Thursday, July 19, 2012

Computer Programs

I bought a new laptop a couple of months ago. After I transferred all my files over, I realized I have started to use a lot of free programs that do not come with the computer, but, nevertheless, are better than with what Windows 7 comes loaded. I remember many years ago it was difficult to find new, free programs and I only used the boring old Windows defaults.



Video
The big change for me is ditching Windows Media Player. The newest version I acutally really liked even though it opened slowly and was a bit sluggish. In fact, I only used it for audio because the video took so long to open and I found a better program that plays more files and includes more options. PotPlayer. It allows me to change the contrast, has a ton of audio options and, most importantly, lets me sync audio when a file has out-of-sync sound (a big deal when you are downloading movies and tv shows).


Music
Then recently I gave up on it for audio to. I tried to use it again, but on my laptop it never worked correctly. Whenever I would open it, WMP would show I have no songs and then start, slowly, finding all my songs. All my 17,000 songs... It took over an hour. That was unacceptable.

I ended up searching for the best media players. Some popular suggestions were Winamp. I could not stand how it looked. The thing looks like it was made in 1998 and never updated. Plus it is crowded with redundant information all over. I will never use iTunes. When I had iTunes years ago it really turned me off that I did not have control over the music I had purchased. Plus it is nearly as sluggish as WMP. I tried Media Monkey and disliked the layout, not to mention it worked poorly.

Eventually I stumbled upon an article on Lifehacker that talked about something called MusicBee. When I first downloaded it I was not impressed at all. It looked as bad as Winamp. But, after playing around with the layout, I got it to where I could see everything cleanly and easily find what I need. There are a couple of layout things that I would still like to change, but by and far it is the best looking, most usable, best working player I have come across. In addition, it comes with a plugin for Last.FM. I really do not like listening to music without it scrobbling to that site. I need to keep track of what I listen to at all times! It has become an addiction. However, MusicBee does not seem to be able to sync songs to my mps player. Ugh. It is such a good music player I am going to keep it though.


Between quitting WMP and starting MusicBee, I needed a good way to play my music. At that point, Google Music (or Google Play Music, or Play or whatever they decided to call it now), stepped up nicely. I love the instant mixes it makes (although iTunes probably has a better playlist generator with intelligent playlists, its' one redeeming feature). In order to scrobble to Last.FM, I picked up the free Chrome extension Music Plus. The only downside of Google Music is that it requires an internet connection.

Documents
Another terrible thing about the Windows defaults is the limit on the Windows Office products. At one time I think they were free when you bought a Windows computer. Now they are not? I do not understand why Microsoft would say I have to buy them after my "trial" runs out. Seriously, Microsoft, I can just find another program. And I did. I downloaded everything from LibreOffice.

LibreOffice works just fine. In fact, it works better than Microsoft Office too. I remember having to always worry if I could open Word or Works documents. With LibreOffice, I can open them both (and a ton of other file types) in the same program. Easy. It has a very similar design to Microsoft Office too, so it was a simple transition from what I had been using.

Another thing I have been using increasingly is Google Docs (now known as Google Drive...). It started coming in handy because I could share documents with Jackie. That allowed us to plan vacations and weekends. We had a list of things we wanted to do and either of us could add to it when an idea came. Then when I started working in Korea, it allowed me to make my lesson plans on one computer and pull them up on another. Again, like with Google Music/Play, it depends on an internet connection, but it also keeps things off my laptop, saving me space. Now it has an offline mode. That was really helped out.


Picture Management/Editing
For a long time I did not have a camera, therefore, I did not much of a reason to worry about managing my photos. Then I got a camera on my phone, but I still did not have that many photos. But after I got my little Sony digital camera, I needed a way to manage all these things, these picture things. That is when I learned about Google's Picasa program.


All my photos are now nicely organized. Plus, it allows you to fix nearly everything about your pictures from within Picasa with ease and do all the fancy Instagram-y things that are so popular today. The only thing it needs is a button to send photos to Tumblr. It already posts to Google Plus and Facebook with a click of a button. 

When I need to do real image editing I used to turn to Photoshop. Then my free copy did not transfer to my new computer. So I had to look for something else. Jackie told me about GIMP. It totally did the trick. It is laid out very similar to Photoshop and you can pretty much do everything with both programs. The plus side is GIMP happens to be completely free.


Audio Recording
For a year I worked at a radio station doing production and I loved it. Editing sound and music is thoroughly enjoyable to me. I used to use Adobe Audition. The layout of Audition is perfect, the program is powerful and simple. However, just like with Photoshop, I could not transfer my free copy of Audition over to the new computer so I had to find something else. That is when I discovered Audacity.


It is also free and can do multitracking pretty well. Other than that, it is limited to EQ and some other basic things. However, I was able to make a few good recordings of myself singing (and playing guitar and singing backup).

Internet Surfing
I end on the most useful change ever: ditching Internet Explorer and Firefox for Chrome. There are so many reasons to use Chrome. I love the simpleness of the layout, the numerous extensions that greatly improve my browsing experience and its ability to not crash all the time (what a novel concept). And whenever it does crash, Chrome says all my open tabs. The next time I open it, all those tabs open right back up again.


And it syncs my bookmarks and open tabs to my phone. That is quite convenient.

I am enjoying my life away from the stock Windows programs. The cool things is I know there are more free programs that will eventually come out to make my computer even better.
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