Q-[win]-tessential

Well, since I just reformatted my hard-disk, as many others before me have, and I do consider myself an above average Windows user [not anywhere near l33t yet haha], I shall list down software I find myself installing almost immediately every single time I reformat, which is pretty regularly. [The reformatting has nothing to do with these programs of course!]

On that note, if you’re here to get essential programs before the actual reformat, wonderful news. If you’re fairly confident about what you need or don’t, you can actually pare down your XP installer to get a custom spin without irritating fetaures that you never use but take up space anyway. That program is nLite. All you need is your XP CD.

The cool thing about this method, is not only your XP experience more streamlined, you can also give the hours-long vanilla-install Windows update list the finger. Just download the latest Service Pack [SP3] and slipstream it into your custom XP iso [the program is fairly helpful with captions for everything and step by step customisation so you really shouldn’t worry about destroying anything], and burn. Cos I’m sure most of us only have the XP SP2 cd, not SP3.

Also, it’d be a good idea to burn these programs into a CD [at least 2] / DVD [preferred], before you go ahead with your reformat. For this reason, all links will point directly to the download pages, NOT the homepages. You’re welcome.

And while you’re at it and you wanna avoid re-activating Windows, [your WinXP is original right?] check this step out. edit: Since you’re actually reading this, I assume you just re-installed XP innit? So go for the gold, get XP SP3 RC. It’s stable, my guarantee.

I’m going to go ahead an assume you’re using WinXP at least; some of these programs may not work for older Windows versions but most will definitely work with Vista!

First things first in the GUI interface, even before I install my [LAN] drivers, antivirus and anti-spyware.


Avast! Antivirus
: works pretty good for me. It’s a resident realtime scanner, so you’re good all the time. And of course there’s an on-demand scanning tool as well.
If you want, you can try a free GNU AV program called ClamWin. I haven’t used it myself so I can’t comment. Avast works [meaning I haven’t been infected by any viruses ever].


Ad-Aware 2007
: they’ve pretty much become a household name haven’t they. Nothing further your honour.

Well, there’s one I know a lot of people use; I believe it’s called Spybot Search-&-Destroy. I never tried it though, never saw a need for it, and besides, the name’s too cheesy!

Ok, now you go ahead and get all your drivers installed. once your LAN’s working, activate Windows over the internet. It’s MUCH easier and less frustrating than calling for the confirmation ID.

FlashGet: My download manager of choice. Now it even supports torrent files. Trust me on this one: it’s blindingly fast. Works by cutting your big file downloads into a number of chunks and downloading them simultaneously at max speed possible.

Daemon Tools: IMHO, one of the best free CD/DVD emulation tools around. Why this is installed at this stage is because next will be the latest version of…

The OpenCD: a set of FOSS [free!] programs for Windows.
Includes:
Firefox [an awesome web browser with the power of extensions],
7-Zip [GPL’d ZIP/RAR manager among other formats],
The GIMP [GPL’d Photoshop alternative],
Scribus [Pagemaker alternative. Uses Tex too, if I’m not wrong?],
Inkscape [GPL’d Illustrator alternative],
Nvu [Dreamweaver alternative; ok, don’t expect too much. It’s um better than nothing..],
WinHTTrack [a tool to backup/save entire websites; useful for students :p],
Pidgin [multi-protocol IM client. Talk to MSN and Yahoo AND ICQ friends from one program, for example] and
OpenOffice.org [full replacement for M$ Office]

I install almost everything.

If you dig lightweight multi-protocol IM, then you can also try Miranda. But Pidgin is sufficient for most.

Photofiltre: A lightweight image manipulation tool, that’s like halfway between simplistic Paint and overkill Photoshop/GIMP. Useful to have for simple cropping for example.

You can also use Paint.NET, but I found that it was a bit RAM-hungry.

Foxit PDF Reader: Adobe Reader alternative. MUCH faster.

InfraRecorder: F/OS CD/DVD Burner. I’m fine with Nero 6 [which came with my burner drive purchase…but it seems to be getting a bit heavy on the RAM.]

And ever wondered why Microsoft didn’t bundle a more powerful calculator with XP? Well they did. You just didn’t know about it. PowerCalculator, with graphing functions even. Cool shit.

The most important program [for most people] of the above of course is Firefox [we’ll discuss my favourite extensions in some other post], but I usually don’t limit myself to one browser. So I also recommend…

Opera: I love mouse gestures! [You can download extensions for that in Firefox, but Opera’s feels more natural.] And integrated search. Imagine you wanna search Google, and you just type “g search-term” in your address bar and you’re transported to the results immediately! Only on Opera! Besides, I personally feel the rendering on Opera is faster. Also it’s a complete Internet lifestyle manager. It can manage your downloads [even torrents], your email [with a nice interface] and RSS feeds too. You can EVEN chat on IRC with Opera. PLUS there’s voice navigation, so if you have a uber-gaming setup complete with a mic, Opera’s going to be a sweet sweet deal. My default browser of choice!

uTorrent
: lightweight torrent client. I’m too used to this to let FlashGet handle torrents. But if you want, this can be omitted.
edit: WARNING: not for n00bs. If you’re using a router, head over to portforwarding.com and get your port forwarded for the computers on your network.

Ares: P2P client of choice. Generally fast. For those PDF files that you really MUST have! [snigger!]

edit How could I have forgotten this li’l gem?
PeerGuardian: a specialised firewall that blocks suspicious roving IPs that may be investigating [RIAA style?] It’s so quiet and unobtrusive, too much for its own good. I just feel better when I have this around.
If you need, get the lite version which has a smaller footprint.
edit: One small problem for all you VALVe-heads. PG2 and Steam don’t like each other. 😦

Also you might be interested in…

Google Desktop
: installs Google Toolbar for IE [very helpful for pop-up blocking at the very least] and Google Desktop for fast search. Never dig through your documents again. Actually I don’t use it much cos I’m a bit anal about folder hierarchies and I usually know exactly where files are, but if I don’t, and for messy people, this tool is invaluable!

BTW, this also installs Google Sidebar with widgets. Previously I was a BIG fan of Konfabulator, now called Yahoo! Widgets. If you’re not installing Google Sidebar, and want beautiful widgets, go for Yahoo! but if you already have Google Desktop, don’t beef up your RAM usage with extra Konfab goodness.

Finally, if you’re a Google Calendar user, then you’ll really appreciate SunBird. I don’t use Outlook [ugh] so this tasks utility is a real lifesaver.

Ok, now that Internet stuff have been largely settled, media should be covered too. Very important, right?

Kazaa-Lite Mega Codec Pack: [btw it has NOTHING to do with Kazaa of spyware fame] a codec pack that has enough codecs to play 99.99% of all media you’ll ever find. It comes with Media Player Classic, which is such a extensible player, that it can play ANYTHING that it can find codecs for. Imagine watching Real & QuickTime media all on the same player you use for normal Windows-compatible media. I even watch SWF, 3GP and FLV [Youtube format] on MPC!
Seriously, don’t bother with WMP.
edit: If you are a videophile and always want something new to watch on your computer, get Miro. You won’t go back.

iTunes+Quicktime: cos I hate WMP and I love iTunes!

Billy: Super lightweight no-nonsense MP3/OGG/WAV player. I love it for background music. Winamp USED to be in this role until it became Winamp3++.

MP3Tag: WARNING. Only for the criminally OCD who insist on tagging the metadata EVERY single mp3 file with correct Title, Artist and Album WITH Album Art. Like yours truly :p !

Audacity: amazingly simple to use audio editing tool. I use it to make custom ringtones from my fave mp3s. It’s available on the OpenCD.

CDisplay: plays the role of Irfaan Viewer. Most useful for comic reading.

edit: Steam: cos VALVe make some of the best games in the business. Portal FTW.

edit: Oh in the case that you don’t want other l-users snooping around with your private files that are not necessarily under your password protected profile, check out InstantLock. It’s free to try, and I normally don’t use programs with this license, but every other alternative is either not free and/or boot-loading [meaning not so convenient and ugly looking]. So it’s pretty ok if you ask me.

edit: My bad! I wasn’t looking in the right places. Ever wondered how they manage to keep the system clean and “secure” even with multiple users. As if no changes had occurred? In Comp labs and LAN shops? It’s a free M$ tool called Windows SteadyState. I locked one of my partitions, without third party applications! W00t! Of course there are a great many other options too!

Ok, most of the media/internet essentials are covered right? By now, your system tray is chockful and you know with a sickening feeling that the next time you log on, it’s going to take a long time before you get to start clicking on anything. Well, not anymore.

Autoruns: Use this to end boot processes that are unnecessary. WARNING. Only for reasonably advanced users. Don’t go around ending essential processes. I prefer this “official” Microsoft tool to more dumbed down 3rd party apps.

If you’re operating on budget RAM [as of WinXP, that’s anything less than 1GB], then get a memory manager.
I personally like MaxMEM. It’s unobtrusive.

If you think Linux users are the only lucky ones with virtual desktops, M$ WinXP actually has a powertoy that gives you virtual desktops! Just remember to toggle no shared programs, so each desktop is clean 🙂

A few years ago, I would have categorized a Dock utility under eye-candy. Indeed, the reason I started using one was to emulate a Mac Dock. But you just get used to having a dock handy for quick links to your system folders. And I really don’t mind ObjectDock. I had a wonderful experience with YZDock too.

Ok now you wanna really tweak your Windows settings. Right? For Power Users only, download TweakUI. Rawks! BTW, if you’re thinking of downloading more than one of those PowerToys, DON’T, I repeat, DO NOT install the Alt+Tab task Switcher. It’s a bit buggy…

Ok…now you wanna change the look of Windows [XP-only section follows], don’t you? Trust me, you do! You can either download a old shareware version of Windowblinds 4 [AND NOT WB5], and install that to install themes.
OR you can get this, which’ll repair a certain dll in Windows so you can download your own Visual Styles to beautify Windows. This is highly recommended for budget RAM users.
edit: This dll-fix gets broken when you upgrade to SP3.

edit: And before we get to eye candy, here’s a handy utility for gamers. Ever had a gamepad and the willingness to use it BUT the game doesn’t support it [I’m looking at you Fable!]? Well now, fear no more. it’s a brave new world with ControlMK. It maps keyboard and mouse buttons to your gamepad while it’s running unobstrusively and it’s actually sweet. Delivers what it promises!

Or you can get Tranformation Packs. Well previously I used to use Flyakite OSX. It converts your system to make it look like a Mac [love!]. BUT for people with less than 2GB of RAM, this is not a good option.

If you have RAM to spare but not too much OR you prefer the Vista look, get Vista Transformation Pack, which as is implied, makes your XP comp look exactly like Vista, especially if you have a paid-for version of WindowBlinds 5.5, in which case you get the Glass effects too. But I don’t, and I don’t wanna resort to underhanded means to get WindowBlinds 5. So how?
Get this set of tools [XP to Vista]: but of course, there’s a bit more work involved than just clicking install for this one.
I myself am using the a slim install of Vista Transformation Pack [I chose not to exclude most of the 3rd party programs] with Glass2k [makes transparency a system wide cool factor], UberIcon [icons effects when clicked] and YZShadow [adds shadows to non-fullscreen windows. Looks elegant].

Yeap ALL THAT is a standard installation of Windows for me, and I personally think at least half of these should be bundled with any self-respecting OS. Linux and OS X do 🙂 so if you have the chance, jump over!

Any programs that you guys have used that think I’m missing?

edit: Anyway, just in case you wanna see what you might potentially need, head to majorgeeks.comdownload.com.

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