Ten lesser known “must have” free Programs, part 1


A reader sent an email to ask about a list of “ten must-have” free programs that I would recommend that everyone immediately download and install on their computers, and this is one I have come up with.

These 10 are to be the first installment (part 1), with additional “must have” freeware program lists to be amended to this one.Check this list out, download and install – these programs are solid gold.

When creating this list I kept my focus on general use programs that everyone might need rather than specialized programs that have a smaller audience.

I thought about programs that I always will install on all my computers no matter what, but also about lesser know programs that are not the typical freeware lists keep instinctively repeating (e.g. OpenOffice, Audacity, GIMP, Paint.Net, VLC, Firefox, CCleaner, etc.)

Ten lesser known 'must have' free Programs

Want to share your own lesser known top-10 “must have” freeware list? Please do so in the comment section!

The list :

  1. Everything: lightning-fast free desktop search for files and folders.
  2. Digsby: multi-protocol free desktop IM client, email notifier for regular and web mail, and social networking tracker.
  3. Returnil: a free virtualization software that provides an “undo” option for your system.
  4. Q-Dir: a multi-pane free file manager that offers a good range of functions and an excellent user experience.
  5. Launchy: free search-box based launcher for your apps and files.
  6. The KMPlayer: media and DVD player that is feature rich and will play anything you throw at it.
  7. Threatfire: free, effective antispyware that offers real-time protection and behavior based (heuristic) detection of malicious software.
  8. ArsClip: free, feature rich clipboard manager with hotkey-access from any application. Can store “permanent” clips for frequently used items.
  9. Xobni: free Outlook extension that provides superfast searches in Outlook and threaded conversations.
  10. 3RVX: free hotkey and mouse enabled volume control with cool visual effects.

Descriptions, screenshots and mini-reviews provided below.

Everything Screenshot 1. Everything: this is a free desktop search program for files and folders that provides lightning fast searches and integrates into Windows’ right click context menu. It builds its database of files and folders using the Master File Table of the NTFS volume, which means that it doesn’t need to perform hard drive scans to find your files and folders and in practice produces instantaneous results. The catch: it works on NTFS drives and partitions only.

Ever wished for desktop search that was instantaneous, that did not make you wait as it scanned the hard drive on-demand or to build an index? Everything is that program. It integrates into the Windows’ context menu to enable quick searches within any folder. It makes finding any file or folder anywhere on your computer so quick and easy that … it really can change the way you use your computer.

This program is so good that if you do not have NTFS-formatted partitions I strongly recommend that you convert to NTFS just to use it. “Everything” is simply amazing freeware; however, note that it does not search for content inside files, and will only find files and folders.

Digsby Screenshot 2. Digsby: this is not just a supercool free multi-protocol instant messaging client, it is also a terrific desktop email notifier for POP3, IMAP and Webmail accounts and a desktop tracker for a handful of social networking sites as well.

Supports the following IM protocols: AIM, MSN, Yahoo, ICQ, Google Talk, Jabber, and Facebook Chat; the following email protocols: IMAP, POP3, Hotmail, Gmail, Yahoo Mail, AOL/AIM Mail; the following social networks: Facebook, Twitter, MySpace and LinkedIn accounts. If the social network you are interested in is not on the list don’t fret – it will probably be added sooner or later.

This software came out of nowhere to knock my beloved Pidgin IM client off its perch. Imagine having all of your IM accounts, email accounts, and many of the most popular social networks in the same place, with messages being displayed on your desktop whenever there’s any activity in any of these almost in real time.

What I like about Digsby, aside from the convenience of having all of my accounts on the desktop in the same place, is the following:

  • Easy access to your messages: hover inside the Digsby sidebar over the account you want to check and your inbox will pop-up, cascading-menu style. No need to log into your account.
  • Handles multiple webmail accounts from the same provider: it checks my multiple gmail accounts without hitch.
  • One-click automatic login into your webmail: just click on the “inbox” link or on a desired message and Digsby will automatically your log into your account in your default browser.
  • Real-time desktop notifications: see screenshot above

Note on downloading: I recently realized that the Digsby installer will ask if you want to install an entire host of services/browser toolbars, etc. If you do not want these make sure to decline them (I strongly recommend that you decline).

Returnil Screenshot 3. Returnil: this is a free “virtualization” software that when enabled will let you do whatever you want with your computer and provide you with the ability to undo everything on reboot (back to the state of your system at the point Returnil protection was enabled). It locks your primary partition yet will allow you to do everything you normally do on your computer on virtual layer. Any file saved or changed that you want to keep will have to be saved either on another partition or otherwise on a virtual partition that Returnil provides that it can mount for you.

Many people ask me how I test so many program without messing up my computer; Returnil is the answer to this question. Once enabled it will let you install (or uninstall) any software on your machine, open or run unknown attachments or surf unknown or unsafe websites and then, on reboot, will return your primary partition exactly to the state it was before you started the virtualization (actually, it will not “return” your partition to its former state, as that state never changes to begin with; after enabling protection, Returnil simply writes all changes onto a virtual layer that is eventually discarded).

The only exception where you will not be able to test a piece software is, obviously, when installing requires a reboot, in which case the reboot will merely get you back to the previous state.

QDir Screenshot 4. Q-Dir: is a free file manager / Windows Explorer replacement that is very well designed, offers a host of terrific functions, integrates into the Window context menu, and is portable to boot.

Some of the functions that Q-Dir provides: intuitive access to multiple file panes, file and folder filtering, easy access to favorite folders, saving “views” with multiple folders and panels, media previews, etc.

Q-Dir is just great, and even if file-manager type programs do not make much sense to you (they didn’t to me either a few months ago) I suggest you give it a try. I am actually using this one as a direct replacement to Windows Explorer (i.e. I double click on a folder in Explorer and it opens with Q-Dir). More info in my original review.

Launchy Screenshot 5. Launchy: is a free launcher for apps or files that replaces the traditional icon-based launchers with a search box. The cool Launchy search interface appears on demand when pressing a hotkey (Alt+Space by default) and will offer instant, as-you-type search results.

Imagine launching any type you want simply by typing its name in a searchbox. That’s what Launchy does. I’ve said this before: once you start using this program you will wonder how it was that you ever managed without it. Not only does it make launching the app you want super easy but also gives you the sense of being completely on top of things. Plus it looks supercool.

Note that Launchy indexes the shortcuts that exists in your start menu. If you want it to look in other places (e.g. a folder where you save all your portable apps) then make sure you add that to the list of places it will index. Also, if you would like to use Launchy to index certain types of files aside from shortcuts and exes (e.g. to access your MP3 collection) make sure to point it not just to the right directory but tell it which file types you would like it to scan as well.

This program has spawned a long line of imitators (and may itself have come after a couple of other similar indexing launchers). Some of these have added quite a few bells and whistles to the mix (not to mention skins) but Launchy is still my favorite.

The KMPlayer Screenshot 6. The KM Player:a free media player that plays DVDs as well as the overwhelming majority of media files that you will every encounter. It can use its own internal codecs for playback, making it unnecessary to install system-wide codecs, or it can use any external codecs you may have installed as well if need be. The KM Player is feature-rich, such as playback filters (sharpening, denoise, color effects, etc), excellent subtitles support, playing incomplete files, playing zipped files, bookmarking parts of videos, and others.

Supported formats: VCD, DVD, AVI, MKV, Ogg, OGM, 3GP, MPEG-1/2/4, WMV, RealMedia, QuickTime and others.

KMPlayer Screenshot - thumbnail view You’ve tried VLC and GOM, now try this one. You won’t be disappointed. Aside from its reliability The KM Player also offers excellent video quality for most media formats. Its new “Album Art” view offers iTunes carousel-style thumbnail browsing of media files/videos (see image to the right).

Threatfire Screenshot 7. Threatfire: free memory-resident antispyware that offers real time protection, is very effective, and is low on system resource consumption. This program’s strength is its behavior based (heuristic) detection of malicious software, which means that it is not primarily reliant on database updates to provide protection but rather it examines what something does in your system in order to determine whether or not it is malicious. (And also means that it works for both known and unknown threats.)

If you are accustomed to (and tired of) programs that keep scanning your computer over and over, Threatfire is a great option. The reason this is so is in the way it operates: less scanning of vast stretches of hard drive, and more examining what programs are trying to do in real time in order to stop malicious behavior.

Threatfire, which is brought to us from the same people behind the terrific “Spyware Doctor” (payware) is very good at what it does: aside from an antivirus program, I use this as my primary line of difence against spyware/malware and it has performed beautifully. If you are looking for fantastic freeware antispyware with real-time protection this is it!

ArsClip Screenshot 8. ArsClip: is a free, open source clipboard manager that offers a wide range of functions. Accessible as a hotkey-enabled pop-up dialog, ArsClip allows for capturing many more than just a single clipping and pasting these at will. It also lets you store frequently-used clips permanently

Copying-and-pasting is such a terrific invention which we take for granted (until, for example, the makers of the iPhone somehow forget to provide that functionality, but I digress). A clipboard manager such as ArsClip enables you to copy many items from different places and to paste any clip where you need it as necessary, freeing you from Windows’ single-clipboard-item restriction.

Here are some of my favorite ArsClip functions:

  • ArsClip screenshot - paste as image or richtext Paste text to image: you can convert some tables (clipped from programs like Excel) to images quickly. See image to the right.
  • Portable: unzip and use, no need to install.
  • Permanent clips: you can make clips permanent (or “sticky”) so you always have access to them.
  • Quickly paste a clipping minus the formatting: CTRL+Alt+V by default.
  • Captures text, rich text, images, and files: with unicode and HTML support.
  • All-keyboard usage: each clipping has an associated keyboard shortcut that is conveniently displayed next to it.
  • Other options: keypress emulation, form mode for pasting into multiple fields.

Although this is an absolute must-have program for me, it was hard to choose ArsClip because there are at least two clipboard management programs that are at least just as worthy to be in a top-ten list: Ditto and ClipX. But I’ve used ArsClip for some time and can vouch for it.

Xobni Screenshot 9. Xobni: is a free addition to Outlook that will transform and greatly enhance the way you experience the Microsoft product. Built around the idea of organizing data around “people”, it delivers threaded conversations similar to the concept implemented in Gmail. Also provides superfast email search that is well superior to Outlook’s.

I had to put this one in this list even though it is only currently available to Outlook users (versions for other email/PIMS clients are reportedly in the works). Bill Gates apparently called this “the next generation of social networking”, which in my opinion is somewhat of an exaggeration.But not too much – compared to the standard Outlook experience Xobni is indeed a revolution. Imagine an Outlook search box that actually works for anything you type into it, imagine search results that come up in an instant, imagine being able to view a history of your “conversasations” with another person all in the same place. You don’t need to imagine any of this if you install Xobni, as that is exactly what it provides.

3RVX Screenshot 10. 3RVX :this free program provides volume control through hotkeys/mousewheel combos. More interestingly, 3RVX on-screen provides visual/audio effects that represent volume changes.

I am including this program in this list because ever since I installed it to test it I have come to rely on and use it heavily. And although there are a number of similar free programs I like the user experience that 3RVX provides (tranlsation: it is pretty darn cool). Note for volume tweaking fans: I use 3RVX with another volume-related utility, OSD Mute, which simply displays a “Mute On” message on the desktop if the volume it muted).

Note: uninstall any previous versions before installing a new one. At the moment of this writing the developer’s home page seems to be down but they have kindly made the program download links available anyway.