Computer columnist Matt Bentley shares some of his favourite bits from the freeware world.
It occurred to me today that the number of additional pieces of software I use in Windows is quite staggering. I rarely, if ever, use the built-in Windows apps (asides from maybe Calculator), as there’s almost always something better in the freeware world. For those of you who don’t know, ‘freeware’ means free software, of which there is a ton on the Windows platform. It’s one of the reasons I stick with windows, because for everything I need, there’s almost always a program which will do it, and in the specific way I want it to be done. This is not always true for Linux.
So I thought I’d share some of my favourite bits of freeware – all of these are lightweight applications with no cost, which greatly simplify certain tasks. First up, Irfanview. This little bit of software replaces the Windows photo viewer and has the advantage of being blisteringly fast, but is also able to view tons of image types which the Windows viewer can’t. The only complaint I have is that the nice icons for photos get replaced by the rather ugly Irfanview icon, but it’s a small price to pay.
Secondly, I’m a big fan of x2plorer lite. This is like the Windows File Explorer, but gives you multiple panes for viewing different folders in. If you do a lot of heavy file or image management, it’s an absolute godsend. The default interface has a few ugly toolbars and whatnot, but you can turn all of them off and customise it to your hearts content. Makes navigating folders and files a lot simpler.
Third is Agent Ransack. There used to be a decent file search tool back in the days of Windows XP (cutesy search animation notwithstanding), but since then we’ve had relatively ineffectual search functionality in Windows. Agent Ransack allows you to search for filenames, part of a filename, or to search by the age of a file or by what the file contents are, and it doesn’t screw up the way the Windows one does. Once installed, it’s simply a matter of right-clicking on a drive or folder, clicking Agent Ransack and going from there.
Openshell is my fourth pick – initially it was designed to give Windows 8 and 10 users the old (Windows 7 style) start menu back, but it is also a tool you can use to customise make your start menu (the icon you click on in the bottom left) on any version of Windows. Initially you choose from one of three styles (XP, Vista or Windows 7), and after that you can customise things further if you so choose.
Flux, the fifth tool, is only really necessary for Windows 8 and below. It changes the screen colour (“temperature”) so that it emits less blue light in the evenings. Blue light stops your brain producing melatonin, which in turn can make getting to sleep difficult. Windows 10 has a similar feature built in (but turned off by default) called “Night Light”. If you’re still using Windows 7 or below you should upgrade to Windows 8 or 10, as 7 expires in 2020 (call me!).
My last recommendation is a media player. The built-in players for Windows are slow and have difficulty playing certain types of files. MPC-BE does not have these issues, is tiny and easy to install. For older or slower hardware in particular, it can make video playback much better.
If you’re needing a particular type of software to do a specific thing and you’re struggling to find it, google with some search terms relating to the activity you’re wanting to do and the word “freeware”. Chances are you’ll find what you’re looking for. But be wary: some forms of software masquerade as freeware while actually being trials for paid software.
Use your head and always make sure your virus scanner is active when downloading software off the internet.
*Computer columnist Matt Bentley is director of Bentley Home PC Support.
Email Matt here or phone 021 134 8576.