Compute Easily and Cheaply With Cloudy, Free Software Alternatives

My computer was getting a little long in the tooth, so when Windows 7 was released, I decided to buy a new one.  I also decided, following my earlier move to Google Apps, to create my application toolbox with as many cloud applications and free software alternatives as reasonably possible.  Here’s what I did, for those who want to simplify their computer toolbox and put some extra money in their pockets.

The Computer

image I bought an HP Pavilion Elite e9280t.  I’ve had good luck with HP computers, both laptops and desktops, so I decided to stay with what was working.  Plus, it seems to me that you get more bang for your buck from HP than other PC makers.  I went with the 64-bit version of Windows 7 Professional, because it will give the computer a longer lifespan and I’ve only rarely had problems getting my software and hardware to work under the 64-bit versions.  I also bought 9GB of RAM, because I do a fair amount of video editing and music mixing and the extra memory will make the computer faster at that sort of resource intensive activity.

When the computer arrived, the first thing I did was to remove the bloatware.  HP has gotten a lot better about bloatware, but there is still some clean up required.  I would rather bathe in computer viruses than use anything Symantec/Norton related, so I immediately uninstalled Norton Internet Security and Norton Online Backup.  Rather, I’ll use the free Microsoft Security Essentials and my HP MediaSmart server.  I was a beta tester for Microsoft Security Essentials, and I think it works very well.  Plus, it’s free.  I deleted the screen litter for eBay (which I use, but I don’t need a shortcut on my desktop), and the various online services.  Finally, I deleted all those HP games.  It’s absurd that HP makes you manually check every one separately during the uninstall process.  I interpret that to mean that some of these game developers are paying HP to pre-install this junk.  Regardless, they’re gone.

My Data

Next, I copied over the data I need from my old computer, via an HP Personal Media Drive.  Photos, MP3s, videos, in process song mixes, and some, but not all, of decades worth of Word files I have accumulated.  My new documents are created via Google Docs, but I have some old documents I want to save, just in case.  I like the Libraries feature in Windows 7, which basically lets you use multiple folders for your music, photos, etc.

I saved my old Outlook emails, now uploaded to Gmail, as PST files, and copied them to my new computer’s “Old Files” Library, just in case.

Software and Applications

Now for the fun part.  Here’s what I elected to use in lieu of software I used to pay for.

My first download, of course, was Firefox.  A quick install of Xmarks allowed me to import my bookmarks.  I’m trying to go relatively light on add-ons.  So far I have installed the mandatory Adblock Plus, Better Gmail 2, PhotoBucket Uploader, Read it Later and Xmarks.  All of the foregoing are free.

No more Microsoft Office.  I now use Google Apps (the “standard” or free version) for my email, calendar and documents.  The Gmail interface, with (but not without) Better Gmail 2 is an excellent email application.  Google Calendar is far superior to the Outlook calendar.  And of course, I can now access all of my data from almost anywhere.  And, again, for free.

For my task list, I use Remember the Milk.  It works flawlessly within Gmail and Google calendar via a gadget.  I have a premium account, but there is a free version.

Next, I installed my beloved Windows Live Writer, for blog posts.  Yep, free.

In lieu of the bloated Nero, I installed CDBurnerXP.  It works great, and it costs nada.

For photo management, I couldn’t decide between Picasa and Windows Live Photo Gallery.  So installed both.  Both are free.

Photo editing may be a challenge.  I use Picnik for basic (read easy) photo editing.  I may try Gimp as a Photoshop replacement, but I am a long-time Photoshop user, and I have a license already.  So at the end of the day the one expensive software program that finds its way only my computer may be Photoshop.  We’ll see.  If anyone has a recommendation, please send it along via a Comment.

For video editing, I installed Windows Live Movie Maker.  I’m a long-time Ulead VideoStudio fan.  Corel bought it, though, so it’s only a matter of time until it dies a painful, bloated death.  Since I have a license for the current version (VSX2), I may install it on my new computer.  I doubt, however, that I’ll buy any upgrades.  Hopefully, Windows Live Movie Maker or some other free or open source program will work for the long haul.  If anyone has a recommend
ion, please send it along via a Comment.

image Of course, I installed Evernote.  I am a huge Evernote fan, but the developers’ failure to add folders- or to even respond to my repeated inquiries about the possibility- are dampening my devotion.  Either they need to listen to my good advice or I need to move on.  Let me take a moment to digress.  I have written about issues with HP and Microsoft products in blog posts, and been contacted within hours with offers of help or information.  I have written to Evernote at least twice and asked about the plans, or lack thereof, for folders, and have never received a reply.  That is simply bad customer management.  For now, there are no better alternatives, but at some point there may be.   We’ll see, but for now, Evernote remains one of my most used apps.

For FTP, I use FileZilla, which is free and superior to every paid app I have ever tried.

For radio, I use Pandora and Slacker Radio.

Web site development and HTML editing proved to be a problem.  I installed the free and wonderful Notepad++, which is great for text editing.  I read good things about WYSIWYG editor KompoZer, but I hated the way it reformatted the text in my HTML files when I opened them.  I uninstalled it immediately.  I may not need a WYSIWYG editor, but if I do, I don’t know of a free and powerful option.

The Cloud

For backups and large data storage and redundancy, I use my HP MediaSmart server.  While I was immensely frustrated with my old server, the newer models have more memory and a much better GUI.  I love the media collector feature, that automatically grabs media files from the various network computers, backs them up and allows network access to them.  While I have not done it, you can easily configure your server to allow remote access over the internet.  There’s even an iPhone app.

image For general cloud cover, I use Dropbox for most of my needs.  I also have a Box.Net and a DivShare account that I use from time to time.  If today’s Google news is any indication, all of our cloud needs may eventually float over to Google.  I want GDrive and I want it bad.

For online photos, I use Flickr for my family photos, etc., PhotoBucket for other image files I want to save, and Picasa for reference-related graphics (e.g., maps, reference cards, etc.).  For online videos, I use YouTube, Qik and Vimeo.  All are free, though I pay for a Vimeo premium account so I can upload larger, HD videos.

And of course, I share certain things with friends via Facebook and Twitter.  Both free.

The Result

I have a lean, mean new computer with mostly free, web accessible, organized applications.  It feels really good- and the change in my pocket jingles when I surf.

One thought on “Compute Easily and Cheaply With Cloudy, Free Software Alternatives

  1. That's a great post and an exciting experiment. I'll be coming back to this post to investigate all the links, thanks for putting those in. You mentioned many I've not heard of. Looking forward to future posts on your progress.

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