Turn your PC into a music computer with the best free audio editor
Audacity’s been around for a long time—since mid-2000—and for good reason. It’s a relatively lightweight, open-source, and completely free audio editor that can handle pretty much every task you throw at it. Need to edit together a podcast? No problem. Looking to do some simple noise reduction? Audacity’s got you covered.
It (literally) pays to know all the crafty ways you can save money without sacrificing your power user cred
As much as we love ogling top-of-the-line PC hardware and fantasizing about price-be-damned rigs, we also love, love, love to stretch a dollar. Does that make us cheapskates? You betcha, if that’s what you want to call someone who doesn’t pay a premium when he or she doesn’t have to. Sign us up! In fact, where computing is concerned, knowing all the various angles to save a buck—a buck that can then be put toward new and better gear, mind you—is as much a part of being a power user as knowing how to flash a BIOS or overclock RAM. If you’re currently spending top dollar on your PC activities, it’s time you got schooled in the fine art of penny-pinching. From free software alternatives, to the best deals on all forms of digital entertainment, to hardware-buying tips, to our blueprint for a $600 PC, this year’s Cheapskate’s Guide can save you thousands of dollars and make you a more savvy consumer in the process.
Note: This article appeared in the October 2012 issue of the magazine.
What are you thankful for? It’s such a cliché statement, especially given that we’re barely past the brief period of time where we’re all allowed to indulge ourselves in vast quantities of food—leftover or otherwise.
Of course, the Thanksgiving break—if you had one—provides for a perfect time to get some home cleaning done. But I’m not just talking about dusting off your action figure collection. No, of course, all fingers point to your PC. That poor, neglected piece of equipment does nothing but provide for you, day in and day out. It’s become bloated to excess and you, realizing that there’s no time like the present, have decided to wipe it clean and start anew.
So what, pray tell, do you install first? It’s a simple question and, indeed, one with nearly a thousand answers. Look, as far as I’m concerned, you’re still on vacation. Allow me to do the work for you. For I present to you a five-course meal of applications that we should all be thankful for on some level—game-changers that, really, deserve to be installed on any system you touch, period.
If you’ve already heard of them, excellent. You’re just that ahead of the game. If not, consider this your chance to get caught up to all that is awesome in the world of freeware and open-source software.
Trying to track down a list of “five game mods you must download right now” is a lot like trying to choose your five top games of all time. Sure, your list might be impressive—maybe even awesome—but you’re still going to get a heap of contenders sobbing in the corner at your refusal to acknowledge their almost-noteworthy existences. And nobody likes bawling boxed titles.
So let that be a warning to you, fun-loving gamer who continues to read this article. I’m covering freeware game modifications this time around—freeware, obviously, because I doubt your average enthusiast is going to risk the wrath of a developer’s fury because he or she is selling blood, sweat, and tears in the form of a $5 game add-on. As well, I’m not just looking at maps, or other whip-dip little tweaks. I’m talking about huge transformations that range from, “making this game playable in the modern era” to “wow, I want to go back and revisit this title because it is now sweet.”
I’m paraphrasing, of course. But you get the idea.
But as I mentioned, narrowing down to a list of five is near-impossible. So if you don’t have an affinity for the Infinity Engine (including Baldur’s Gate and Planescape: Torment), Sins of a Solar Empire, Fallout 3, TIE Fighter/X-Wing Alliance, or Half-Life 2… you might want to sit this one out. Otherwise, let’s get real.
Digg versus Reddit; Reddit versus Digg. Much could be written about the unfolding war for your attention that’s taking place on the battlegrounds of news aggregates come and gone. That was pretty poetic, wasn’t it? Look, here’s the raw deal: Whether you’re a Digg enthusiast, Reddit convert, or vice versa, there’s no reason why you should have to live your online life using the simple, raw tools that either site has provided for you.
No, there are plenty of unique tweaks and twists that you can build into your conventional Reddit/Digg experience—provided, of course, you’re rocking either Firefox or Chrome as your browser of choice. And if you’re using something else or, for that matter, using another site on the Internet for your daily news updates… well, you’re out of luck in this week’s Freeware Files.
So, for those that are left, get ready to see how you can kick your Reddit or Digg surfing to new levels of awesomeness (really, usability!) We’ve split the extensions/add-ons up by browser and by site, with a special little bonus in the end for anyone who sticks around that far.
There are few tools more useful for the common desktop or laptop system than apps that automate some kind of system or user process that’s otherwise too tedious to do yourself. I mean, isn’t that the entire point of a computer, anyway—to take care of the things in life that might otherwise prove impossible, extremely difficult, or super-time-consuming? Isn’t it time you gave a little back to your poor PC?
Anyway, I’m taking a look at five different applications this week—all freeware or open-source, as always—that automate different elements of your operating system. That’s a pretty generic statement, though, so allow me to be a bit more specific. First up, I’ll show you how you can set up certain processes to run (including system shutdowns and restarts, amongst other activities) whenever a particular element of your PC reaches a set, measurable state (like CPU idle percentage, the exact time, or mouse and keyboard activity).
As well, I’ll throw a Web app your way that assists your browsing habits by automatically creating site mirrors to replace the normal URL of a site that’s been overloaded by Web traffic. You’ll discover a neat little application for mass-deleting specific kinds of files out of a whole range of folders at once, as well as a background utility that can automatically run programs whenever new files are detected in any folders you specify.
But let’s not spoil the whole show up-front. Click the jump—free software awaits!
It’s hard to maintain any kind of neutrality when writing about Valve’s Steam service. Indeed, it’s hard to write anything about Steam without adopting a grin the size of a cartoon character and lavishing compliments on the service faster than needles firing out of a medic’s syringe gun.
The recent partnership between AMD and Valve that put an easy-to-access, “download new video drivers here please” tool within the game-drenched packet manager has been an unexpected-yet-delightful addition to the service. And I’ve said it before: It’s about time.
However, it's also time for hardware manufacturers to step up to the challenge of releasing clean, comprehensive drivers for their full product lines--legacy hardware included. More importantly, Valve needs to take its little "AMD experiment" as more than just fun dabbling. As gamers and enthusiasts, we're way overdue to see someone rise to the occasion to deliver a one-stop shop for zero-hour driver updates that gamers of all backgrounds deserve to have.
And yes, if you say, "What about Windows Update," I'm going to throw up.
Is there a special, unwritten set of rules for downloading freeware? I’d like to think there are—for me, at least. For even though I’m “that guy” at Maximum PC, perhaps the only (former) editor to actually come close to pushing past one’s monthly Comcast bandwidth limits, I still have to keep my trips through freeware land in some kind of perspective. And you should too.
So what, gentle sir or madam, compels you to grab a particular piece of software?
That’s the crux of what I’ll be tackling in this week’s column—the first in a long time, mind you, thanks to an unruly show schedule on my part (I missed you too). But I digress. In my non-writing time, I’ve been doing a bunch of downloading, analyzing, and tweaking on the various devices I own, and I’ve noticed that all of my extended file-hunting sessions always have a few themes in common.
This week’s Freeware Files come courtesy of podcast aficionado (and mother of the epic dream date winner from podcast #36) R. Ellen Ferare. Or, rather, you can thank her for the idea. We got to talking this past weekend and she noted that she’s been having trouble finding a legitimate way to search through her desktop for this, that, and the other. Obviously, Windows’ built-in search functionality just isn’t cutting it—and I don’t blame her for thinking so. It’s slow, it’s bloated, and I’ve personally found that it just doesn’t quite get the job done compared to other applications out there.
“Other applications,” of course, is just a code phrase for what’s really on everyone’s minds: Google Desktop. But it would sure be boring to just write 75 words saying, “Don’t use Windows Search; Use Google Desktop. Eat a cupcake.” There’s more to life than what Google bestows. And, in fact, you might have legitimate privacy or performance concerns when using Google’s great—but not deal-breaking—search utility. For example I hate that the service only indexes your drive when your system is idle. That doesn’t do me a lot of good if I need to quickly search through new contents I’ve added to a particular location.
So, grievances aside, what does one do if one doesn’t want to use Windows built-in search tools or Google Desktop to sift through one’s computer for information? Solution: Try out one of the five freeware apps buried below the jump. They vary in format and features, but all are designed to fix some aspect of system searching that, right now, just isn’t being fulfilled by the two big aforementioned apps.
A recent survey hit my radar this weekend and, I must say, I’m not that surprised by the results. Contrary to my usual columns, I won’t bury the lede: Accenture polled 300 large organizations in both the public and private sectors and—surprise!—found that half of them are “fully committed” to using open-source software in their businesses.
To be honest, I expected results more in line from the Zenoss survey I ran across this weekend, which notes that 98 percent of all enterprise companies use open-source software in some capacity. But I’ll leave that difference up to nomenclature / polling differences. The real juice of Accenture’s story is buried in a single, meager sentence somewhere toward the bottom of the press release: less that 29 percent of surveyed companies intend to shovel their open-source contributions/modifications/development back into the community.