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After using a computer for a certain period of time, and after working on a site like MakeUseOf for a certain period of time, you start to develop a certain fondness and a certain attachment for particular software apps. I (and all the other MUO writers) test so many web apps and software tools and when we are finished, 99% of them get uninstalled and forgotten about forever. But it’s that magical 1% that we really like so much which are the ones that get to stay installed on our computers. I personally call those ones “The Mark Pack” (a sly dig at the Google Pack).

So here are the contents of the Mark Pack. Due to the nature of my job, the contents of the Mark Pack are always changing as I discover new stuff. But here’s what it contains right now. This is part one of the article, part two is tomorrow.

1. Mozilla Firefox

Obviously! (you didn’t think I was going to say Internet Exploder now did you?!) Although I have to say I have been flirting with the idea of going over to Google Chrome Google Chrome - A New Chapter in Browser History? Google Chrome - A New Chapter in Browser History? Read More for a while now but I am put off by the things it lacks 7 Things Google Chrome Needs - Now That It's Out of Beta 7 Things Google Chrome Needs - Now That It's Out of Beta Read More and especially its lack of privacy 3 Steps to Regain Your Privacy in Google Chrome 3 Steps to Regain Your Privacy in Google Chrome Read More . Firefox has been rather unstable for me recently with constant crashes and this is not good in my line of work.   Thank God for its session saver feature otherwise I would keep losing all those porn sites I keep finding. Oops, did I really say that out loud? Damn, damn, damn…..

So to quote Darth Vader, “come with me to the Dark Side”. But right now, I am still doing my impersonation of Luke Skywalker on the Death Star in front of the Emperor resisting with all his might. At the moment, Firefox is still my browser of choice but it really needs to get the stability issues fixed if I am to resist Darth Google and his overtures (“the force is strong in this one”)

2. Pidgin Skype

I put these two together because I use them together as my daily online communication tools. I tried using Digsby Why I'm Digging Digsby Why I'm Digging Digsby Read More for a while but it just didn’t click with me for some reason. So I went back to Pidgin. The only thing that annoys me about Pidgin is the very small message window that can’t be resized. It used to be much bigger but when they brought out an upgrade, they shrunk it down (no dirty jokes please!). I am hoping they will reverse that and soon. I don’t like typing in a microscopic window.

What I really love about Pidgin are all the plugins that are available for it. I’ve previously wrote about Bot Sentry Stop Pidgin Spam in Its Tracks with Bot Sentry Stop Pidgin Spam in Its Tracks with Bot Sentry Read More which nuked all the IM spam instantly and there is also gSMS Get Notified by SMS When Someone Contacts you on Pidgin Get Notified by SMS When Someone Contacts you on Pidgin Read More which sends you SMS’s whenever someone tries to contact you on Pidgin (although this one is apparently a bit unstable for some people).


Skype is just wonderful (despite all the spam that comes through it). I do a lot of my phoning from it, especially my international calls, saving myself a ton of money in the process. The video calls are just sweet and I surprised my grandparents on Christmas Day with a webcam call (even though they didn’t understand how it all worked!).

I also like the tweaks and upgrades that the Skype team have brought out recently – the improved audio and picture quality, the tighter interface (including the ability once again to separate the contact list from the chat window – which is a huge plus).

But the thing that makes Skype totally invaluable is the ability to assign a phone number to it (giving yourself a business phone number) and also being able to forward calls to a mobile phone.   So if you have to go out, you can forward all your Skype calls to your mobile phone and then take off to Starbucks for that double latte. Meanwhile, your Skype callers are none the wiser where you are.

3. Winamp

I’ve tried a LOT of audio and media players over the time. Windows Media Player, CrystalPlayer, VLC Player, you name it, I’ve tried it. But I have ALWAYS come back in the end to Winamp. It’s like an old lover that I can’t stay away from. I tell her I’m leaving her and she says “yeah right, you’ll be back you good-for-nothing S.O.B!” and she’s right. I’ll flirt with another media player but a couple of months later, I’m back at Winamp’s door, begging her to take me back.

What do I like about Winamp? Well you can minimise it to the top of the monitor as a thin bar (as you can see above). So you can surf and type and do whatever and still have your music playing. You don’t have a media player in the middle of the screen in the way of things. There are also LOTS of colours to choose from so if blue is not your thing then choose whatever colour floats your boat (although I think bright pink is going just a LITTLE too far!).

I also use Winamp as my default video player. The picture quality on Winamp is fantastic. Below is a screenshot of “Family Guy” on Winamp :

4. Launchy

We’ve covered Launchy many times before How To Be More Productive with Launchy Program Launcher How To Be More Productive with Launchy Program Launcher Read More on MakeUseOf and if you haven’t got it installed yet on your computer, I strongly recommend you do so right now. It’s one of those things that you don’t realise its full worth until you actually have it installed and you start using it.

I used to be a big mouse person, using it for EVERYTHING, but Launchy has made me realise that I can get a lot more done with just using the keyboard. By bringing up the app, I can just type in the first few letters of an app and Launchy will then….well, launch it for me. No need for a mouse, no need for clicking, no need for lots of links and shortcuts on the desktop and shortcut menu.   Everything can be started and done with a few types of the keyboard.

5.  WinPatrol

I wrote about this previously Freeware to Speed up your Computer (Part 2) Freeware to Speed up your Computer (Part 2) Read More on MakeUseOf and I think this is a valuable addition to any computer. WinPatrol basically monitors your computer for any covert and sneaky additions to your computer and then warns you about them.

When you install a program or upgrade a program, some of them try to hijack your system by taking over your system preferences. Big example – iTunes. Every time I upgrade that program, it tries to override Winamp and take control of all my MP3 files and video files. If I didn’t have WinPatrol, it would succeed and later I would have to tediously change all my file associations back to Winamp.

But thanks to WinPatrol, as soon as iTunes tries to do anything like this, I get a big warning sign flash up on my screen asking me if I approve of what iTunes is trying to do along with a YES and NO button.   By clicking NO, WinPatrol will immediately block iTunes from changing anything.

WinPatrol also allows me to easily control my startup menu options so my computer boots up faster.

This is a MUST-HAVE program for everyone. The pro version of the program gives you a few more features but the free version is more than enough I think.

6. FileZilla

If you have a website domain and you need to do regular file transfers from your computer to your domain (or vice versa) then FileZilla is the app to do it. No other FTP client comes near FileZilla in terms of ease of use and speed.

The FileZilla team also bring out regular new beta releases of the app so this is very much a constant work in progress.

That’s the end of Part One. Part Two of the Mark Pack will be tomorrow. In the meantime, why not tell me what is in your pack? What essential apps are on your computer? Are any of the apps on this page in your pack? If not, why not?  If not, what equivalents do you have instead and why?

Make sure and come back tomorrow to see what other apps made it into the Mark Pack!

  1. Ranee Sum
    January 21, 2009 at 1:00 pm

    I too like WinPatrol - especially for controlling startup programs and active tasks. But has it met its match in ALWIL Software's avast! Antivirus ? WinPatrol is unable to kill avast's active tasks, unable to disable avast's startup program, and unable to delay the start of avast's startup program.

  2. Vinny
    January 6, 2009 at 3:11 pm

    For a media player I suggest KMPlayer

    It has all the functionality of Winamp but none of the bloatware. Try it out.

  3. DBob
    January 1, 2009 at 3:51 pm

    Firefox and Chrome and am carefully watching and waiting
    for current and usable bookmarklets for chrome.

    Keybreeze for launching, had problems with launchy.

    Still use WMP 11, but will give winamp a try.

    Enjoy winpatrol, ccleaner, eusing free registry cleaner,
    auslogics registry defragger, smart defrag and advanced system care pro (which I got for free) - it does has some
    nice utilities.

    No one has mentioned sandboxie which, as the saying goes,
    what happens in the sandbox - stays in the sandbox. I use
    an older version, v 3.02, which seemed to be easier to
    use than its immediate update. I've kept on using it.

    One of the things I like about chrome is that the various
    tabs or windows are supposed to be in individual sandboxes.
    I'd appreciate any feedback on sandboxie, in general, and
    chrome and its sandboxing.

    I,fortunately,have been using grandcentral for phone forwarding and more.

    MUO is eagerly awaited in my inbox, although I
    also receive updates in google reader.

    Happy New Year

  4. roger wood
    January 1, 2009 at 8:18 am

    Firefox is ok but I find some internet sites don't work as well.Than on internet explorer.MLS ect.

  5. cheese
    January 1, 2009 at 6:15 am

    As for your Firefox instability. I'd suggest a new profile.

  6. Sean
    December 31, 2008 at 5:40 pm

    Great pack, I use all of these programs with the exception of Winamp constantly. It's kind of pointless to argue the launchy vs enso vs executor, etc. etc. stuff it's mostly a matter of taste and what works but I still am glad to see that you chose Launchy (my personal favorite).

    This post didn't really teach me anything new, but it's still nice to have some of the better programs out there highlighted.

  7. Mark Pack
    December 31, 2008 at 5:29 am

    Glad to know I'm so useful to you :-)

    • Mark O'Neill
      December 31, 2008 at 7:34 am

      Ha! I was just waiting for someone called Mark Pack to come along! Welcome Mr Pack! Is this a Monty Python sketch?

  8. PeterD
    December 31, 2008 at 2:48 am

    My browser of choice is opera, open office for my office, evolution for emails, pidgin for chat, these are my pack.

  9. venkat
    December 31, 2008 at 1:34 am

    @Mark I use Firefox
    and advanced system care

  10. Ashutosh Mishra
    December 31, 2008 at 12:45 am

    Nice list Mark. :)

    Here's my pack -

    Firefox : Well everyone uses it!

    Digsby + Skype : I love the email capabilities of Digsby, though I've to use Meebo for conferences. Skype is always there for PC-to-PC calls, file transfers etc.

    Windows Vista Search : The search bar in Vista Start menu does most of the stuff that Launchy can, and I'm happy with it.

    Download Accelerator Plus : We don't have a great broadband connection here, so a download manager is dead necessary to keep the downloads coming constantly at top speed (~120kBps). I actually prefer Free Download Manager, but it doesn't support Firefox 3 yet. :(

    Songbird + VLC : Dunno why, but I've never had a good time with Winamp.

    Revo + Advanced SystemCare : My computer is junk free. :)

    And here are some of the other essentials :

    Office 2007 Professional
    Windows Live Writer + Photo Gallery
    UpdateChecker (FileHippo)
    AVG anti-virus


    • Mark O'Neill
      December 31, 2008 at 7:32 am

      Yeah I was tempted to add FileHippo to my list as I have started using it a lot but in the end, I chopped it off the list. I have found once or twice though how FileHippo says there is an update available so I go to the app's website (I don't trust the update link FileHippo provides) and the app's website says there is no update available! Have you ever come across that situation before?

    • Simon Slangen
      December 31, 2008 at 10:00 am


      You can use the FlashGot add-on, and use FDM with firefox 3

  11. Doug Fullerton
    December 30, 2008 at 10:47 pm

    I prefer Find and Run Robot to Launchy and Executor.

  12. g
    December 30, 2008 at 9:28 pm

    foobar2000 for audio
    GOM for video
    and MUO of course!

  13. Brian
    December 30, 2008 at 8:56 pm

    Executor beats Launchy hands down.

  14. JBu92
    December 30, 2008 at 7:49 pm

    (@ Ryan as well) I've got to point out (and chastise you for) the fact that you're using Windows. The most important thing to me about my computer is that I only paid for the hardware. Granted, the software listed here is all freeware, but still, given that you two are clearly still on XP, you know the costs of operating systems these days, so why bother?
    Gnome-DO, Firefox, Screenlets,Songbird

    • Mark O'Neill
      December 31, 2008 at 7:28 am

      I don't get what you're trying to say. Why pay for something when you can get it for free? And what's wrong with XP?

      • Simon Slangen
        December 31, 2008 at 9:57 am

        What he means to say is that, when you're into free apps that much, he doesn't understand why you use Windows (instead of Linux e.g.)

    • Ryan
      December 31, 2008 at 7:28 pm

      I have given linux a try many times, I have it installed on an external hard drive but I always give up in the end as I encounter problem after problem. (i.e. a driver not working)

      With windows I have found it's a lot simpler and you can always find an answer to your problem.

      If Linux OS's improved drastically I would defiantly consider swapping over.

  15. James
    December 30, 2008 at 7:21 pm

    I get absolutely no spam through Skype. Just go to Privacy Settings on the Tools > Options menu and choose to limit incoming calls/video/IM to people in your contact list. Easy and it works

    • Mark O'Neill
      December 31, 2008 at 7:26 am

      But I don't want to restrict calls to only people in my contact list as I use Skype as my business and personal phone number! Cutting everyone else out of my Skype list will stop my family from contacting me via Skype and stop potential business clients from contacting me.

  16. Ryan
    December 30, 2008 at 6:58 pm

    1. Google Chrome
    - Only just started using it as my main browser, use to use firefox, but started to like Chrome with it's features
    2. Media Monkey
    - I am a music addict so it's the best hands down at organising and managing large library of music.
    3. Digsby
    - Started using it way back and then didn't like it but after a second go I am addicted, I have everything in one place :) Twitter, Facebook, Gmail notifier, msn etc. Great =D
    4. CCleaner
    - Crap cleaner, enough said.
    5. Revo Uninstaller
    - Get rid of the crap left behind from uninstalling the useless programs.
    6. uTorrent
    - If only more programs was this light on resources!

    Other programs that I use but are not so essential:
    Outlook, Photoshop, AutoGK and Dvd Decrypter for ripping DVD's, PeerGuardian2, GuitarPro

    Oh and the most useful out of everything:
    The windows install disk. When everything else fails or your system gets dirty time to start fresh :)

  17. Alek Davis
    December 30, 2008 at 6:40 pm

    I used to use FileZilla, but recently switched to FireFTP Firefox add-on, and have been happy with it thus far. I did not realize you can watch videos in WinAmp. How do you make it show videos? Does it come with the necessary codecs (DivX, etc)?

    • Mark O'Neill
      December 30, 2008 at 6:45 pm

      Just double-click on a video file (or start a DVD) and Winamp will automatically open a video screen.

      It should automatically come with all the right codecs but if not, you can download and install codecs from the internet.

      • Alek Davis
        December 31, 2008 at 4:15 pm

        Winamp does not seem to support DVD playback. I'm not sure how you make it automatically play DVDs. A workaround is to use a plug-in, such as PowerPlay II, but it would still not enable DVD menus (subtitles, chapters, etc). So you still need a secondary video player (I would recommend KMPlayer).

  18. Patrick
    December 30, 2008 at 4:53 pm

    In Pidgin Preferences under Conversations you can adjust the minimum input area height. I believe that solves your problem. This option is available in at least 2.5.2 and on.

    • Mark O'Neill
      December 30, 2008 at 5:52 pm

      Patrick! You're a lifesaver! I was completely unaware that this option was even there! Thank you! :-)

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