Are you a PC user? Good; you are likely annoyed. Because, let’s face it, there are some parts of the “master of your domain” experience that are downright annoying to do. Novice users have it easy—to them, a computer is merely a portable word processor, a fancy little device that allows them to watch cats frolic online, catch up on the most recent versions of The Office without paying for cable, and surf the web for hours on end.
You, however, are not a novice user. You are intermediate, to advanced, to hardcore, and you don’t like it when you have to expend precious hours fixing up your PC in a variety of different ways. You want a system that works perfectly and you want it yesterday. Well, to that, I offer five meager freeware apps (or free Web apps) that should help trim some of the annoying processes out of your normal system use.
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!
Just how popular are add-ons to Mozilla Firefox’s Web browser? A usage survey taken by Mozilla as of one year ago revealed that one-third of all Firefox users—at least—use add-ons in some capacity. That’s a pretty big deal, but not quite as eye-opening a number as the raw statistics from Mozilla’s official add-ons page.
According to the company, more than two billion add-ons have been downloaded since Firefox’s started tracking statistics back in August of 2007. There are currently 125 million add-ons in use as of this article’s writing, with more than 890,000 registered users attached to Mozilla’s official add-ons directory. I won’t bore you with any more statistics; suffice, there’s a lot of neat stuff you can install into your browser. And it appears that many are indeed doing so.
Where does one begin?
These are both questions that hit to the core of the Mozilla add-on experience. Simply put, your browser is only as good as the extensions you choose to install, and trying to get a handle on the ever-increasing world of Firefox add-ons can be as difficult for a first-timer as it is for an experienced add-on enthusiast. So we’ll make it simple. We’ve scoured the Web to come up with a listing of must-have add-ons for any Firefox installation, period.
And, even then, did we mention that we’ve found twenty?
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.
It takes a special kind of finesse to manipulate the various files scattered across your system like Minority Report’s John Anderton. Was there only a piece of freeware that allowed one to transform one’s monitor into a touchscreen for such a purpose.
But I digress. I’m not referring to the actual means of tossing files around with one’s hands. Rather, I’m just trying to use a metaphor to illustrate the fluid-like motion that some people have with their systems: files, commands, and folders flinging all around the place like a robot on speed. Not many people have this kind of mastery over their file systems; In fact, I’ve only met one person who’s ever been able to display such rapid synchronizations of keyboard and mouse to organize one’s files.
What am I getting at? It’s tough to be a whiz of file management. Which is exactly why a number of freeware and open-source applications look to automate or otherwise enhance your ability to interact and arrange the very data strewn about on your PC. From applications that automatically delete files and folders at a given time, to apps that allow you to copy complex directory structures sans files, to apps that turn your folders into automated image resizing machines… there’s an app for seemingly anything you want to do with your PC’s files.
I’ve picked out five general apps that are must-haves for those that want hardcore control over their hard drives. Anything else—as the commercial goes--would be uncivilized.
I’m amazed you’re even reading this. Not because the quality of the prose is lacking in this week’s roundup of open-source and freeware applications, mind you. Rather, if you haven’t noticed by the coverage (and advertising) permeating just about every known tech site in the universe right now, Starcraft 2 just came out. It’s a miracle I’ve been able to tear myself away from defending humanity to write this but, well, my heart for free software is just too strong.
While it would be awesome to give you some kind of “Top 5 ways to get Starcraft 2 for free” article or something like that, it’s just not happening. And no, before you ask, there really aren’t any launchers or applications specifically designed for the game that can give you some kind of competitive edge or awesome third-party tie-in just yet. Wishful, if not silly thinking, no?
However, that’s not to say that applications don’t exist that could otherwise enhance your Starcraft 2 gaming experience in some capacity. Like I said, nothing’s been written specifically for the title, but there are a number of useful, free apps that you can use to otherwise bolster your gaming-life-that-just-so-happens-to-be-Blizzard’s-latest-title. I apologize for the tongue-twistedness of it all; simply put, you can use the following 5 apps to make Starcraft 2—or any game—rock just a little bit more.
Microsoft Office: Can’t live with it, can’t live with… ok, so that’s not entirely true. A number of you likely live without the Microsoft Office suite and, for that, I commend you. That’s not because there’s anything wrong with Office per se; it’s a pricing thing. I don’t always have the money to fork out for a new Office license for whatever systems I acquire, especially when compelling freeware alternatives present themselves in an easy-to-use (and easy-to-download) kind of fashion. Same goes for you.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. “But Dave,” you ask, “why not just install OpenOffice.org and be done with it?” That is certainly a solution for your Office woes. However, that doesn’t mean that the OpenOffice.org suite is the end-all be-all alternative to Microsoft Office Insert-Year-Here. From Web apps to downloadable programs, it’s entirely possible to recreate some of the best parts of this paid-for hunk of apps without resorting to the tried-and-true OpenOffice.org open-source bundle.
And guess what? By going the piecemeal route, you’ll be able to find some new features that simply don’t exist in either aforementioned bundle! So, that said, click the jump to check out some of the best freeware and open-source Microsoft Office replacement apps for your system!
Google Voice. Situation: It's a pretty awesome competitor to good ol' Skype, especially when you use its crazy powers to forward calls from your magical number to physical locations all over the world. I, for one, use Google voice to get into my own apartment. Ringing me up on the ol' call box in front of my condo complex calls my Google Voice number (local calls only!), which in turn buzzes up my cell phone which, in turn, lets me go home.
That's just one interesting use of an otherwise awesome service. There are many more. Problem: There are not nearly as many apps--Web-based or downloadable--that allow you to interact with Google Voice in unique, cool ways. I've scrounged together five for your enjoyment but, honestly, we're scraping the barrel this week in terms of available software.
So, that said, go register a Google Voice number. And while you're doing that, start skimming this article for awesome new ways to use the service!
Are you ready to rock? I should hope so. I'm giving your hands a rest and your ears a workout this week, for none of the apps in the ol' "freeware roundup" this time around are actually downloadable. That's right. Zero. After you read this, you will spend the course of your week installing absolutely nothing.
So what, then, am I profiling in this roundup? Dust? Nope. Rock. Every single Web app in this collection is specifically geared toward an audio pursuit of some kind. I'll show you apps you can use--through the comfort of whatever browser you'd like--to both create music and find new music to jam to. If you want to go worldly, I'll show you how to find the latest music streams from all over the world.
That's not all, however, for not everything audio-related has to involve music. The other two cool Web apps in this week's roundup center on audio usability. One lets you edit files online as if you were rocking an offline audio editor, and the other lets you craft up a message to your friends that will be read by one of those lovely, synthetic computer voices we've all come to know and love.
So that's that. It's audio week in the Freeware Files--even though you won't have to download a single executable to reap the benefits of these awesome finds!
There is little I enjoy more than coming to Maximum PC each week to dish out a new dose of freeware and open-source software for all to enjoy. But, I confess, it's been tough times as of late-I feel as if I've covered every inch of the ol' PC ad nauseum and, as such, am running low on witty or interesting themes with which to structure these freeware roundups.
But before I would work myself into a tizzy over my failure to compartmentalize this week's apps, I remembered something: You, the readers, are awesome. So much so, that you've actually gone and done a great job of coming up with some awesome applications all by yourselves. From games, to apps to utilities, you've left few stones unturned in your various replies to my weekly freeware roundups.
And, thus, I am writing this week's freeware roundup in your honor. Not only am I profiling some of the awesome programs you've recommended, but I'm profiling the recommenders as well! And by that I mean that you, too, could be enshrined in the hallowed halls of the weekly freeware roundup-just keep leaving program tips in the comments!