Software I use and recommend – part 2

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Last week I went over 11 programs and tools I use on a regular basis, and recommend to my clients. And that was only half the list! This week we’ll cover the rest. Of course, this is list is not exhaustive, and you might have other options that you prefer. Not every program is right for every user. Let me know what you think in the comments at the end.

Software I use



12. Freshbooks (small business bookkeeping)
Get it here
A lot of small businesses start out with their bookkeeping by just using an Excel spreadsheet to track income and expenses. That’s better than nothing, but it’s a lot easier to use a tool that is designed just for this purpose. Freshbooks is web-based bookkeeping – this means you don’t install any software on your computer. Your account is online and you do everything through the website. They make it really easy to use so there is not a huge learning curve. You can create professional looking invoices, and then email them with a link to pay online (either through Paypal processing, or a regular merchant account). Also, any recurring monthly or annual invoices can be scheduled to get sent out automatically so you don’t have to remember to do it. For a large business, Quickbooks might be a better solution. But if you have a small business like mine, it’s worth checking Freshbooks out with their free 30-day trial. After that, their packages range from $0 to $40 per month.


13. Phrase Express (text expander)
Get it here
This is a handy little tool that’s free for personal use. It’s designed specifically to save you time if you find yourself typing the same text over and over again. For example, I get technical/repair questions regularly by email. Since I usually can’t diagnose or fix a problem without actually seeing what’s going on, I will often send this response:

“Thanks for the inquiry. This is something I would handle through my Remote Support service. You can get the full details on how that works at this page on my website:”

Since that same response is used many times, it’s a waste of time to type it out manually each time. Instead, I can set up Phrase Express to handle this for me. I can just designate a certain key combination, such as Shift + Control + R to trigger Phrase Express to type out that whole phrase for me in about a half second. You can set it up to remember something as short as your email address, or as long as a full page of text. It’s designed to run on Windows but can run on a Mac computer with a Windows emulator.


14. Adobe Reader (PDF reader)
Get it here
Yes, I use Adobe Reader. It’s not as bad as it used to be, even though it still requires regular updates. I’ve tried the alternative programs that will open PDF files, and I always find myself disappointed because they lack the features of Reader. And I’m pretty sure if a PDF file has been password protected when it was originally created with Adobe Acrobat, you still need to get into it by opening it in Adobe Reader and entering the password. Just make sure you keep it updated, and if you go and get the updates manually, make sure you uncheck the box that wants to install McAfee or some other software at the same time. It’s a shame that even supposedly reputable companies have caved in to taking money just to install third-party software on peoples’ computers.


15. Picasa (photo organizer)
Get it here
Picasa is a free program from Google and it’s one I install on all of the laptops I sell. It does a LOT of stuff. Primarily, it’s a way to visually organize your photos on your computer. The first time you run it, Picasa will look through all your picture folders and display all the images in thumbnail version. Beyond that there are lots of cool special effects you can add to your photos, or you can get rid of redeye, or you can lighten up a photo if it’s too dark. You can also use Picasa to upload your photos to your Google account which makes it easy to share a lot of photos with a lot of people (you just email your friends or family a link to see the photos – no more sending photos by email attachment).

One thing to note – I often hear clients say “My photos are all stored in Picasa”. This is not accurate. Picasa does not store anything. The photos are stored on your computer (usually in the Pictures folder). Picasa is just a way of displaying those images.


16. Skype (communication)
Get it here
I use Skype almost every day. There’s a common misconception about Skype – sometimes someone will tell me, “I would use Skype, but I don’t have a webcam”. You don’t need a webcam to use Skype. You can communicate with Skype using text chat, or by audio. A webcam is only required if you want to transmit video as well. The amazing thing about Skype is that any calls are free if both parties are using Skype. So if you’re in the US and you have a friend in Australia, and you both are on Skype, you can talk by voice AND video for as long as you want, and there is never any charge at all. So cool! The cost comes into play when you want to use your Skype account to make calls to non-Skype phones, such as someone’s cell phone. Even then, it’s really cheap – $3 per month for unlimited outgoing calls to any number here in the US or Canada. You’ll pay more if you want to receive incoming calls (they give you your own Skype phone number) but even that’s not very expensive at all.


17. Dropbox (file sharing)
Get it here
We certainly don’t have any shortage of online file sharing services these days. Amazon Cloud Drive, Google Drive, iCloud and lots of others. And that trend will probably continue, since storage space is getting cheaper all the time. And most of them do essentially the same thing. You get a certain small amount of storage space for free, then if you want to pay you get more space. I don’t know if DropBox was the actual first service, but it was definitely one of the first. I started using it years ago. Since I have like 80 gb of space available, I’ve never really bothered with using the other ones. One cool feature is having the Dropbox app on my phone – so whenever I take a picture with my phone, it’s automatically in Dropbox, which means it’s already on my computer.


18. CDBurnerXP (data CD or data DVD creation)
Get it here
This is a program I’ve used for years. Even the name indicates it’s been around for a while (since the early days of Windows XP). In spite of the name, it does work fine with Windows 7 and Windows 8. This program just simply burns CDs or DVDs. You can create a regular data disc just to store your files or folders, a video DVD, an audio CD, or you can burn an ISO image (I’ll probably do a blog post at some point on what an ISO image is). Or if you want to just copy a CD or DVD you can do that as well (unless copy protection is built in to the original). There are lots of options for burning discs but I have found this one to be very simple and reliable.


19. Adobe Audition (audio editing)
Get it here
I’ll tell you up front, this program is not for everyone. It’s fairly expensive, and the average person doesn’t need to created and edit audio files anyway. That’s what this program does – it’s a program for sound files. I use it to created and edit my podcast. It does a LOT more than what I use it for and honestly I wouldn’t even know how to describe a lot of the features it offers. I’ve figured out enough to make it do what I need it to do and I’m comfortable with it to that degree. Maybe some day I’ll get into the more advanced things it does. If you need an audio editor that is less complex but is also free, try out Audacity (a lot of podcasters use it for producing their shows).


20. Sony Vegas Pro 13 (video editing)
Get it here
This is another program that is kind of complex, but I have a lot of fun using it. I don’t really make a lot of videos, but I find that Sony Vegas is a program that is pretty intuitive so it doesn’t really take a lot of time to learn how to use it. And you can even take the video you made and create a DVD that will play in any DVD player. Like Adobe Audition, there is a lot more to this software than what I use it for, but I’m learning more and more as I use it.


21. WordPress (website creation)
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If you want to create your own website and have it look professionally done, WordPress is the way to go. Any website I make now is in WordPress. It’s free and there are thousands of free themes available, so your site can look just about however you want it to look. There are also paid themes available if you see one you want to purchase. The big advantage with WordPress is that once it’s installed, it is very user-friendly. You can use it as a blog, or a regular website with no blog component at all, or a website that includes a blog. The ways to customize it are endless.


22. TeamViewer (remote support)
Get it here
This is the program I use when I need to remote in to a client’s computer. It’s not cheap and there are other alternatives, but I have found TeamViewer works the best. And actually, if you are just using it for personal use, it’s free (like if you want to log in to your mom’s computer to help with something). But if you use it for any kind of business use and you try to just get away with using the free version, they’ll probably catch you and shut down the account. For me, it has way more than paid for itself over the years. My Remote Support service has around 350 client computers listed, and whenever any of those clients has a problem, I can usually fix it remotely.

And there you have it – the software I use and recommend. What other programs do YOU recommend? Let us know in the comments.

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