Useful software

Now that I’ve come up with some new tabs, I think I’ve earned the right to talk about something else again. I’ve revamped my computer lately, and found some stuff that I thought I’d pass on.
After two years of heavy use, loads of downloads, installations, ex-stallations, trial versions etc., my computer was becoming excruciatingly slow — so slow, I couldn’t stand it anymore and decided it was time to do something more drastic than just a defragmentation.
The first step was a major clean-up of registry, junk files, etc. It’s not a good idea to mess around in the registry too much on your own (and if you don’t know what/where it is, don’t worry), but there are many programs out there to do the job for you. I chose Advanced System Optimizer, which has been rated the best system optimizer by C|Net. It comes in a free trial version, which found hundreds of errors here and there in the system jungle (and I wasn’t really that surprised).
The next step was a number of tweaks to enhance performance. That helped a bit too.

But the main target was Windows Explorer. Even opening the three items in “My Computer” (A:, C:, and D:) took an enormous amount of time — I wouldn’t say hours, maybe not even minutes, but hey, we’re supposed to be high-tech here, live fast and all that — every second counts, and many of those during the day adds up to a life. So I went looking for alternatives, and luckily others have had the same problem, so there are legio. I found four that came highly recommended:

xplorer2 is a lite version of a commercial product, which does a better job than Explorer, but didn’t do it for me (I don’t know why — perhaps it was the bragging tone of their home page: “Why are we head and shoulders ahead of any other program” etc.)
ExplorerXP was far more appealing, for two main reasons: the use of tabs, so that you can have several windows open at the same time, and the favorites window, where you can add shortcuts to the directories you most often use.
An oddball in the lot is FileAnt. It comes with two panels as standard, each with the possibility of multiple tabs. That will probably take a real power user for it to be really useful, but just having it there was nice. A smart handling of direct links to favorite folders, and ample opportunities for customization and keyboard shortcuts almost made me forgive the ugly interface. I didn’t pick it, though, both because someone said it did bad things to your system files upon installation, and because I found my favorite:
FreeCommander — it does nothing to advertise itself, at least not well. The home page is just a list of features, a download link, and a couple of screen shots which initially scared me away. I came back, however, took it home and installed it, and after I had changed most of the default settings, it looked good, felt good, worked fast, did what I wanted it to do, and I was happy. It doesn’t come with a help file, but mostly it’s self-explanatory. Two panels, each with its own tree, so moving files is no hassle at all. Integrated handling of zip and rar files, which you can browse as if they were ordinary folders, without the need for additional programs. Direct access to the Desktop, the Control Panel, the Command prompt, and System files and administration, calculation of the size of folders, and a way of saving favorites which I think I’m going to like. It also shows you all the files that Windows has decided that you don’t want to see. All in all, a superior product. And it’s free, of course.

But I still wasn’t satisfied. I needed an alternative to Winamp as well: it has become slow, and crashes all the time. I ended up with Media Player Classic. It looks like Windows Media Player used to look like (and I instantly wax nostalgic), but below the surface, it is a very powerful and customizable media machine, which plays files in every format you can think of.
With the extra packages Real Alternative and QuickTime Alternative, you can ditch RealPlayer, with all its annoying ads, its security holes and its frequent malfunction, and you can ditch QuickTime, and play it all in one program. (Before you install the two packages, you should uninstall any Real Media or QuickTime programs to avoid conflicts. Disclaimer: there seems to be a problem with streaming Real Media directly from the browser, but I’ve made it work by copying the link location and opening it directly in MPC).
If this isn’t enough, there are two additional packages of codecs on the same site, which should solve any problem file you may come across. I haven’t tested it, though.
Update: The newest version is 6.4.8.3, just released. Someone at a message board recommended to stick with the previous version, 6.4.8.2, since the “unofficial v6483 is very, very buggy”. That was posted before the final release of 6.4.8.3, however, and he seems to be referring to a previous beta version. I’ve tried both, and haven’t noticed any bugs, but not much of a difference either — other than in the file size: 4.8 Mb vs. 1.3 Mb)

While I was searching for these replacements, I found another one: FastStone is a really neat Image viewer, which has now replaced IrfanView, itself a really good freeware program, as my standard viewer.

I think that was it, for now.


4 thoughts on “Useful software

  1. My advice: Switch to a Mac!
    I spent the last hour on this site using Mac OSX’s Safari browser and I must say, the form suits the content. Awesome!
    Wouldnt want deal with Dylan in a butt-ugly MS Explorer/Windows environment!
    And you shouldn’t, either…

    This is one of the best sites, I’ve ever seen! Great content, great style and usability.
    Keep up the good work!

  2. hello, i know this is off topic but could you please tab ‘hard traveilin’ from the folksingers choice show?
    i would really like it, thanks,
    gary

  3. What is ugly and what is not, is a matter of custom and taste — I don’t consider Windows ugly per se (in fact, I always cringe at the standard mac look — the way it forces its friendliness on me…)
    As for form and content: thanks! The form is the same on all browsers I’ve tried it on, btw, regardless of platform (haven’t tried many macs, though).
    In fact, that’s a lie: the right margin of the main contents window of the main page is too wide on MSIE 5.0, owing to its stupid, non-standard way of rendering margins and padding in CSS, but other than that…

  4. Man, I cannot thank you enough. As if you hadn’t done enough for me with your tabs (I use them everyday), now you’ve helped me with slow down problems here, your page must be my most favoritest place on the web!

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