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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Free Software Suggestions Part 2

This is a continuation of the previous post on free software, in which I covered software for Internet Browsing, General PC Security, Office, Backup, and Data Security.

  • DVD and CD-related Software
    • ImgBurn and StarBurn: Both of these are quite similar to each other. They are applications that help you burn CD’s and/or DVD’s. Both of them have features that help you create audio CD’s, data CD’s, data DVD’s, backups of CD’s, etc. In addition, they ImgBurn also allows you to create images of CD’s and DVD’s on your computer hard drive. Special software that I will talk about in a moment allows you to mount these images to virtual CD and/or DVD drives so that you can use the contents of the CD and/or DVD without the CD and/or DVD being present in the optical drive of the computer. This can be useful if you have a game CD that you don’t want to keep in the optical drive for fear of scratching or otherwise damaging it.
    • Alcohol 52: Alcohol 52 allows you to create virtual CD and/or DVD drives on your computer to mount images created from CD’s, DVD’s or from other programs (many programs can create images on your hard drive instead of writing out to a CD or DVD directly). Alcohol 52 recognizes several different image formats. An alternative to Alcohol 52, direct from Microsoft is the Microsoft Virtual CD-ROM Control Panel. The latter is not as powerful or pretty, but it works and will always be available for free.
    • CDex: CDex is a CD-ripping software that enables you to rip music CD’s to your hard drive as MP3 or WAV files. The software has not been updated in a while, but it was always one of the best, and CD’s haven’t really changed in a lot longer. The software has the ability to query a free online database to identify most music CD’s so that you get a track-listing without having to type it all in manually. It also provides a lot of options for how you want your MP3’s named and it fills in the MP3 tags so that you can keep your MP3 collection well-organized. Later in this post, I talk about TagScanner, which can be used to place your MP3’s in a folder structure automatically based on the tags.
    • DVDShrink: This is the original software that started the DVD-copying and backup revolution. It is not being updated anymore because its authors were intimidated into abandoning the software under threat of litigation. There are now several paid pieces of software available to copy DVD’s that rely on the popularity of DVDShrink to sell themselves by having names like DVDShrink2009, OfficialDVDShrink, etc. Don’t get taken in. Follow the link to get your free copy of DVDShrink. Take a look at the items below if you encounter a DVD that you can not back up with DVDShrink. There is also a DVDShrink forum where volunteers can answer questions about backup problems.
    • DVD Decrypter: This is another piece of software that helps with backing up DVD’s. DVD Decrypter can enable you to burn a backup copy of any DVD, create an image of the DVD on your hard drive for virtual mounting or later burning onto DVD or it can create a folder structure on your hard drive with all the decrypted files from the DVD so that you can play the DVD directly off your hard drive using any media player on your computer. DVD Decrypter is best used in conjunction with RipIt4Me which is described below.
    • RipIt4Me: RipIt4Me is a freeware utility that helps you backup your copy-protected DVDs. Recently released DVDs are now very often equipped with stronger copy protections - such as ARccOS and RipGuard DVD. Programs like DVD Shrink or DVD Decrypter cannot handle these types of discs. RipIt4Me is fully automated and the wizard will guide you through all the necessary steps involved. If you prefer, there is also a true "1-Click" mode that will perform all the involved steps automatically for you. You need DVD Decrypter to work with RipIt4Me. DVDShrink is an optional addition to the mix for a complete package.
    • DVD Flick: DVD Flick is a powerful DVD authoring tool that enables you to create DVD’s that can be played on a standalone DVD player out of movie files stored on your computer (perhaps downloaded from the web or from your camcorder). DVDFlick allows you to create a menu and arrange your video clips in chapters. It can handle most common formats of video files including WMV files.

  • PC Utilities
    • Free Download Manager: FDM is a free and easy-to-use download manager and accelerator. Not only can it speed up downloads by opening multiple connections between the download location and your PC, it also allows you to pause and restart downloads, schedule downloads for specific times, restrict downloads to a certain portion of your bandwidth, etc. In addition to all this, it also has the ability to download videos from YouTube and other online video sites to your PC so that you can watch these videos when you are offline. It also supports BitTorrent downloads if you need support for that.
    • IrfanView: This is one of the best free utilities for viewing images and graphics on your computer. In addition to support for common formats like gif and jpeg, this tool has support for scores of other formats and can convert images between many of these formats effortlessly. It also has the ability to create panaromas out of multiple images, resize and reshape images, play around with their colors, etc. After using it for the past 10 years, I probably haven’t even scratched the surface in terms of its capabilities. It also comes with several plug-ins to enhance its capabilities even more.
    • GIMP: The GNU Image Manipulation Program (GIMP) is one of the most powerful image editing applications out there. Several reviewers have compared its capabilities favorably with the well-known application in this category which costs several hundred dollars, Adobe Photoshop. Like all powerful programs, it is not entirely intuitive to start using, but once you make the effort to get over the learning curve, you will reap rich rewards if you are into any kind of graphic-editing or photographic touchup, etc.
    • Picasa: Picasa is a free utility from Google that makes it easy to organize your photographs and view them in slideshows, etc. It allows you to tag photographs with multiple tags so that finding any photograph in your collection becomes a snap. If you have a Google account (such as a GMail account), you also get storage for uploading and sharing your photo albums with the public or with a select group of invitees. Picasa is part of the Google Pack, a set of freeware applications put together into one package by Google.
    • Auslogics Disk Defrag: Defragmenting your hard drive is one of those routine maintenance items that often gets overlooked in the hustle and bustle of daily life. A defragmented disk is faster and more efficient. Windows comes with a built-in defragmenter, but it is so slow that frozen molasses would probably go around the earth a few times before the tool finishes defragmenting your hard drive. Which makes it even easier to overlook doing it. Auslogics is a very fast and efficient defragmenter that will take the chore out of doing it so that you are more likely to do it every week or month. It makes for a healthier PC.
    • Recuva: In my previous post on free software, I mentioned that deleting a file does not really erase it from your hard drive. Recuva is software that will actually prove that is so by recovering accidentally deleted files if they have not yet been overwritten by something else.
    • PC Inspector Smart Recovery: This is a more industrial strength Recuva, specifically designed for memory cards such as the ones used in digital cameras. Don’t panic the next time your camera hiccups and claims that it can’t find any of the hundreds of once-in-a-lifetime vacation photos you took on it. Use PC Inspector to scan the memory card and recover your precious memories.
    • PC Inspector File Recovery: This is another useful file recovery tool to have in your arsenal. Sometimes, this utility can find files that Recuva may not have been able to save and vice versa.
    • 7-Zip: 7-Zip is a file compression and decompression utility that can handle almost any kind of compressed file you are ever likely to encounter. In addition to files with extensions like zip and rar, it can handle gz, tar, and dozens of other formats with complete ease. In addition, it can create compressed files (again in many different formats), password-protect them, span compression across multiple files, create self-extracting archives, etc., etc. In short, this is the only zip-type utility you are ever likely to need on your PC.
    • Microsoft Powertoys for Windows XP: This is a pack of utilities that let you tweak and fine-tune the way certain aspects of your PC work. Each of the utilities can be downloaded and used separately (in fact, there is no single download for the entire pack). Some of the interesting and useful utilities in this pack include TweakUI (which, as the name suggests, is used for tweaking the user interface of Windows in several different ways), Powercalc (a powerful graphing calculator), Color Control Panel Applet, ClearType Tuner, Taskbar Magnifier, etc.
    • CCleaner: As you use your computer, junk accumulates over time on your hard drive in the form of temporary files, internet cache files, tracking cookies, left-overs from program installs and uninstalls, etc., etc. CCleaner is the gold standard when it comes to dejunking your hard drive and getting rid of these files. Defragmenting your hard drive and dejunking it with CCleaner are the two most important hard drive maintenance activities you could do as far as I am concerned. CCleaner is regularly updated and its disk cleanup is very safe. There are other cleaners out there that claim to do more, but some of them are not as well-tested as CCleaner and can delete useful and necessary files by being too aggressive, leaving you with potentially an unbootable PC (hope you have an image ready to restore in that case, as suggested in the earlier installment of this post).

This post has also gotten as long as I wanted it to be, so I am going to leave the two remaining categories I want to cover (entertainment and games) to yet another installment of these posts. Happy computing, and good luck!


Anonymous said...

Great post, picked up a few suggestions. Thanks Worth noting:

- Starburn will install malware by default, unless it is explicitly disabled during installation.

- Auslogics defrag is a ncie product, but nags at the end of each run. I've since switched to using defraggler, made by the same people who make Ccleaner and recuva.

Blogannath said...

Thank you for your comment. First comment on my blog, I am very excited.

I do mention in part 3 of this series that a lot of freeware is advertising supported, so the user has to make sure they pay attention during the installation and opt out of extraneous stuff. But thanks for reminder once again.

I will check out Defraggler and see how it compares to Auslogics Disk Defrag. Thanks for the suggestion.

Roy James said...

Here’s also a guide about how to burn DVD to DVD.

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