkeys to these. This allows you to execute a script or insert text on demand in whatever program you are using. The most obvious change from Autohotkey is the macro programming language. Autohotkey has its own quirky but functional macro language. Autokey just uses the python programming language -- which is a standard program ion most Linux systems.
Here's a brief list of Autokey features from the Autokey web site:
* Python scripting engine allows you to automate virtually any task that can be accomplished via the keyboard and/or mouse
* Built-in code editor with autocomplete and calltips
* Scripts are plain Python files that can be edited in any text editor
* Similarly, phrases are stored as plain text files
* Create collections of phrases/scripts in folders, and assign a hotkey or abbreviation to the folder to display a popup menu
* Regular expressions can be used to filter windows by their title or class, to exclude hotkeys/abbreviations from triggering in certain applications
* Scripts, phrases and folders can be attached to the notification icon menu, allowing you to select them without assigning a hotkey or abbreviation
If you have moved from Windows to Linux and miss Autohotkey, Autokey provides a similar functionality and works well. The only drawback is that Autokey will not run the (many) scripts developed for Autohotkey. There is a program, IronAHK, which is a MONO-based version of Autohotkey which reportedly will run many Autohotkey scripts. Unfortunately, I've never been able to get it to work -- at least not reliably.
Operating System: Linux
License: GPL 3
Version Tested: 0.90.4
Web Site: http://code.google.com/p/autokey/
- Mr Weather -- Free Weather Tray Application
If you are looking for an easy-to-use, light on resources weather application for your Windows desktop, you'll want to consider Mr. Weather. It's amazing how heavy some desktop weather applications can get. Besides current conditions and a forecast, many weather applications are set up to display ads, weather maps, videos, etc., etc. That's great if you want all that, but its overkill if you just want to discover current conditions and the current forecast. Mr. Weather puts an idea in the notification area (aka "system tray") of your Windows taskbar that pops up a small box with the current conditions and a two day forecast when you click on it. Very basic, but that's really all the average person is likely to need. Mr. Weather is very light is the system resources used department. Weather junkies will probably want larger and more complete weather apps.
Setup is easy. Install Mr. Weather, enter your location (zip code, city or even major landmark) and how often you want Mr. Weather to update and you are ready to go. Dead simple and it just works.
Operating System: Windows XP or later
Version Tested: 1.21
Web Site: http://verifive.com/MrWeather/MrWeather.html
- Windows Firewall Notifier -- Extends Vista/Seven Firewall
The firewall that comes with Windows Vista and Windows 7 is actually quite powerful. Unfortunately, it takes a firewall expert to do much more than block unwanted incoming connections with it because one needs to write rules to handle anything else. Windows Fire Notifier is a small program and hooks into Windows Firewall and pops up whenever a program tries to use the Internet, allowing you to either allow it (it will write the firewall rule to do so for you) or continue to block it. This provides most of the additional firewall functionality one gets with commercial software firewalls -- without the "heavy" additional program.
Windows Firewall Notifier (WFN) extends the default Windows embedded firewall behavior, allowing to handle outgoing connections, and displaying (almost) real-time information about the current connections.
This application only uses existing Windows features, enabling some of them when first launched:
* Enables the Windows embedded firewall
* Sets the firewall to block both inbound and outbound connections for which no rule exists
* Enables the default Windows firewall inbound connection notification
* Enables the Windows firewall outbound connections logging (disabled by default)
* Creates a scheduled task linked to the Windows firewall event log entries, allowing Windows Firewall Notifier to be launched when needed only
Once enabled (after a first launch), the application will show a notification balloon when an application attempts an outgoing connexion while not being allowed to do so. A click on the notification will display a dialog box, allowing the user to:
* temporarily allow the application
* create a rule for the application, so that it will always be able to connect
* block the application once only, after what other notifications may (will) appear
* always block the application (no notification will therefore be displayed afterwards)
If you do not already have a commercial software firewall, Windows Firewall Notifier will give you most of the extra firewall features you really need using the free firewall that came with your copy of Windows Vista/7.
Operating System: Windows Vista or Windows 7
Version Tested: 1.7.0
Web Site: http://wokhan.online.fr/progs.php?sec=WFN
- GeekUninstaller - Portable Uninstaller
The uninstaller that comes with Windows 7 looks nicer than the one that came with Windows XP, but functionally is about the same. GeekUninstaller is a freeware replacement that is faster and often does a better job of removing the bits and pieces of code and data than windows programs often scatter across the hard drive.
From the program description on the GeekUninstaller web site:
Great-looking and surprisingly functional, GeekUninstaller will help you keep your computer clean and organized! Instant startup, minimalistic, simple but efficient user interface. Single EXE runs flawlessly on both 32 and 64-bit Windows 7/8/XP/Vista. When running on x64 Windows GeekUninstaller is running as a native 64-bit application.
Standard removal program leaves tons of leftovers on your PC. GeekUninstaller performs deep and fast scanning afterwards and removes all leftovers. Keep your PC clean! Use Force Removal for stubborn and broken programs.
The is another example of a nice program that does it's job well. As an added bonus GeekUninstaller is portable. Just drop the exe file on your drive and run it. It does not need to be installed. If you no longer need the program, just delete its exe file.
Operating System: Windows 7/8/XP/Vista/2003/2008
Version Tested: 22.214.171.124
Web Site: http://www.geekuninstaller.com/
- Updated Software Gadgets Site to Drupal 7
Drupal 7 has been out about a year. I just upgraded the Software Gadgets site as all the contributed modules I need for all my Drupal 6 sites have become available. The upgrade was relatively smooth with only a few problems to work out before I could make the new version of the site available.. I think all the major upgrade problems on this site have been fixed and all the content is available. Some things look different and some (hopefully minor) issues may have been missed.
- SMPlayer -- Freeware Video Player for Windows and Linux
VLC tends to get all the video player love on the Internet. I've never been that impressed with VLC. It's certainly a "good enough" freeware video player, but its outstanding feature seems to be that it is the best known freeware video player. SMPlayer is an alternative video player that runs on Windows XP or later and on most modern versions of Linux. Like VLC, it's freeware and plays just about any video file you can throw at it. However, it as one feature that makes it my favorite: it remembers the settings for every video file you play. Not just the current location in the video file so it can resume where you left off, but all the setting changes you may have made for that specific video -- for example, the volume, subtitle color, which audio track you are using, what filters you have on, etc. This is great if you have to interrupt watching a video and come back to it hours or days later, especially if you had to watch other videos that needed different settings during those hours or days.
Some other interesting SMPlayer features:
* Configurable subtitles. You can choose font and size, and even colors for the subtitles.
* Audio track switching. You can choose the audio track you want to listen. Works with avi and mkv. And of course with DVDs.
* Seeking by mouse wheel. You can use your mouse wheel to go forward or backward in the video.
* Video equalizer, allows you to adjust the brightness, contrast, hue, saturation and gamma of the video image.
* Multiple speed playback. You can play at 2X, 4X... and even in slow motion.
* Filters. Several filters are available: deinterlace, postprocessing, denoise... and even a karaoke filter (voice removal).
* Audio and subtitles delay adjustment. Allows you to sync audio and subtitles.
* Advanced options, such as selecting a demuxer or video & audio codecs.
* Playlist. Allows you to enqueue several files to be played one after each other. Autorepeat and shuffle supported too.
* Preferences dialog. You can easily configure every option of SMPlayer by using a nice preferences dialog.
* Possibility to search automatically for subtitles in opensubtitles.org.
* Translations: currently SMPlayer is translated into more than 20 languages, including Spanish, German, French, Italian, Russian, Chinese, Japanese....
SMPlayer is freeware and open source (GPL License). It uses mplayer as it's video playing backend so it has all the features of mplayer available in a nice interface. The only drawback to SMPlayer is that all its features mean that the preferences dialog mentioned above hides a large number of options, many of which the average user will never use.
Operating System: Windows XP or later, Linux
Version Tested: 0.6.10
Web Site: http://smplayer.sourceforge.net/
- Moroshka File Manager -- Dual Pane File Manager for MacOS X
I haven't used any version Mac OS a lot, but one of the things I've never really liked is Finder. Like Explorer in Windows, it's a very basic file manager that probably serves most people well enough. However, I've never been "most people". In Windows I use Directory Opus and/or Xyplorer -- two commercial file manager replacements. The borrowed Mac I use to test software for Software Gadgets has a commercial replacement for Finder (Pathfinder), but it is a bit too "Finder-like" for me. I've discovered a (currently) free dual pane file manager for MacOS that seems nice: Moroshka File Manager.
Moroshka File Manager isn't as powerful as the software I use on Windows but it is much easier for me to use than Finder. It's currently in beta and already has the following freatures:
* Dual pane
* Multitab layout support
* All standard file operations
* Multi-thread file management processing (several operations can run simultaneously)
* WebDAV/FTP/SSH/SMB client (works with IPv6 addresses)
* Internal pack-unpack support for more than 17 compression algorithms
* iPhone/iPod/iPad filesystem management (iTunes must be installed for this feature)
* Open ISO and UDF images as archives
* Extended Search
* "Brief Mode" to fit more files in less screen space
There's also a version for Windows in development which will allow you to use one file manager on both platforms. While Moroshka File Manager is still in beta, it seemed to work fine for me. It's a nice program is Finder isn't your thing and Pathfinder is out of your budget.
Rating: 3.5 Operating System: MacOS X 10.6 or later, Windows
Version Tested: 1.0.23 Beta 4/OSX
Web Site: http://www.moroshkaproject.ru/
- Bins -- Taskbar Organizer for Windows 7
Bins is a low cost ($4.99!) desktop enhancement for Windows 7 that will help you make better use of the space in your taskbar. Bins was created by the same person who created Fences -- which helps organize icons on the desktop. I've never been a huge fan of Fences because I like a clean desktop with only a few icons, so there is nothing to organize. My taskbar is a different story. I like having a large number of program icons pinned to the taskbar so I can easily start my most used software and because if you pin the software it's easy to find when you want to switch to it from another running program. Unfortunately, even on my Widescreen monitor there's really not enough space to pin all the programs I would like to. Bins solves this problem is an intuitive and useful way.
Bins allows you to group pinned programs so multiple pinned programs only take one "space" on your taskbar. To combine pinned program, you just drag one on top of another, these creates (or adds to) a group. While any number of pinned programs may be combined into a group, the first four in a group will appear on the taskbar as 4 mini-icons. All in the group will display when you mouse-over the set of icons. One program in the group is set as the default. Clicking on the combined icon starts the default program. You start one of the other programs by selecting it from the mouse-over pop-up. You can right click on a icon in the mouse-over pop-up to get the program's jumplist menu.
Here's what part of my taskbar look like with Bins in use. I have VMware player and Virtualbox combined in the first icon. VMware player is running to the icons is highlighted and the programs not running a dimmed.
Here's what I see when I mouse over the set of browser icons:
I can click on the main icon and start Firefox or hover over the taskbar icon and then click one of the programs in the popup to start it or right-click on it to access its jumplist menu.
Bins is a fantastic program if you like having a large number of programs pinned to the taskbar. The only problem I've had with Bins is it is a bit of a memory hog. I have lots of memory and so do not care. If you have limited memory, you may want to wait until the developer finds a way to reduce the program's memory footprint. A final plus, Bins seems to work great with my favorite virtual desktop program, <a href="http://softwaregadgets.gridspace.net/content/dexpot-virtual-desktops-don...">Dexpot</a>.
Operating System: Windows 7
Version Tested: 0.9.8.191
Web Site: http://www.1upindustries.com/bins/default.aspx