Software I use and recommend

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It’s been over a year since I did a blog post about what software programs I use regularly and recommend to my clients, so here we go!  The programs I talk about below are mostly free.  Actually I think they all have free versions, but there are a couple that I highly recommend getting the paid version.  Please understand that I don’t just pick a program and tell you that you should use it – these are programs that I use myself every day because I feel that they are the best.

software I recommend


1. Microsoft Security Essentials (antivirus – free)
Get it here
I’ve been using this antivirus, and installing it on client computers, since October of 2010.  It’s light (meaning it doesn’t slow down your computer noticeably) and it does a great job.  And it’s also free!  So if you are still using Norton or McAfee and paying for it every year, it’s time to change.  And don’t wait until your paid subscription runs out – get MSE now.

2. Malwarebytes (antispyware – $24.99 one time)
Get it here
Malwarebytes is generally considered to be the best tool for finding and removing spyware or other malicious software.  Note that it is not an antivirus program – spyware is a different category, so you need a different program to protect against it.  There is a free version, and you can install it and use it to scan your computer.  However, the paid version runs all the time in the background, so it blocks that stuff from getting in in the first place.  It will also block you from inadvertently going to an infected website.  And it’s cheap – the $25 is not a subscription; it’s a one-time cost.  If you have several computers, buy a license for each one at the same time and they’ll give you a discount.

3. SuperAntispyware (antispyware – free)
Get it here
Yes, another antispyware program.  The free version here is okay.  In fact, one of the first things I do when I install this is to turn off the automatic updates because they can be a bit obnoxious about updating.  The primary reason I include SAS in my toolkit is because it has a built-in feature that watches out for “browser hijacking”.  This means that if a program tries to change the home page on your web browser, SAS will pop up a window and ask you to be sure you are allowing this to happen.  This setting needs to be turned on when you install it.

4. Mozilla Firefox (web browser – free)
Get it here
Firefox is still my default web browser, but I will admit that I also use Chrome and Internet Explorer for different things as well.  I wouldn’t be too surprised if my next “recommended software” post has Chrome as my favorite.  Internet Explorer is still not perfect, but the current version has improved greatly over previous versions.  Firefox and Chrome also have tons of plugins to customize your browsing (such as ad blocking), whereas IE doesn’t really offer a lot in that area.

5. MyPC Backup (online backup – price varies by plan)
Get it here
I have been using a different service (Mozy) for online backup, and I still use that account.  However, I have become more pragmatic about recommending the process of backing up.  If someone doesn’t see the urgency of having important files backed up, they aren’t really motivated to go out and pay for an online backup service.  Then I found MyPC Backup, which has a great feature – you can sign up and try it for free.  So that has helped a few people get “nudged along” in the process of protecting their documents, pictures, etc.  When they see how easy it is, they upgrade to the full account (less than $5 per month when you pay for it annually).  If that helps people get their data backed up, I’m happy with it.  And to make it even easier – I still offer to set up the online backup service for you (via Remote Access) at no charge.  Just contact me and we’ll get it done.

6. Snipping Tool (screenshot grabber – free)
– Comes with Windows Vista or Windows 7 –
For a long time I used Gadwin PrintScreen, but I have found Windows Snipping Tool to have some features that I prefer.  To use it, just click the Microsoft logo and type Snipping in the search field, then click on Snipping Tool when it shows up in the window.  To grab a portion of your screen to save or send to someone, you just draw a rectangle around the part you want to save.  What I like about this program is that you can then immediately save that image to your hard drive (Gadwin doesn’t offer that feature unless you change it in preferences, and even then you have to designated the folder that it will always use to save images).

7. Adobe Reader (PDF file reader – free)
Get it here
Yes, Adobe Reader is slow.  Yes, it will constantly ask you to update it.  These things are annoying, and for a while I used a different PDF reader (Foxit).  But Adobe Reader has features that other readers do not, and it became an issue in some cases.  For example, Adobe Reader includes the option that the creator of the file can require a password in order to open it.  That means you must use Adobe Reader to open it, because other readers don’t have that option.  Just watch closely when you download and install it, because they will try to slip in a toolbar here and there.  And I won’t get too mad at you if you just went ahead and turned off those updates (though the safest thing is to get all of the updates, since they are usually security-related).

8. Picasa (digital picture organizer/editor – free)
Get it here
Picasa is hard to beat, especially for a free program that does what it does.  There are way too many features to list here – just go get it at the link above and take a look at it.  The user interface is really intuitive and easy to learn.  You will have a lot of fun playing with this great tool, which is provided free from Google.

9. Skype (communication software – free and paid)
Get it here
Skype is like having a video telephone in your computer (it’s worth having a webcam).  Let’s say you are here in Florida, and your daughter is in Spain.  When you each install free Skype on your computer, and you both have a high speed internet connection such as cable or DSL, you can chat with full audio and video for as long as you want – and it costs you nothing!  If you want to be able to call someone’s cell or business phone from  your Skype account, then you have to get a paid account (about $3 per month for unlimited outgoing calls to the US or Canada).  Incoming calls, if you need that service, are a little more but still cheap.  Outside the US, check for the published rates at the site.  I use Skype all the time.

10. Dropbox (file sharing – free up to 2 gb)
Get it here
Now that I work from home, I don’t use Dropbox as much as I did when I went to work in an office each day.  But I do still use it.  If you are not familiar with it, imagine this scenario.  You have your work computer, with a folder called My Dropbox.  You have your home computer, with a folder called My Dropbox.  When you put something in that folder at work, you can go home and that same file is in that folder at home.  No more emailing files to yourself!

11. VLC Media player (audio/video player – free)
Get it here
If you’ve ever tried playing a video in Windows Media Player and that error message comes up about “missing codecs” – you know how frustrating that can be.  Next time that happens, try playing that same video in VLC and I’ll bet it plays with no problem.  Don’t ask me why, it just works better.

12. Evernote (online notes/reminders – free)
Get it here
I’m not going to go into a lot of detail on this one, because I only started using it a month or so ago, but it is GREAT.  I will be doing a whole blog post/podcast about it sometime soon.

What software do you use that you couldn’t live without?

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