I feel as if we just crossed this path the other day. But that's okay. On the grand scale of "pony-themed games" to "extremely useful freeware applications," automatic application installers--or package mangers--tend to fall toward the latter end of the spectrum.
I wouldn't be broaching this topic so close to a previous, similar roundup were it not critically important for you to check out some of the apps that I've recently found. Although a few package managers might slip into the mix, the freeware programs I'm about to profile today... aren't really programs at all. At least, they aren't installation packages in the way you're typically used to seeing them.
Unlike package managers, which require you to install a separate application that contains some fancy list of other applications to download, some of the apps I'm investigating today remove this extra step from the equation. When stumbling into the official Web site of said programs, you're given the opportunity to customize a list of programs you want to install before you have to download anything. Once you're ready, the site creates a single executable that--if all goes well--downloads and spits the applications onto your hard drive without so much as an extra mouse click of your time.
Of course, that's the best-case scenario. There are still a number of helpful "application packages" that are a wee less automated but still worth looking into. I'll be exploring a host of automated installation offerings below, so click the link to get started! And if you need any further encouragement, one such tool cut my typical post-installation software installation time from around 30-45 minutes to a grand total of five--five hassle-free minutes, mind you.
What's the first thing you're going to do after installing the Windows 7 operating system? If you live in Japan, perhaps you'll go celebrate your new, wallpaper-shifting desktop with some cardiac arrest. If you're one of the stalwarts still clinging to your XP or Vista operating system, well, you're probably going to spin your chair around in smug defiance of Microsoft's latest bit of software. And if you're a Maximum PC reader, I would hope that you're going to treat your fresh new installation of Windows 7 as an October spring cleaning of-sorts.
In fact, I urge you to. One doesn't often get a chance to reinstall an operating system from scratch. Or, rather, it's always easier to think of the hundreds of reasons why it's just not the right time to wipe-and-reinstall the contents of your primary hard drive. Resist the temptation to take the easy route. Backup your drive, give it a good format, and install Windows 7 onto your clean-as-a-whistle partition.
And once you've done that, read the rest of this article. While my colleagues at Maximum PC have given you some good first steps into your new Windows 7 world post-installation, I'd like to go one bit further and list out my typical post-installation routine for any Windows operating system. There are a number of key freeware choices that you'll want to slap onto your system to establish a baseline environment that's as efficient as it is secure--that, and you should really take this time to establish preventative measure that will keep your PC as clutter-free as can be throughout its new Windows 7 lifespan.
The recent release of Stardock's Fences tool (version 1.0) got me thinking about desktop organization. While Fences is certainly neat--the program lets you divide your desktop real estate into individual sections, surrounded by "fences," amongst other space-saving features--this freeware app isn't the only game in town by far. In fact, some of you expressed disgust at Stardock's latest release. Be it the fact that one needs to install Stardock's Impulse client just to access Fences, or your simple dislike of an application whose functionality is mirrored by other freeware apps, Fences was hardly a shot hit out of the park.
So, here we are. After the jump, I'll show you five different alternative desktop managers that will help you bring increased tidiness, prettier looks, and funer... er... more fun functionality to your typical workspace. Auto-arrange your icons one last time for nostalgia's sake, because I'm about to mix up your desktop crazy-style.
With the imminent launch of Windows 7 and its much-hyped Windows XP mode, the word "virtualization" is going to be everyone's lips throughout the month of October. Never one to let a fad slide on by, I'm jumping on the bandwagon in this week's freeware and open-source application roundup. I'll be taking a look at five different programs that enrich your computing experience with some kind of virtual add-on.
What does that even mean? A number of things. Windows XP mode is a great example of the common definition of virtualization--running a second operating system inside your primary operating system in a way that typically allows you to quickly switch between the two and access the contents of your primary machine's hard drives from the virtualized environment. Virtual desktops are a lesser derivative of this concept. Instead of running a separate operating system, you're merely extending the size of your workspace by stacking on additional desktop layers that you can swap back-and-forth. You can also install a virtual keyboard that sits overtop your programs--analogous to what Windows offers for tablet PCs--if you're concerned about keyloggers somehow getting their hands on your mission-critical information.
I won't go on, as that might spoil some of the fun applications you'll find after the jump. The virtual world, er, world of virtualized software is vast and interesting, featuring many applications that can expand your computer's functionality without adding a crazy amount of complexity. The coolness of these apps is only rivaled by their ability to save you precious time and headaches from doing things the old-fashioned way.
What's the first I did upon hearing the numbers for ATI's new HD Radeon 5870 graphics card? I scrambled for benchmarks, because that's the one thing an announcement and subsequent review of a smokin' new piece of hardware can do for a rabid enthusiast: inspire.
It's been a while since I've actually sat down and crunched the numbers for my killer custom PC (that's killer as in legendary, not NICs). I'm not lazy. Rather, I don't have access to the expensive system benchmarks that magazines and Web sites typically use to analyze the all the new hardware that comes out. I don't have all-in-one benchmarks like PCMark Vantage, GPU-punishing titles like Crysis, and--worst of all--preconfigured demo runs for any number of titles that would help ensure the validity and repeatability of the delivered scores.
In short, I have nothing. You might not have nothing, but odds are good that you are similarly ill-equipped to benchmark your graphics card (and any tweaks or modifications you make) in the style of a professional review. Nothing... until now.
This week's freeware roundup will show you five different games that you can use to punish your poor graphics card into frames-per-second submission. They might cost a grand total of zero dollars, but these tests are repeatable and easy to use--the perfect combination of characteristics for aspiring benchmarkers who might not want to get their hands dirty, but still want some kind of way to determine exactly how powerful their graphics card really is.
Do you hate Adobe AIR? I sometimes do. While the applications based on Adobe's framework can be pretty neat to use, there's something about their similar look and shared frameworks, not to mention features, that just can just drive me up the wall. Plus, every new Adobe AIR-based application has to be installed and run through Adobe AIR itself. While it's a handy way to make sure that you're running the most up-to-date version of the application, the Adobe AIR platform isn't very conducive to portable use. Actually, you can't stick AIR-based applications on a USB key and run them at all--the host computer would still need Adobe AIR for these apps to function.
That's but one minor complaint about the AIR platform. There are more, but this week's freeware roundup isn't intended to be a slam on these Adobe apps. Rather, I'll be taking a look at some of Adobe AIR's more popular applications and offering up unique freeware alternatives that don't require use of the AIR platform to work. Not all of the listed applications will support portable use out-of-the-box, but you can use the popular Mojopac Free program to store and access all of these apps on any USB device of your choosing.
Put your trigger-finger on the uninstaller button for Adobe AIR, then click the jump!
How jacked up is your keyboard? Do you have one of those super-fancy, 800+ button, LCD-screen, lit-up, wheeled contraptions that's less an input device, more a control panel at a nuclear power plant? If so, you're probably the kind of person who doesn't need the apps I'm about to list out in this week's freeware roundup. Unless, that is, you're also one of those people (including yours truly) who have a ton of buttons and options to play with, yet no resolve to actually go about mapping this to that.
And if you're just rocking a plain ol' keyboard, I hope you're sitting down because you're in for a world of difference. The applications I'm profiling today are all keyboard-focused, and they all seek to add some kind of additional, awesome functionality to (or based on) your default button layouts. Launch programs! Use your keyboard media buttons to control all of your media players! Look up every Adobe-related shortcut within the span of seconds!
Suffice it to say, I have the keyboard krazies today. Join me after the jump to get your hands on some of the cooler keyboard-related freeware and open-source apps on the Internet!
Once a week, I feel like I'm either finding or running a large batch of programs in an effort to keep my computer as crap-free as possible. It's a never-ending battle. I defrag, I delete, I shuffle, I organize, I optimize, I scan... and still, what I end up downloading and installing over the next six days almost always leads me back to the good ol' "Sunday Purge," as I've come to call it.
And you? I venture that your habits are pretty similar to mine, as you're a Maximum PC reader with a thirst--nay, need--for speed. But we both don't have to waste a ton of time poring over our hard drives and giving them digital equivalent of a good flossing. There are tools, wonderful tools, that will automate this process--and automate it for free!
You're probably aware of quite a few of these applications, in fact. That's why I've cast my net over a wide swath of sites to find two little tidbits that you probably haven't heard of before. Here's a sneak preview: These tools let you assign rules for clearing out a wide variety of files based on customized criteria you select. One of the apps works its wonders on your desktop and the other offers a similar service for any USB device you attach to your system.
Intrigued? Those are but two of the five awesome programs in this week's freeware roundup. The rest are waiting for your trigger-happy downloading fingers after the jump, as always.
Dealing with your data is a critical part of the Windows experience. "No, really," you ask? I know, I know. But the kinds of file operations you perform on any given day represent the bread and butter of your operating system. You drag your pictures around, copy and paste your documents to other places, maybe send a file or two over email. It's simple stuff. That's not a value judgment, just a comment about the basic functionality that everyone uses on a modern OS.
When you're ready to step out of this minor league of file management and head into the majors, you'll find a host of freeware applications waiting to hit a pitch or two. These applications take the common elements of your Windows file operations and inject them with a dose of raw energy. For example, you can customize and jack up the very process of copying files from one directory to another. You can also beat back Windows' default system for batch file renaming and instead transform a large number of files with very specific titles and extensions. You can even map out just how much space your files take up on your drive, giving you the perfect opportunity to catch up on some spring cleaning across your battered hard drive.
While these kinds of processes are a mainstay of this week's roundup, I'm also taking a look at two additional programs that pack additional functionality into your operating system as a whole. So what are you waiting for? Quit your file transfers, click the jump, and get ready for a brand new world.
Last week's freeware gaming roundup generated a mixed bag of reactions from the community. Some of you liked the unique perspectives on traditional gameplay offered by the nominees and finalists of the 2008 Independent Games Festival. Others... thought I was crazy. That's okay. I can take the heat. In fact, I welcome the commentary -- one of Maximum PC's community members, Mojosico, offered up a number of titles that he enjoys playing in the article's comments thread. I checked out the games on his list and was pretty pleased with what I saw. If you like traditional run-and-gun gameplay, with a single driving-based game adding a little spice to the freeware mix, I think you'll enjoy this week's gaming roundup.
Consider these titles penance for last week's out-of-the-box batch of gameplay. For the first-person-shooters, third-person-shooters, and racing games I'm checking out this week represent the meat and potatoes of any gamer's plate. If you don't find something you like in this batch of games, you're getting nothing but Tetris variants next week. Just kidding. Let me know what genres or titles you like in the comments, and I'll see if I can't find a way to boost your spirits by +5 in next week's freeware roundup!
Click the jump to check out this week's top titles!