In my quest to legitimize my computer's applications, I ditched crackz, warez, and other unsavory terms in favor of purchasing the programs I really want or finding free alternatives to the programs that provided just as much functionality and nearly as much ease of use. Everyone who considers themselves an "advanced" computer user has heard of Linux or open source at least once. I have found that there are some really good free alternatives to commercial software, some even surpass their counterparts in important ways. Here's a small list of my favorite open source applications, in no particular order (okay, maybe organized by number of words). Let the crappy infomercial music begin!
- Gaim - http://gaim.sourceforge.net
Probably the most popular open source application besides Mozilla Firefox (which I've mentioned before and I love), Gaim stays open on my desktop all day long, keeping me logged into AIM, ICQ, MSN, Yahoo!, and Jabber all without missing a beat. I combine it with Gaim-encryption when I'm talking to friends who have it so I'm not just transmitting plain text secrets all over the internet. Once you say goodbye to the stupid advertisement popups and default news tickers (yeah, so what if you can disable them?) you'll never look back from Gaim.
- Azureus - http://azureus.sourceforge.net
Tons of people everyday use BitTorrent to download large files, but if you're like me, you need a more organized interface for and better control of the torrents you have running. Azureus offers a lot of control, and the options that are important to me, like a plugin for displaying a web page of all my running torrents so I can start downloading new torrents from work. It also lets you throttle the global upload speed and individual torrents' upload speed; or you can pick which files you want to download out of multi-file torrents. Also running on my computer pretty much all the time.
- FileZilla - http://filezilla.sourceforge.net
Finding a free, full-featured FTP client for Windows can be tough, especially when you're picky about ease of use. That's why I was excited when I found FileZilla. It supports file-drag and drop, a handy site list, XML-stored settings and sites (so you can move them from one computer to another, or back them up before you reformat. The maker of FileZilla also makes an FTP server, which is adding more features all of the time and has the potential to become as easy to use as many commercial options like RaidenFTPd.
- Ultr@VNC - http://ultravnc.sourceforge.net
VNC, for those who may not be aware, allows you to connect to another computer and remote control it like you were sitting at the monitor. Ever since I built my mom a computer, I can't be thankful enough for all VNCs. For the longest time, I was using either RealVNC or TightVNC, which were both adequate and decently featured. Until the other day, when I found Ultr@VNC on SourceForge, and I was shocked by how intuitive it was to use. It also provides a lot of neat features that other VNC clients don't have, like performing file transfers on the fly for the computer to which you're connected... that saves a lot of time! I think TightVNC has some way of doing file transfers, but it's not very easy to get to. Ultr@VNC also has an optional driver that you can install, which reduces CPU load on the host computer.
- Synergy - http://synergy2.sourceforge.net
If you read my pre-Christmas snow post, you remember that I bought a second hand desk. In the picture I took of the desk, there's a laptop in between my two computer monitors. I received this old laptop with its docking station from work when they were getting rid of them all. It's way too clunky to use as an actual laptop, IMO. Plus, I don't have a wireless card, so I have to keep it docked anyway. I had tried to turn it into a Gentoo Linux box, but it was too slow to compile everything. I then changed it into an Ubuntu Linux box (which is a very newbie-friendly distribution, by the way, and stamped CDs are free, including shipping), but the old hard drive crashed in the laptop. It has most recently been converted to a Windows 2000 machine (it's Windows 98 out of the factory) and completely patched up. This is the best solution so far, because I offloaded my mIRC settings to that machine and am keeping it logged in all of the time.
I say all of that to say this: Synergy lets me slide my mouse from my dual monitors right onto my laptop and type away like I was plugged directly into the laptop! The fact that it was a breeze to set up makes it even more amazing, to me. What's even more awesome is that Synergy will work with any number of different operating systems on different machines. It can just start as a service in the background and everything else is seamless. Of course, you have to tell it where your monitors are in relation to one another. And since it sees my dual monitors as one screen, I had to push my laptop to the right of them both, which I find more intuitive now that I've done it. I've never used this laptop more often than I have since I installed Synergy, because it's so easy to use it. And if I want to play a full-screen game, just press Scroll Lock and your mouse is locked in whatever screen it's in at that moment until you press Scroll Lock again. Synergy will also syncronize your screen savers to start and end at the same time, if you want. That doesn't matter to me, though, since I don't use screen savers, really. By far, this is the neatest program I've found and I think it will keep getting better as it grows and expands. My friend and I were thinking how cool it would be to be able to drag a program window over to another computer if you wanted to make a different computer do the processing while you played a game on your main computer. There's a lot of potential for a program like this, but I think it's cool now!