My “Must Install” Software

I have three computers which I use on a regular basis:  my desktop, my work laptop and my netbook.  Each machine has its own specific purpose.  The desktop is for photo processing, streaming media to my XBox and other computers, and acts as my general file server.  The work laptop is for, well, work.  I try and keep my personal software off of it as much as I can and keep it dedicated for the applications I use as part of my job.  The netbook is for my personal stuff:  Geocaching, traveling, social media, and general “couch computing”.

I am a software guy.  I love to play with new versions of software and operating systems.  As a result I find myself rebuilding my computers on a regular basis.  When it comes time to build a fresh computer, what software do I install first?  What are the standard things I install regardless of which machine I am working on?  No one asked, but here is my list anyway.

Windows 7While I still believe a lot of the angst over Windows Vista was F.U.D., there is no doubt in my mind that Windows 7 is a far superior OS to Vista.  The ironic thing is that the Win7 feature I initially hated the most – the new taskbar – is now the one feature I couldn’t function without.  There is no reason to even mention Windows XP – if you still feel the urge to run a decade-old OS then this article isn’t for you.

Microsoft Security EssentialsHey, it is a Microsoft OS, so the first thing you need to do is protect it.  Security Essentials is free, easy to configure, it is lightweight and it stays out of my way.  I’ve actually had to it catch malware too, which is a real bonus.  It has replaced the free version of AVG as my anti-virus solution of choice.  The exception is my work laptop which still runs McAfee VirusScan 8.7i – I hate it but it is the corporate standard and it’s only fair I “eat my own dog food”, right?

Secunia Personal Software Inspector (PSI):  In keeping with my “secure the thing as fast as you can” methodology, I immediately go to Secunia PSI.  This handy program scans your installed software and notified you of versions which are end-of-life or have known security vulnerabilities.  Sure, I have Windows Update handle my Microsoft stuff, but what about the third-party apps?  That’s where PSI comes into play for me.

Truecrypt:  Whether I am using it to encrypt the contents of a thumb drive or the entire harddrive of a machine, I like having Truecrypt accessible to me, and I don’t always remember to carry the portable version of it on my USB key.  I love this application and having it free and open-source is a real bonus.  See, we Microsoft-types aren’t against good open source products!

Virtual CloneDrive:  This application allows you to mount ISO files (CD images) as if they were physical drives.  Any software packages I own which need to be installed from physical media are stored as ISO files on my home network, so it is essential I have the ability to mount them quickly, reliably and easily and this software is still my standard choice for that function. 

Now that the basics are covered, it’s time to get to the fun stuff – the things that make computing fun.

Windows Live EssentialsWindows Live Essentials is a victim of Microsoft branding and marketing.  They have gone through so many different naming schemes for the”Live” products it isn’t funny.  It is also unfortunate that the new versions of these products still conjure up images of the crappy versions which used to ship with the Windows OS.  This is not your father’s Movie Maker.

Essentially, you can think of Windows Live as Microsoft’s response to all those years of complaining people did about how bloated the Windows OS was.  Microsoft stripped a lot of those add-on apps out of the operating system and made them optional downloads for those who want them.  And, in doing so, they actually made them functional.  I don’t bother with the latest stable release, I go right to the Beta versions which have been rock solid for me. 

KeePass:  This one is a bit misleading since I don’t actually install KeePass on every machine.  Insteasd, I keep the portable version of it on a USB key and transport it from machine to machine that way.  It is, however, a vital component of my computing.  KeePass is a simple password database that allows me to create, track and maintain secure passwords.  Thanks to this tool I can use random and unique passwords on every website which greatly increases my online security.  It also forms a major part of my estate planning — the password for my KeePass database is in the safety deposit box with our wills, so if something ever happens to me Shirley will be able to access all of my online accounts and update them or close them out as needed.  Good thing I’m dead at that point, or she’d probably kill me!  🙂

UPDATE:  Since the initial draft of this article I have started playing with LastPass as a KeyPass replacement.  LastPass seems to offer better integration into my browsers than KeePass and it synchronizes with the cloud to stay current across all of my machines.  It’s been less than a week so plan on keeping KeePass updated as well for the time being until I evaluate LastPass more.

Internet Explorer 9 Beta:  This is the latest addition to my software list.  As a techno-weenie I love trying the latest versions of software and IE9 hooked me right from the start.  The stripped down user interface is a real bonus on my netbook with limited screen real estate.  It’s clean, it’s simple and it was enough to make me uninstall Firefox after using it for years.  Yes, it is a Microsoft product, but take a lesson from the Windows Live suite of products — Microsoft is releasing some pretty great software lately.  Don’t let your prejudice get in the way.

iTunes 10:  Unlike the other items on this list, iTunes is not here by choice.  I figuratively have to hold my nose as I install this application onto my machines.  But, I love my Apple hardware (iPod Touch and iPhone) and if I want to fully utilize them I need iTunes.  Since I now have a fair amount of meta data in my iTunes library, such as play counts and ratings, I am pretty much stuck with it for the forseeable future.  iTunes is slow, it often hangs my machine, it constantly steals the focus from other windows when it is supposed to be in the background and I am working on other things.  The other complaint I have about iTunes is that it brings with it a metric whack of other things I don’t want such as Quicktime.  I honestly believe Apple intentionally keeps iTunes as awful as possible on the Windows platform, knowing most unsophisticated users will blame the OS.  Time to wake up, people — Apple is the real evil empire now, not the folks in Redmond.

NOTE:  I intentionally left off the hyperlink to iTunes from this posting — if you need it you’ll already have it, and if you don’t need it I certainly don’t want to do anything to encourage you to download it.

So, that’s it.  My “base load” of software as it sits today. Each of my individual machines has other programs loaded on it for its specific purpose, but that’s another post for another day.  So, let’s hear your comments.  What software do you use?  Which things on my list do you think I am nuts for using?  What have I overlooked?  Let the conversation begin!

Caveat:  This list includes a lot of Beta software which may have bugs or stability issues.  Every user may not have the tolerance for this sort of software like I do.  Your computing needs are very likely different from mine so what works for me may not work for you. 



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