Frugal Tech 2: Five Free Software Downloads (to goof around with)

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 By Ed

In the first "Frugal Tech" post I talked productivity, specifically: five free software downloads that are actually useful.  Doing things will still be the goal this time; the "things" will be potentially time wasting and hopefully fun, versus the last post which was all about getting jobs done.  I mean, once you have virus protected and word processed for a few minutes hours minutes, you deserve a break, right?.

My selection criteria, for those keeping track, is that the programs I share have to be:
  • legally free,
  • immediately useful, and 
  • with as small a learning curve as possible.  
This post is all about fun software you can download for free and start goofing off with right away.

1.0 VLC Media Player:  Ever been e-mailed a video clip or want to watch a DVD of a movie only to have Windows Media Player be unable to play it?  I don't even bother anymore - if you want to play nearly anything - audio or video - VLC is the answer.  
  • The program is small, loads quickly and gives you great features like slo-mo replay (a football coach I once showed it to was excited for the game film study options it gave him).   
  • It also allows you to take high quality snapshots of film frames, so if you have a birthday party video that you want a picture from, this is your best friend too.

2.0  iTunes - As much as I hate to admit that one of the big guys (Apple/Microsoft/etc) got it right, I need to give credit where credit is due.   

iTunes is very overweight (it bogs my 4-year old computer down for several minutes every time I start it) but it is just tough to beat for music organization, album cover art and a pretty decent Auto DJ and Music-Mix system.  My other factor is that I am pretty heavily invested at this point in Apple products, and since they own 70-80% of the MP3-player and tablet market, my guess is that you might be too.   
  •  Remember, you don't have to buy your music from Apple - in fact if you have old CDs, tweak your iTunes settings to rip them in MP3 format and you can use any music player you want then.

3.0  Calibre - Own a Kindle, iPad, Kobo, Nook or basically any other eBook reader?  Own more than 1 type of reader in the same house?  Calibre is your new best friend.  Imagine iTunes for your eBook library and you start to get an idea - all your titles sorted by author, with cover art retrieved and easily sortable/searchable.  

But it gets better.  Whereas iTunes only works with Apple products, Calibre is open and works with pretty much every eBook format out there.  How does that benefit you?  Buy something on your Kindle and want to read it on your Kobo?  Calibre will convert and transfer it for you.   
  • And if you don't own an eReader and want to see what the fuss is about, Calibre has a built in reader function to check out eBooks on your computer screen. 

4.0  Audacity - If you are skilled enough to know how to get audio into your computer via microphone or other input, you probably have at least wondered about software that will turn your Desktop into a recording studio.  Something like Pro Tools would cost you hundreds of dollars and Windows built in "Sound Recorder" is far too basic.   

 Enter Audacity - Multi-Track mixing and editing, sound effects like reverb and changing pitch.  Everything you need to cut your own MP3 demo if you have the time (and talent).  Lots of advanced tweaks  too for the really adventurous (nerdy).

5.0  Google Chrome - I have already outed myself as a hardcore Google fan, so I'll try to keep my Chrome reporting balanced.   

The Good: It is a fast web browser that loads pages quickly and accurately (and even if you have Internet Explorer or Firefox, it is always good to have another browser installed).  Also, if you don't own a Smartphone or tablet and wonder about all the "There's an App for that" hype - Chrome can make your computer an App centre.  Evernote, Cloud software and Angry Birds are not just limited to your other gadgets now.   

The Bad: It does want to be your number one browser for everything, so the first time you run it, it will ask to "Make Chrome your primary Browser" and "Open all e-mails with Chrome" so be sure this is what you want before you click "yes".

There you have it:  my list of 5 free software downloads to goof around with.   What's on your list?

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