Recommended programs - organize your computer and life for the new year. From our list of Recommended Programs.
Organizing your information and your Windows PC for the new year. Isnít that one of the reasons you bought a computer? As it happens, I purchased my first computer as a way to get into digital imaging, and to print price signs for the photographs I was selling at art shows. Life is about choices and decisions that you make. The same goes for your computer. What programs do you install and how you use them and what kind of data do you input?
Choice of Programs and the Importance of Shareware
How many of you are using only the programs that came on the computer? Chances are if youíre reading this, youíve installed some kind of graphics and image viewing programs, among other things, because our web site is geared towards digital photography. Shareware programs are written and sold by individuals or small companies. In most cases, they take up where the operating system leaves off, or is deficit. I use a Windows computer with Microsoft Office. I also use a host of small shareware programs that make my computer [life] much easier, which is the point of this article. For three years Iíve kept an updated list of recommended shareware programs on my web site in the ďTipsĒ section, but I get the feeling that itís rarely looked at. Iíd like to summarize a few of the programs here that Iíve gotten used to and explain how theyíve improved my workflow and have become programs that I canít live without.

Graphics Programs
One of the first shareware programs I was turned on to was ACDSee. Years later, itís still one of my most used programs. I have it set to open all image files. When I double click on an image in Windows Explorer, it opens full screen in ACDSee. Double clicking on the opened image thumbnails the entire folder of images and makes it easy to edit (choose) the select images for working on in Photoshop. I can also scroll from image to image using the wheel on the mouse making it easy to compare similar images. ACDSee also supports Windows ďdrag and dropĒ. I can drag an image from the thumbnail view and drop it onto my Photoshop shortcut on the desktop and have it open in Photoshop immediately. Makes it easy to manage your digital camera images.

A similar but free program is IrfanView. Though not as elegant an interface as ACDSee, it has its uses. Whenever I have to give a client a CD of images, I include a copy of IrfanView on the CD so that they can be viewed easily.

Iíve recently been experimenting with a slide show type picture album program called FlipAlbum. It creates what looks like an actual photo album that you can run from your hard drive or a CD that you send to clients or relatives. Each page in the album can contain pictures, text or music. Clicking on a page turns it to the next page. There is also a thumbnail page in the front that links to each page the respective picture is on. Same with the contents or index pages. Very intuitive to run and fun to experiment with the possibilities. It creates a professional presentation. A program I'll be investigating more this year.

I'd be remiss in not mentioning PhotoRescue here also. It's saved my digital images more than once from corrupted compact flash cards. Downloading and running the trial version will show you thumbnails of the missing images. Paying the $29 license fee will let you save the full size images. It's a must for any digital photographer's tool kit.

General Use Programs
Wouldnít it be wonderful to throw all your information, every scrap of paper youíve ever written a note on, any phone call youíve made and what youíve discussed, anything you can imagine, all into one big box and find anything you need within seconds? Let me preface this with a story about a notebook Iíve kept for the past 18 months. I found that I kept writing phone numbers and notes about phone calls on scraps of paper which eventually got misplaced, or thrown in a pile. I started keeping a notebook of every number I called, to whom I spoke and what we discussed. As I came close to filling the notebook, I purchased another with the intention of continuing my method of saving and finding data. Better than the scraps of paper I was keeping, it still took long minutes to look through the book to find something. I had read about a program called AZZ CardFile in a computer magazine sidebar as a rolodex type program. I found it the perfect program for organizing all my miscellaneous information. I spend a few hours entering all the information from my notebook and now can find anything instantly. Iím slowly incorporating my address book also. The program opens with the cursor flashing in a search box so I can instantly start entering the information Iím looking for. There are separate search input area for page names and page content. One more suggestion. This is one program that you want to back up almost daily.

Iíve repeatedly found the need for a good calendar program. I recently purchased WinDates and plan on learning it for the new year. It seems to have all the customization that I require. Events can be entered with any period of warning notice given. It might be perfect for entering show application due dates and can set to give you a warning, far enough in advance, that you don't miss having time to fill them out and mail them.

Internet Programs
Iíve been a heavy Netscape 4.79 user for a few years. Itís the most intuitive interface and loads pages faster than Internet Explorer. But donít worry, this isnít about Netscape. When I was using Netscapeís bookmarks to organize the web sites I might want to return to, I found that Windows (98) wouldnít load if my bookmark folder reached a certain size. At that time I had over 3,500 web sites all categorized and almost everything could be found. After I determined the cause of Windows crashing, I went on a search for a better way to organize my bookmarks. After finding and paying for two different programs, I came across a program called PowerMarks and it changed my life, literally. Like the AZZ CardFile program in the general use category, I was able to organize my bookmarks (now over 7,000) and find anything in seconds. And the best part was the organization was seamless. It could automatically import my Netscape bookmarks (or Internet Explorer favorites). The way it works is that it opens to a search window and for each letter of the word your looking for is entered the options are narrowed as web sites that donít match are discarded from the results. The best part is that every time you bookmark a web site, you have the option of adding key words that become part of the search. Iíve mentioned the large amount of web sites Iíve bookmarked, but my wife only has about 100. For each of her web sites, Iíve added her name to the key words. Now when she wants to find something, she just enters her name in the search box and all that appear are her 100 sites, in alphabetical order. And each site listed is a link, which opens in your default browser, or by right clicking on the link you can specify a different browser to open if you have more than one on your computer.

Browsers are a necessary part of every computer thatís connected to the Internet or in some cases, required to be installed as a viewer for some programs. I use the latest version of Internet Explorer, Netscape 4.79, Netscape 7, and Opera 7. Of the latter, Opera is the one I canít live without. Aside from the fact that itís shareware and should be supported so we will continue to have alternatives to Microsoft, it has an extraordinary built in viewer. It allows you to resize pages, in their entirety without loosing the formatting, up to 1000 percent of the original size, unlike other browsers that just support enlarging font size, which screws up the page formatting. Great for people who are getting older and find their eyes not what they used to be, especially on high-resolution monitors.

These are a few of the programs that help organize my life and have become indispensable to my ability to use the computer efficiently, offer technical support, and be able to answer forum questions fast and accurately. But remember, they are only useful if used regularly, which requires discipline.

I recommend that if you feel passionately about a particular program, contact the manufacturer and give feedback, even offer to do beta testing for them. That will give you a chance to suggest modifications that can improve its use, especially for tasks you use it for. I currently do beta testing for Adobe Photoshop and ACDSee and frequently submit bug reports and suggestions, to other programs that I use.

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