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).
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.
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 for a while now but I am put off by the things it lacks and especially its lack of privacy. 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”)
I put these two together because I use them together as my daily online communication tools. I tried using Digsby 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 Bot Sentry which nuked all the IM spam instantly and there is also gSMS which sends you SMS’s whenever someone tries to contact you on Pidgin (although this one is apparently a bit unstable for some people).that are available for it. I’ve previously wrote about
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.
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 :
We’ve covered Launchy many times before 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.
I wrote about this previously 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.
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!