If you use Twitter daily, you might realize that using the Twitter.com Web interface isn't giving you the best access to Twitter. In the sea of solutions for Twitter, it can be hard to sort out which Twitter software is the best solution for what you need. Here are some that we find to be the best on your desktop.
Extending Outlook with add-ins is a great way to maximize your productivity, as long as you choose wisely. In the list below, we include a bunch of handy features with an added benefit - all these add-ins are free.
A text editor is something I use more than anything else on my computer, so having one I like is fairly important. I frequently switch between writing articles, tweaking HTML code, and filtering information I gather into organized chunks all from some kind of text entry interface. Choosing a notepad that meets your personal needs is a serious commitment, because once you've accepted the quirks of your text editor, it's tough to switch to a new one even if you know there might be something better. Readers suggested a total of 92 solutions in this category.
Reader's Choice: Notepad++ tops the reader's picks in the text editor category with 25% of reader votes. In addition to handling basic text Notepad++ does an excellent job of marking up code for easy reading, it supports built-in macros, you can define your own markup rules, and it also makes a handy tool for creating ascii art. If you're into writing regular expressions for search and replace, this is very likely the ultimate notepad alternative for you.
2) Notepad, the text editor included with Windows placed second with 15% of reader votes. Notepad is bare bones and simple providing a solution that's really nothing but text. I contend that most people who use notepad stick with it simply because they've never tried anything else. If you prefer opening separate text files in multiple windows, rather than aggregating your files in several tabs in the same window, notepad remains a reliable and familiar solution.
3) EditPad Lite places third in reader rankings, receiving 10% of total votes. Like other third-party apps in this category EditPad Lite allows you to open as many files at a time as you want, with no file size limit. It features a strong search and replace across all open files, making it convenient to update many file simultaneously.
4) OpenOffice received 8% of reader votes, although it is much more than a text editor. Containing a full-fledged word processing solution, spreadsheet application, PowerPoint alternative, diagram maker, and database application, OpenOffice is ultimately meant to be a free alternative to everything in the Microsoft Office suite of applications.
A total of 87 other applications were submitted by readers. 3% of readers indicated they did not have a favorite free text editor, which might mean they use notepad or Word, or maybe some really don't need to enter text.
Download managers seemed more important in days of slower Internet connection speeds, where maximizing your Kbps was vital. They still come in handy for pulling down big files, but things like BitTorrent clients seem to fill a big part of that gap. If you need to accelerate your downloading, here are some great reader selected choices.
Reader's Choice: Free Download Manager (FDM) secures the top spot in the Download Manager's category with 33% of reader votes. FDM speeds up downloads by splitting them into multiple parts and also resumes interrupted downloads. FDM is capable of acting as a BitTorrent client. Flash video download support makes it easy to grab favorite videos from YouTube. A recently added upload feature extends functionality to make FDM two way.
2) FlashGet received 15% of reader votes. This classic download app does the standard multi-threaded acceleration common to the download manager category. It supports all the standard download options including FTP, HTTP, RSTP, and eMule. One key feature that separates FlashGet from the pack is the ability to automatically call on your antivirus software to check for infestations in your recently downloaded apps.
3) DownThemAll (dTa), a handy Firefox extension for managing downloads placed third with readers, receiving 11% of votes. dTa works similar to other apps in this category, with the exception that it integrates directly into Firefox instead of being a standalone solution. Downloads are accelerated using similar methods and it increases download speeds dramatically over using the built-in download manager.
9% of readers indicated they use the default download manager in their browser, which is likely closer to 15% if you also include the people who said they don't use a download manager. 69 additional software applications received at least one vote in the download manager category.
As a tutorial writer, screen capture is something I can't live without. My personal preference is for the pay product SnagIt, which includes extensive annotations tools not available in free screen capture apps. That doesn't mean there aren't great features in some of the free screen capture solutions. If you're willing to sacrifice convenience or use multiple free apps to handle all the potential aspects of screen capture, any of the free tools can work nicely.
Reader's Choice: ScreenHunter ranked at the top of the reader survey with 17% of readers selecting it as their favorite. The application provides basic enhancements over simply using the Print Screen key, offering configurable hot keys, automatic file naming, and configurable screen capture area.
2) Print Screen, the handy button on the top row of most keyboards, placed second in reader voting with 9%. While hitting the print screen key is free and certainly rules out the need for installing additional software, there are limitations (like not being able to pick a window to capture) that create more work than installing a utility.
3) CamStudio received a mere 4 fewer reader votes than using the Print Screen key, giving it just about 9% of reader votes as well. CamStudio is by far the best free tool for recording screencasts, although it requires additional tools to edit them.
4) Gadwin PrintScreen is by far the most elegant free screen capture utility, placing fourth with 8% of reader votes. Built-in features like easy emailing of screen capture windows and the ability to output several more image formats than other apps in this bunch. I'd be inclined to suggest an upgrade to the not free Pro version, simply because it lets you do callouts and other useful annotations on your screen captures.
5) FastStone Screen Capture offers the most features of the screen capture apps in this bunch and received another 8% of reader votes. With a full-fledged image editor built in, FastStone Screen Capture could easily edit your photos when you're not grabbing screens.
An additional 130 screen capture solutions were suggested by readers participating in the survey.
Desktop search is one of those handy features I find hard to live without. I have some many documents, files, and other data buried in hundreds of folders, that I need an easy way to filter it all to recall exactly what I'm looking for. Rather than needing to remember the exact name of a Word document I wrote last year, I can do a quick search and recover exactly what I need fairly quickly with surprising accuracy. This is a category with a few usual suspects and the dependability of built-in Windows features.
Reader's Choice: Google Desktop Search is the clear leader in reader popularity with 66% of readers selecting it as their favorite. Part of the overall Google Desktop package, Google Desktop Search does an excellent job of indexing data and making it quickly available via search. Whether you're looking for a forgotten document or need to track down an old email, Google Desktop Search does a solid job of retrieving what you need.
Editor's Choice: Copernic Desktop Search received 14% of reader votes and is my favorite desktop search client. It searches Outlook emails and most data on my hard drive. While the free version lacks features of displaying search data as you type I find that an acceptable compromise and prefer the app's standalone search feature set to rest of the stuff that comes with Google Desktop.
3) Windows Live Desktop Search received 7% of reader votes and it's another favorite of mine. This is the search Microsoft should have built into Windows, but I think there must be antitrust issues keeping it out. Like everything else in this category it does an excellent job of locating stuff on your hard drive, whether that stuff is in email or stashed in a folder somewhere.
4) Windows built-in search received 4% of reader votes and likely could be coupled with the 5% of readers who said they don't use a desktop search, since everyone searches their hard drive at some point. The thing I don't like about Windows built-in search is the inability to find data based on what's inside documents and files. If Windows baked this stuff into the operating system we'd never need a third-party tool, but as it stands, I'd be lost without being able to quickly reference data and bypass the simple file search performed in Windows Explorer. Still I appreciate there are many people with far less data to tote around who may not need an extra solution for locating things.
33 additional apps were included in the survey, each receiving at least one reader vote.
So many browser toolbars are available you could easily reduce your ability to see anything in a browser to almost zero by installing them all. Several useful toolbars exist and there are even some I've found I really enjoy having on my own computers. Reader's participating in the survey were largely in agreement on a favorite toolbar, with only 3 toolbars putting up numbers that were more than a blip on the map.
Reader's Choice: Google Toolbar ran away with this category receiving 64% of all reader votes. I used to use Google Toolbar more frequently, but find myself using many similar features now built into Firefox and Internet Explorer. Over time, it may be that if you like the Google Toolbar, you'll be better off simply downloading Google Chrome.
2) Yahoo Toolbar is a distant second to the mighty Google (not unlike in search) with 10% of readers picking it as a favorite. The only computer I've ever used Yahoo Toolbar on is a new HP system that came with it pre-installed. I have to admit, being able to automatically access my Flickr and de.icio.us accounts has a certain appeal, but I'm not convinced I'd use it otherwise.
3) StumbleUpon is even further down the toolbar popularity list to Google, with 4% of reader's picking it as their favorite. I've come to find the StumbleUpon toolbar to be a great diversion and a serendipitous way to find new thing on topics I like. While one man's useful is another's complete waste of time, I think stumbling through the Web by category is an excellent way to filter some of the noise while still finding things of interest.
4) Windows Live Toolbar eeked out 2% of reader votes, providing access to other components of the Windows Live solution set, but not really getting at the point of a toolbar, which is to make the things people use more readily available.
Possibly most telling were the 5.5% of readers indicating that they don't use a browser toolbar of any kind, beating out both StumbleUpon and Windows Live. I contend it's because they haven't tried StumbleUpon yet, but it could also be that there's something to be said for a clean browser experience uncluttered by additional wasted screen real estate. 74 other toolbars received at least one vote.
Backup software is one of those things we all wish we never needed. Sadly, many of us also never use a backup application until after a catastrophic data loss occurs. Here's your chance to be proactive and grab a popular free backup solution before disaster strikes. And if you don't want to install anything, there's always the option to backup files using a scheduled task. I've become a fan of backing up to online storage, simply because I can access my data from anywhere, but whatever you do, pick something and backup. ;)
SnapBackup placed at the top of a crowded field of 174 backup applications with 13% of reader's survey votes. Snap Backup might rate as the ugliest app in the survey, with it's Windows 3.1 icon, but the important thing is that it works. You define what to backup and SnapBackup handles the heavy lifting.
2) Windows built-in backup application received 10% of reader votes. If you use Windows built-in backup, it's a fairly reliable solution for keeping your data safe. You can schedule backups and it comes with every copy of Windows (even if you have to dig around on the Windows XP Home disk to find it).
3) SyncBack received 9% of reader votes. This is my favorite choice of the free backup solutions in the survey. SyncBack includes built-in FTP support and helps to automatically shut down running applications so your backups won't fail due to the files being tied up by an app (which can be a problem for things like your email database).
4) Cobian Backup received 8% of votes in the reader survey and placed a strong fourth in this crowded category. One useful feature of Cobian Backup is it's ability to run as a service, so you don't necessarily need to be logged into your computer in order of your backups to run. Backups are compressed using 7-zip.
The other 170 backup solutions rated by readers received at least 1 vote each but didn't make up a meaningful percentage of all votes.
Instant messaging has become an important part of most people's computing. A way to chat with friends around the city and around the globe, finding an IM client that escapes the notice of corporate IT watchdogs is gold when you want to plan lunch or waste some company time. Used properly, instant messaging clients can also be a handy way to accomplish work efficiently too. While there are many messenger clients with incompatible buddy lists, you might be surprised to find that the top client isn't one of the IM utilities bridging that gap.
Reader's Choice: Windows Live Messenger came in tops in the instant messaging category with 22% of reader votes, despite only working with the MSN and Yahoo contact lists. Live Messenger is a slightly better version of the Windows Messenger client that ships with many versions of Windows, so maybe this is a natural extension of Microsoft's reach. I stopped using Live Messenger for most things because I generally find it distracting to be interrupted by messaging clients, so I've largely limited my list of contacts to those who use Gmail. I do find Live Messenger to be the best free messaging product for video chat, because it seems to have the least quirks.
2) Pidgin, the open source messaging multi-tool placed second with readers, receiving 18% of all votes. If I were to sign in to all my messaging accounts at once, Pidgin would definitely be my personal tool of choice as it nicely handles things like file transfers on most networks. Pidgin also has some cool tools for uniquely identifying changes to your IM contacts using sounds and other notifications. These Buddy Pounces, as Pidgin calls them, are kind of like the personalized ringtones of the messaging world.
3) Trillian, the longtime standard in cross-messenger clients, received 11% of reader votes to place third in the polling. I used to recommend Trillian as the best all-in-one messaging tool, but now prefer either Pidgin or the browser based meebo.
4) AIM, AOL's classic messaging app hangs in there with a respectable 10% of reader votes. I personally find the AIM interface annoying and would rather use anything else instead, but it's hard to deny AOL's gravity in this space.
5) Yahoo Instant Messenger is by far the best looking messaging client for Windows Vista, although I find the video chat component so unreliable that I recommend Live Messenger as a better alternative. YIM follows close behind AIM with 9% of reader votes.
6) Google Talk, the messenger I use most frequently, received 8% of reader votes. I like Google Talk because it's nice and simple and I can easily connect with people without a standalone client when I have Gmail open in a browser. Google Talk isn't perfect, for instance, I'd love to see Google do more with video and Google Talk, but for simplicity in chatting, it's my personal favorite.
7) Miranda rounds out the meaningful portion of the IM list, coming in with a solid 5% of reader votes. Miranda gets points with me for being lightweight, but it lost ground when GAIM got the overhaul that eventually became Pidgin.
42 other apps received at least one vote in the Instant messaging category.
I remain an Outlook user because I have years invested in managing contacts, email, calendar, a tasks in one common location. I migrated some of the data to Plaxo to assist in automatic updates, but it ties directly back to Outlook. Still, it's easy to see that most people could get by without Outlook and find something free with almost as much power. What's most interesting in this category is three of the top seven solutions in this category are Web apps. Here are the most popular email solutions chosen by readers in this year's reader survey.
Reader's Choice: Thunderbird made a strong showing in the email client category with 51% of all readers selecting it as a favorite. Coupled with free calendar add-in Lightning it's nearly as powerful as Outlook without any of the baggage associated with buying the Microsoft Office suite. Email can be managed for individual or multiple accounts. Contact management is built in. By default there's no calendar, but Lightning is a simple downloadable extension, similar to Mozilla's Firefox extensions. Thunderbird also acts as an RSS reader if you choose to use it that way. Working on Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux also makes Thunderbird a plus, especially since data is fully portable between all three versions.
2) Gmail is a distant second in this category with 12% of reader's choosing Google's Web mail app as their favorite. In some ways I'm surprised it didn't rank higher due to it's widespread popularity. GMail offers great keyboard shortcuts for navigating the application, it can be extended further if you're into Grease Monkey scripts. Gmail does an excellent job at filtering junk mail, the Web client works well on an operating system and if you need desktop integration there's POP3 and IMAP access too.
3) Windows Live Mailreceived 7% of reader votes, which surprises me because of how clunky it is in comparison to GMail or Yahoo Mail (Scott Dunn from Windows Secrets has a nice comparison of Web email services). Live Mail is the evolution of Hotmail and as such it does a solid job of integrating Calendar and Contacts in a manner consistent with the Web version of Microsoft's Outlook. If I were choosing a Web email solution, my own vote goes to Gmail. Live Mail supports mail sorting after a fashion, which is slightly better than the labeling used by Gmail, but not enough to make use it.
4) Yahoo Mail predictably arrives 4th in this list with 3% of reader votes. Yahoo offers the most space of any Web mail product offering "unlimited" email storage, while Live Mail and Gmail only offer 5GB each. My Outlook PST file is well under 5GB, so I don't consider space a point of comparison, but your mileage may vary. I personally find mail sorting and the reading pane in Yahoo Mail to be the easiest of any Web service, which is consistent with the review from Windows Secrets mentioned above.
5) Outlook Express places 5th on the list, with 3% of reader's votes and just a couple short of Yahoo Mail. I find Outlook Express to be incredibly frustrating to use because it does many things wrong. If you need a decent newsgroup reader, it's acceptable, but for mail I'm voting 'No' despite what reader's have said. My suggestion, download Thunderbird.
AOL, PIM Xtreme, EssentialPIM, Pocomail, and Eudora all received slightly more than 1% of reader votes with 64 other email clients rounding out the list.
Windows Media Player might seem like the runaway winner in this category, simply because it ships on every Windows computer. iTunes also seems like a likely choice because of the millions of iPods and iPhones. Neither of these popular applications was rated best by reader's in the survey. Instead that honor goes to an open source audio and video player that solves many problems commercial applications from Microsoft and Apple simply don't touch. A total of 56 different applications were selected by readers, but most votes were concentrated on the top 8 apps.
Reader's Choice VLC Player received the most reader votes with 31%. VLC plays back most audio and video downloads without additional software. It also plays back DVDs without purchasing anything additional, which is one reason it's a popular choice. VLC also works to rebroadcast audio and video if you dive into the advanced settings, so you can stream content from your computer out to the Internet. And in some cases, you can use VLC to rip DVDs or convert PAL movies to NTSC.
2) Windows Media Player placed a strong second with 19% of reader votes. I'm sure some portion of voters chose Windows Media Player simply because it's the default player on their system, but if you're using version 11, it does have some handy features. The media search features are better than many other apps in this category if you take the time to figure out how to use advanced features. WMP is definitely a library manager and player, rather than being a pure media player like VLC. Many keyboard shortcuts and integration with Xbox 360 via MediaConnect also help to make Windows Media Player useful.
3) WinAMP received 15% of reader votes in the annual survey. There was a time when WinAMP was my favorite player, but it's sort of slipped in relevance thanks to iTunes and Windows Media Player expanding features. Still as a pure MP3 player, WinAMP contains many smart features and shortcuts missing from other players in this list. Recent addition of Flash video support and a song recommendation feature help keep WinAMP relevant in this crowded application field.
4) Media Player Classic received 11% of reader votes. The app derives it's name from interface similarities to the 6.4 version of Windows Media Player available in older versions of Windows. Like VLC Player, Media Player Classic is able to play most file formats. It's frequently bundled with other tools like Real Alternative and free codec packs.
5) iTunes placed 5th on the reader's choice survey with 6% of votes. I suspect a larger percentage of readers use iTunes even if they don't prefer it, specifically because of iPod and iPhone functionality. iTunes excels at music cataloging, selling music, subscribing to podcasts, and offering downloadable video content for sale.
Also worth mentioning from the reader survey are: GOM Player, which does a decent job of locating codecs for files if you don't have them on your system; the previously mentioned Real Alternative; and MediaMonkey, which is a powerful media player and also syncs with iPods and iPhones.
There are plenty of reasons you might want to catalog your DVD collection. If you frequently loan things to friends, having cataloging software makes it easy to keep track of who has your DVDs. If you have a large collection, making a list of what you have makes it easier to recover if you ever make an insurance claim. Or you might simply be interested in keeping a running tally of every movie you ever watched, which is my primary motivation for using this type of software. Finding a great application for cataloging your movie collection should be a little easier by starting with this list of reader's favorite DVD cataloging software.
Reader's Choice: eMyDVD Organizer received the highest percentage of reader votes in the DVD cataloging software category, claiming 31% of votes. The software supports 35 existing fields for detailed movie information, the addition of cover art and screenshots of the movie, as well as your own custom fields. While this is the most popular choice on the list, it isn't what I'd call the most convenient solution, because input requires too much manual intervention. Fortunately the switching cost is low and you can easily export data from eMyDVD in a format that imports easily into something else.
2) MovieTrack placed second with exactly 12.5% of reader's choosing it as a favorite. I'm inclined to wonder why because I find it's ability to add movies to be next to useless. At one point the software included a feature that supported look-ups via IMDB.com, but I was unable to get this feature to work, which is a deal breaker. At best you add movies by manually typing in every detail about the movie, which is time consuming for all but the smallest collections. This is one case where the wisdom of crowds seems to have abandoned its senses.
Editor's Choice: Libra received 5% of reader votes and gets my pick as the best free DVD cataloging app. In addition to DVDs, the software also neatly organizes books, music, and video game libraries, making it an excellent resource for cataloging all the media in your home. The feature that makes it a winner is the ability to add new items by scanning the barcode with a webcam. Data is looked up against the Amazon.com catalog of products using the barcode (as well as when doing a search lookup) making it a snap to add large collections of things quickly. The visual display of information (which appears inspired by Mac app Delicious Library) is both pleasing to the eye and an effective way of scanning your library. The search for content in your library is quick even if you have added hundreds or thousands of items.
4) Ant Movie Catalog received 4% of reader votes. Data is input either by searching IMDB.com or by adding data manually. A scripting language allows you to customize Ant Movie Catalog, although it's pretty geeky. Like other apps listed here you can keep track of who borrowed your movies. The app supports multiple images per movie. If you're still using an older version of Windows Ant Movie Catalog is compatible back to Win95.
5) EMDB (Eric's Movie Database) received 2% of reader votes. Features of EMDB map closely to most other apps in the list. The software supports manual input of data or searching IMDB.com for movie info. One interesting difference is that you can get YourName Movie Database as the application's name by spending $10, which might make a fun gift for someone hard to shop for.
This was one application category that received a high percentage of readers who said they didn't use this type of software. In fact None tied with MovieTrack at 12.5% of readers. The remaining 33% of readers were divided across 118 different applications.
Great photo organizing apps for Windows are few and far between, although I find myself doing most of my organization online by uploading images to Flickr, so maybe this category of software will eventually fade away. Still it's helpful to be able to quickly filter images on your computer, so there's a good chance organizing tools will survive until we are truly always connected. Here are the reader selected best-of-the-best photo organizers for Windows.
Reader's Choice: Picasa dominates the photo organizer category with 69% of readers choosing Google's photo organizer as their favorite. I understand why, although as I mentioned, I've largely switched to using Flickr for my photos. The Picasa interface is great for sorting, the search feature is snappy, and it's got great cataloging tools. If Picasa supported more online video hosts it would be almost perfect.
2) Windows Default Organization accounted for 10% of reader's votes, based on write-in data that largely consisted of either Windows Explorer, Microsoft Photo Gallery or Microsoft Picture and Fax Viewer. Presumably this means this meaningful percentage of users has their own system for keeping track of where photo and images are stored on their computer.
3) PicaJet Photo Organizer received 2% of reader votes. The free version of this organizer imports photos from your digital camera or any type of disk. The software conveniently auto-creates categories based on folder names and IPTC keywords. EXIF data is displayed as well. Searching is hobbled by the need to encourage upgrades to a paid version, limiting your ability to browse photos by day and rating, disabling red eye removal and several other features that are included free in Picasa. The paid version of this app is outstanding, but I don't consider it enough better than Picasa to buy it.
4) IrFanView does double-duty on both the photo editing and organizing lists, with 2% of readers choosing it to appear in the organizer list. While IrFanView is best known for its editing tool set, a strong search function and the ability to read and edit EXIF and IPTC data makes it a handy option for keeping photos organized on your hard drive.
The remain 17 percent of votes were spread across a surprising 74 apps.
Photo Editing is something I've always used purchased products for - not because there aren't great free alternatives; I'm simply used to the work flow in Photoshop, which is an invaluable time savings I find worth the price. As part of the annual reader survey, reader's selected some of their favorite free apps, all of which provide great features and in some cases rival Photoshop in ability. Unless you're like me and simply want the familiar shortcuts and layout of your favorite pay product, there's really almost no reason to purchase an image editor when you could opt for one of these awesome free choices instead.
Reader's Choice: GIMP is quite possibly the most powerful free image editor available. It's also extremely popular with 38% of reader's choosing GIMP as their favorite. GIMP works great for simple things like batch resize a bunch of photos, covert a color photo to black and white, or even cropping one image file. GIMP excels at color correction, multi-layer image creation, and custom scripting for complex batch edits. If you want an image editor that can take whatever you throw at it, GIMP is a solid choice.
2) Paint.NET has grown into an excellent free image editor, starting with humble origins as a minor improvement to the Paint app bundled with Windows. 23% of reader's selected Paint.NET as their favorite free photo editing software. With support for layers, easy access to common functions like red-eye removal, and virtually unlimited undos, Paint.NET is generally easier for novices to use than the GIMP.
3) Picasa placed third in polling for best free photo editor, with 12% of votes, despite being more an organization tool that happens to have editing features. This could be because the app did a great job of integrating the most popular editing features into the best desktop organization tool for Windows, making most other tools unnecessary. Basic editing functions included are crop, red eye removal, contrast and color correction, and enhancement. Recently updated RAW support makes Picasa a solid tool even for pros.
4) IrFanView received 4% of reader votes. As one of the first free image editors, IrFanView remains among the most frequently revised tools in this category, routinely adding new editing features to both the graphical interface and command line options.
6% of readers selected some version of Photoshop as their favorite image editor, but since the Adobe products are commercial and not free, I've excluded them here. In some cases it is possible to get a legitimate free version of Photoshop bundled with other products, but even then a price was paid in acquisition. The remainder of readers votes were spread across 63 different applications.
BitTorrent changed the way we download movies, television, music, and software. The original tools for using BitTorrent, while functional, seem archaic compared with many of the available choices. RSS subscriptions for automatic downloads, bandwidth throttling, remote interfaces, there's so much more than simple downloading in many of the alternatives to the original BitTorrent client. Reader's selected 48 different apps for this category, but the bulk of reader's choice votes fell on four specific software applications.
Reader's Choice: uTorrent tops the list of popular BitTorrent clients with a solid 46% of total reader votes. Technically the name is µTorrent, not uTorrent, but I find it less confusing to refer to it alphabetically rather than with a symbol, not unlike referring to Prince by a name rather than an unpronounceable symbol. uTorrent also happens to be my favorite solution for downloading torrents. It handles simultaneous downloads extremely well with highly configurable bandwidth throttling on a per download basis. Quick-resume is an excellent way to make sure interrupted downloads complete. And the RSS downloader neatly handles subscriptions with embedded torrents.
2) Vuze (formerly Azureus) received 19% of reader votes for best free BitTorrent client. In it's old form, Azureus was my favorite client application, but with the new focus on searching for downloads, I find Vuze to be too clunky. I also don't like that it installs the Ask.com search bar. The actual BitTorrent client portion of Vuze is still great, with many comparable features to uTorrent, including per download bandwidth control, RSS subscriptions, and prioritizing certain downloads. One new feature of Vuze I do like is the ability to create a personalized peer network based on who your friends are in the peer universe.
3) BitTorrent, the original application came in third in polling with 9% of reader's choice votes. Tallying the results is the first time I looked at the "official" BitTorrent client in ages because the user interface simply wasn't worth bothering with in the past. Apparently they thought so too, the newest version of the client is based directly on uTorrent with the addition of what their calling Delivery Network Accelerator, which sounds similar to RedSwoosh.
4) BitComet placed 4th in voting with 8% of total reader's selecting it as their favorite. In addition to many of the common torrent downloading features, BitComet includes direct download of embedded Web videos. BitComet also includes a feature similar to the Vuze friend sharing called Torrent Share, which allows you to share torrents with other BitComet users. Multiple instance HTTP downloading adds an additional download option to make this a multi-scenario download manager.
The remaining 82% of readers' votes are spread among the other 44 apps.
CD and DVD burning software is an indispensable part of having a computer. From making backups, to creating music CDs, to sharing files with friends and family, I still burn many disks every week. Burning integration in Windows and apps like iTunes and Windows Media Player hasn't done away with the need to have an standalone application specifically for burning because those tools are hobbled to the point they only work for certain functions. As part of the reader survey, 102 different burning applications were recommended. The following list is the most popular from that group.
Reader's Choice: CDBurnerXP Pro received 20% of votes to lead the pack in this collection of CD/DVD burning tools. It's simple workflow translates to creating data disks of virtually any type, including support for burning data to HD-DVD and Blu-ray disks. The app also makes ISO files, including the handy feature of converting BIN and NRG formats to ISO.
Editor's Choice: ImgBurn is the app I use for most of my DVD burning needs. It was also selected by 16% of readers as their favorite CD and DVD burning software. I like ImgBurn's longstanding support for virtually any shiny disk type you want to create. It handles every disk image I've ever tried with it. Audio CD burning with ImgBurn is on par with another personal favorite, Burrrn.
3) DeepBurner was selected by 8% of readers as their favorite burner. One of the strongest features of the free version of DeepBurner is a portable variation that can be used from a USB drive, giving you access to DVD burning no matter where you are. If you want to burn video DVDs, you have to pay for the pro version of the software.
4) Burn4Free recevied 7% of reader's votes as their favorite DVD burner. I'm specifically not linking to the app because as far as I can tell they have not stopped bundling adware with the burner. As I pointed out several years ago, they bundle NavExcel with Burn4Free, which is an app I don't want on my system. A recent check of SiteAdvisor.com and Sophos suggests this practice hasn't changed.
5) AVS Disk Creator received 5% of reader votes. The software publisher raves about its Blu-ray support, which is great but far from the only solution for Blu-ray data burning. AVS makes solid tools in general, making this a safe choice if one of the other didn't spark your fancy.
Nero received an additional 5% of votes, but since it's not free, I'm excluding it from the list of free apps here. The remaining votes were spread widely across the large field of CD/DVD burning applications.
Until video publishers decide to agree on a standard format for movie downloads, video converters are a necessary evil. This is one of the most crowded software categories in existence, with literally thousands of products attempting to fill a void in some capacity. A full 183 different applications were selected as a favorite by readers, giving no one application a real lead in the space. Many of the 183 are single function tools that are great at what they do, a few offer conversion of several formats, but only a couple of them really deliver at being a great tool for most video conversion needs.
Reader's Choice: SUPER, aka Simplified Universal Player Encoder & Renderer leads this crowded pack of applications with a respectable 10% of reader's votes. It's among the best in this category and deserves a place at the top for it's ability to convert virtually anything you throw at it. Because of it's depth of features, SUPER is a little more bloated than most of the competition and I've occasionally found it slowing down my system if I use it for too long. Having said that, if you haven't ever tried SUPER, I highly recommend downloading the app. It's very likely SUPER will replace whatever you used for video conversion in the past.
2) Any Video Converter comes in second with 9% of votes. Any Video Converter offers one of the cleanest interfaces for video conversion, with support for many common file types including MOV, WMV, MPG, RMVB, and AVI. It lacks specific profiles for converting video for playback on PSP or iPod, making it less complete than SUPER. If you want MP3, OGG, 3GP, and support for portable device profiles, upgrade to a pay version is required.
3) MediaCoder received another 9% of the vote from readers, offering a solution that's more complete than Any Video Converter. MediaCoder includes output options for portable devices and provides an excellent solution for converting most common file types, more closely resembling SUPER in features. Of the top three as chosen by readers, this would likely be my top choice.
4) Prism reminds me of my favorite video converter WinFF. While the two aren't identical, the interfaces are quite similar and features are exposed in a common layout. Prism received 6% of reader votes, but I find it to be far more limited than the top 3 as the free version is primarily used to get people to upgrade to a paid version.
5) VirtualDub also appeared near the top of the Reader's Choice list of Video Editing apps. It does make an excellent convert for going from many formats to one of the many codecs that use the AVI wrapper, because it allows for very convenient batch processing and job scheduling. One key advantage VirtualDub has over other apps on this list is it's support for easily performing video enhancements typically available only in a full-fledged video editor. And being able to open several instances of VirtualDub sets it apart for doing some parallel workflow related tasks. Despite having only 5% of reader votes, VirtualDub is a video tool that should be a part of every multimedia toolkit.
6) Media-Convert, an online video conversion tool, received 4% of reader votes. It's unique on this list in that it's a hosted Web service that uploads a file from your computer, lets you choose an output format, and then download the converted file. This is a great service if you need access to file conversion from a public computer and can safely dodge clicking on their ads while trying to get the file converted. It's really only useful for small files because of the upload time involved, although it will work for fairly large files as well. In addition to video and audio files, Media Convert handles documents of various types and compressed files too.
7) Handbrake first became popular with Mac OS X users as a way to rip DVDs. Windows and Linux versions followed. The Windows version does not rip commercial DVDs the way it's Mac counterpart does, but it does have excellent presets for Apple devices. If you have an iPhone or AppleTV, Handbrake is highly recommended as a free solution. 3% of readers picked Handbrake as their favorite.
8) Videora iPod Converter comes in several flavors depending on which iPod you have, including iPhones. While that makes it simple for iPod owners, you really don't need a different app for each device, you need the right output. The company also makes a pay product that combines download management with RSS subscriptions and BitTorrent downloads. 3% of readers selected Videora as their favorite video converter.
The 8 apps listed above make up 49% of reader votes. The remaining 51% of votes were widely spread across 175 applications making video converters a highly diverse field to choose from.
Video editing apps come in all shapes and sizes. I tend to spend most of my time in multi track video editors piecing together sequences from several different video clips, but there are also times where I'm just doing cuts and I want the simplicity of something like VirtualDub. According to the annual reader's poll below are the most popular video editing apps.
Reader's Choice: Windows Movie Maker leads the pack as the most popular free video editor with 34% of votes. While you could make a case that Movie Maker isn't free since you have to pay for Windows, I'd argue that you're not likely to use any of the apps listed here without Windows, so Movie Maker is a bonus and free enough to qualify for this list. It handles most video formats if you have the right codecs installed on your machine, although it's ideally suited for either MiniDV or HDV video editing (the latter being Vista only).
Editor's Choice: VirtualDub is by far the free video editor I use more than any other. Coupled with AVISynth, you can do almost anything to a single track of video. I've written numerous tutorials on VirtualDub. It's best suited for editing AVI files with various codecs, but can also be used to edit WMV, RMVB, AVCHD, and a number of other common video formats. 25% of readers selected VirtualDub as their favorite free video editor.
3) Wax from DebugMode came in third in the reader survey, with 4% of readers recommending it. The user interface is slightly reminiscent of Avid Media Composer, with the added benefit that it supports AVISynth scripts, VirtualDub plugins and Windows Movie Maker settings. I find the app frustrating to use, but 3D rendering built-in makes it an affordable compositing solution.
4) Jashaka was picked by 3.5% of readers as their favorite editor. This is an app I always thought showed real promise as a high quality video compositing and editing suite, but got stalled in development until early 2008 due to politics. It's definitely worth a look, especially if the development gets back on track.
5) ZS4 is an actively developed video compositing and editing system. I'm reasonably convinced that if more people tried this app, it would have displaced Jashaka on this list because the user experience is much better overall. 3.5% of readers voted for ZS4.
6) Avid Free DV is like a sample Avid gives away in hopes you'll switch to their editing solution later. I find the Avid interface clunky, but if you want a job as a professional editor, this is definitely a smart application to use. It's limited to MiniDV format in the free version. 3% of readers voted for Avid Free DV.
7) Avidemux received 3% of votes in the reader poll. It's handy for simple cuts editing, with native support of MPEG file editing in addition to AVI.
8) Pinnacle VideoSpin is among the easiest to use video editors I've ever tried. It's a bit weak on features, but like Avid Free DV, it's really meant to get you hooked so you upgrade to a pay product. 2% of readers voted for VideoSpin.
The remaining 22% of readers were spread across 70 different video editing solutions.
Audio editing can amount to simple tasks like trimming silence from the end of an MP3, to incredibly complex multi-track audio production. The applications presented here are capable of both, although I'm stretching a bit to feature some of the better free solutions because so many readers chose Audacity as their favorite free audio editor. While I agree that Audacity is outstanding at what it does, there are times when having a 2-track editor can be less frustrating, with that in mind, here are the reader choices for best free audio editor.
Reader's Choice: Audacity won the audio editor category for the reader's poll with a landslide 77% of all votes. It does multi-track editing, handles most effects and custom audio tweaks, and is actively developed. If you ever need help with Audacity, there's also a very friendly support community. In addition to a Windows version, there are also Mac and Linux installs.
2) Wavosaur came in a distant second with 2% of the total votes. It's a great 2-track editor, with support for VST plugins and the ability to edit any file you throw at it.
3) WavePad hasn't received an update since 2006, but it doesn't necessarily need one. It edits audio files easily enough and if you need more features, you can always download Wavosaur instead. 1.5% of readers picked WavePad as their favorite audio editor.
4) Free Audio Editor received 1% of votes. It's quite similar in features to WavePad and Wavosaur, although the interface looks slightly nicer. The one downside to this app is you need to purchase MP3 output support.
The remaining 18.5% of reader's votes are distributed across the rest of 91 apps submitted in the audio editing category.
Spyware removal is one category where commercial products continue to outperform free alternatives. Spyware Doctor gets my vote for best spyware protection and removal, but it's not free so it's not on this list. You can get a feature-limited version of Spyware Doctor as part of the free Google Pack, along with a bunch of other great software, which is presumably how it managed to make this list of reader selected free spyware removers. This is one category of software that often requires using two apps to make sure your system stays clean.
Reader's Choice: Spybot Search & Destroy received a commanding 37% of reader votes for best anti-spyware solution. While many critics (myself included) feel that there are stronger alternatives in the commercial software realm, Spybot S&D has been among the top of the heap for years, commanding a great deal of mindshare with computer users everywhere.
2) Ad-Aware 2008 Free, which is another venerable member of the anti-spyware software category, comes in 2nd in reader selection with 25% of the vote.
Editor's Choice: Windows Defender is my favorite free choice for spyware protection and removal. It comes in at #3 with 14% of readers selecting it as their favorite. Microsoft does a solid job of keeping the list of known spyware updated, making this a reliable solution. It performs well in protecting from spyware at sites that attempt to sneak stuff on your system. Combined with other free protection, like a good antivirus program, you should feel reasonably safe using Windows Defender as your anti-spyware solution. Windows XP SP2 or newer is required to use Windows Defender.
4) Spyware Terminator received 5% of the reader vote and appears to benefit from regular updates.
5) Spyware Doctor Starter Edition is one of the downloads included in the Google Pack. While it received 3% of the reader vote, this version of Spyware Doctor is stripped of many of the real-time protection monitors included in the pay version, which places the SD Starter Edition at a solid number two on this list. It does include some active protection, full scan and remove capability, scheduled scanning, and free signature file updates. The signature file updates are not as frequent as the pay version and often include less data, making them less than perfect.
The remaining 16% of votes is spread between 54 other applications.
Antivirus is one of the most frustrating categories of Windows software. It's important to have antivirus software installed because there are too many ways to get burned. The annual tax of licensing commercial antivirus software dramatically increases the total cost of ownership for any Windows computer. As a replacement for those pricey solutions from McAfee, Norton, and their competition, here are the most popular antivirus solutions as chosen in the annual reader survey:
Reader's Choice: AVG Anti-Virus Free Edition received the most votes in the reader survey, chosen by an overwhelming 61% of readers. AVG also happens to be the free solution most closely resembling a traditional commercial antivirus product. AVG provides basic protection from virus and spyware infestation by scanning email messages, and doing scheduled system scans. Like other free solutions, AVG does not proactively scan downloads and instant messaging communications, but should catch anything that slips through either of those methods if you happen to inquire an infected file and open it.
2) avast! 4 Home Edition is truly an underdog in the freeware antivirus world. As long as you're using it for personal use, it's quite possibly the best option on the list, offering real-time protection for most common antivirus needs. 19% of readers picked avast! as their favorite.
3) Avira AntiVir Personal Edition gets high marks for keeping virus definitions updated regularly. 8% of readers selected AntiVir as their choice for best free antivirus application. According to a recent Windows Secrets article, it ranks on more "best of" lists than any other antivirus app. One key downside to Avira AntiVir is a lack of automatic email scanning; you don't get automated quarantine of infected email messages. The software comes alive if you are suckered into opening an infected file, so no damage should be done to your system, but that's still not a perfect scenario. If you purchase the pay version of AntiVir, email scanning is enabled. The other downside to AntiVir is a requirement to re-register it periodically, which is an opportunity for Avira to upsell you to the pay version. If you are willing to put up with these quirks, the actual antivirus protection is great.
4) ClamWin is another reliable free alternative for virus scanning. 3% of readers picked ClamWin as their favorite. It's especially suited for automatic removal of infected attachments from Outlook. The software doesn't do a real-time scan of your system like pay products, so it might not make sense for novice users, but for experts, it's a handy way to maintain virus protection without bogging down your system resources with something that's constantly scanning.
With 91% of readers selecting one of the four apps listed above, the remaining 9% is a fairly crowded field. 39 different applications were chosen by readers as a solid free antivirus solution. You can't go wrong choosing one of the four listed above.
Windows XP and Vista both include a software firewall, but the software is limited in capability. For improved security, you really should install an alternative firewall software solution to make sure both inbound and outbound traffic on your Internet connection is protected. In addition to software protection, it's smart to invest in a hardware solution, like a router, to add additional security between your broadband connection and your PC. Based on a poll comprised of readers from 31 popular tech sites, here are the top 10 free firewall applications:
Reader's Choice: ZoneAlarm While only winning by a narrow margin, ZoneAlarm's free firewall product came in first place with 36% of all reader's surveyed choosing the ZoneAlarm free firewall as their favorite choice. ZoneAlarm offers very basic free protection from both inbound and outbound threats. It also includes a stealth mode designed to keep you invisible to hackers. In this case, I disagree with the readers and find Comodo (#2) to be a more fully featured solution.
Editor's Choice: Comodo Firewall Pro offers comprehensive firewall protection for free, with full inbound and outbound protection. Comodo offered a close second to ZoneAlarm with 34% of all votes making it a solid #2. The interface is easy to understand for novices, although it will frequently ask you about specific apps access permission initially, which might be confusing. If you use Internet Connection Sharing, Comodo is the one free solution that won't give you a headache in continuing to share connections.
3) Windows Built-in Firewall was selected by 10% of readers as their free firewall choice.
4) Sunbelt Personal Firewall - Once known as Kerio Personal Firewall, this firewall from Sunbelt captured 3% of reader votes. The free version includes a 30-day trial of the pay version.
5) AVG Anti-virus free - The AVG bundle with a firewall is decidedly not free, but 2% of readers selected it as their top choice for a free firewall. Linked here is the free AVG anti-virus product.
6) PC Tools Firewall Plus captured 2% of reader votes.
7) Ashampoo FireWall Free also received 2% of votes. They make great free products, but their marketing is a bit aggressive for my tastes.
8) Outpost Free Firewall captured 1% of reader votes.
While Sygate Personal Firewall received 2% of reader votes, since it's acquisition by Symantec a free version is no longer available. There were a total of 61 different firewall applications suggested by readers making up the remainder of entries.
Honorable Mention: Jetico Personal Firewall received high marks from Firewall Leak Tester, which should be solid proof that this is an excellent way to protect your system. The interface is slightly more obtuse than Comodo, giving it a lower ranking on this list. If you want to make sure your data is locked down tight, Jetico offers a highly viable solution for firewall security. It hasn't been updated for a couple of years, but it still stands up to threats.
Just because Internet Explorer came with your computer doesn't mean it's the best Web browser for your needs. There are plenty of other browser alternatives. Here are the top choices for best free Web browser:
1) Firefox clocks in at #1 in my book. The Mozilla team has done a great job of creating a browser that loads pages quickly and adheres reasonably well to Web standards. The real reason I put Firefox at the top of the list is extendability. In addition to essential features like encrypted password storage, Firefox has outstanding support from a massive user community that adds features to Firefox on a regular basis by way of add-ons called Extensions. These extensions are free and add a variety of features. You pick and choose which extensions you need, so they don't unnecessarily bloat your browser with extra code.
2) Maxthon runs a close second to Firefox. Maxthon uses the rendering engine for IE, so pages displayed in Maxthon will look just like they do in IE. Maxthon includes better tabbed browsing than what's offered in IE7, it integrates things like ad blocking automatically, and in general it's the best "upgrade" you could make to IE. Maxthon also specializes in proxy support, so if you want to browse anonymously or live in a country where the Internet gets blocked, Maxthon helps you accomplish this better than any other browser.
3) Opera is another great alternative to IE and Firefox. Opera is optimized for speed, consistently winning awards for being the fastest at loading pages. It bundles many of the features you can get for Firefox through extensions, which creates a rich feature set at the expense of slightly bloated software. The desktop version is free, the company makes money selling versions for cell phones.