Microsoft skipped the number nine in version numbers, and came out with
Windows 10. It fixed a lot of the problems with Windows 8. Metro apps ran
in a window. The Start menu was back...sort of, not as good as the one
they had in Windows 7, but usable. They did away wth Control Panel
in favor of a new "Settings" application, with all the old familiar
settings scattered through the new program in various places to be
searched out. But overall, Windows 10 worked. It was touted as the last
version of Windows, ever. There were to be semi-annual updates to it, in
addition to the monthly security updates, where new features would be
added. This worked...mostly. I didn't like it as well as Windows 7, but I
found that it was good enough for everyday use.
Now, Microsoft has reversed itself and come out with Windows 11. My first
impression is that the changes are mostly cosmetic. They've changed the
Start menu again, and changed the Taskbar somewhat. Rounded window
corners, gone since Windows 8 came out, are now back. (They look better.)
The Settings application has been changed a bit, but most settings are in
the same places as in Windows 10. Overall, I don't see a whole lot of
difference between 10 and 11, functionally. But the system requirements
for 11 are considerably higher than for 10 -- I had to get a new computer
to try out 11, because none of the ones I had (all but one running Windows
10) met the requirements.
|| Corel Quattro Pro 8
| Word Processing
(Open-Source, offshoot of OpenOffice)
I've been using Quattro Pro since it was a Borland product in the days of
MS-DOS. I have my accounting system set up in Quattro Pro spreadsheets,
and converting to something else would be a time-intensive effort due to
the differences between QPro's macro language and that used by either
Excel or LibreOffice. I have a couple of newer versions of QPro as well,
but v8 seems to work the best of any of them. It may be a bit old,
and has an occasional glitch running on Windows 7 and newer hardware, but
I don't believe in upgrading just for the sake of upgrading.
Since building my newest desktop machine in 2009, I've switched over to
using first OpenOffice, then LibreOffice as my main office suite for
everything except spreadsheets. The word processor is nearly as good
as Microsoft's Word 2000 — the only thing I've found lacking in it so far
is the mail merge function. (It won't create mail-merge "catalogs"
like I used to create our callers' association's roster in 1997.) The
spreadsheet is capable, but won't import Quattro Pro v8 spreadsheets (let
alone macros). It does, however, open any Excel spreadsheet I've
tried, including the new .XLSX format introduced in 2007. The
presentation graphics program opens and plays MS PowerPoint slideshows,
too, so LibreOffice can function as a good substitute for people whose
friends send them documents created with Microsoft Office.
What's the difference between bitmap graphics and vector graphics? Mainly,
vector graphics are stored as a mathematical representation of the
elements in the drawing — curves, boxes, text, lines — and can be resized
and moved around without losing any detail. Bitmap graphics exist as dots
on a canvas, and moving things around can get problematic; resizing
generally means either loss of detail (when making things smaller) or loss
of focus/blurriness/blockiness (when making things larger). Each type of
program has its areas where it excels — I use CorelDraw for making fliers
and anything where I have to lay out and resize text, while I use The GIMP
for editing photos and creating/editing graphics on the web. Sometimes I
use them together — for example, the logo in my navigation bar to your
left was created in CorelDraw, exported to a bitmapped graphics file (PNG,
or Portable Network Graphics), and then edited in The GIMP to add
transparency and to shrink it down to the exact size I needed.
There is an open-source vector graphics program called Inkscape
also available. I have it on my laptop and have used it for a few
things. It seems to work well, but its CorelDraw import feature
doesn't bring in text. Since I have a LOT of CorelDraw drawings,
most of which include varying amounts of text, Corel remains my primary
choice for my personal use. However, I'm using Inkscape more and
more for graphics on websites that I design, partly because it's free (so
someone who takes over the website from me won't have to buy an expensive
tool to use my graphics), and partly becuse Inkscape does
use the open standard SVG (Scaleable Vector Graphic) as its native file
format—and most modern web browsers are including support for SVG graphics
FastStone Graphics Viewer
are programs that do two
things: display all of the graphics files in a folder as thumbnails,
and allow you to convert/resize/rename those graphics as groups.
Windows XP (and Windows 7 even more so) has a built-in thumbnailing
function, but it's not quite as flexible as these programs. I mainly
use FastStone these days, but IrfanView has been very popular for a long
time. One of the things I use FastStone for most often is to take a
set of pictures from a callers' association event and resize them all for
web viewing — just select the pictures, go to the Batch Conversion
function, specify a destination folder, and under the Advanced options
tell it that I want them to be proportionally resized to 250 pixels
high. FastStone and IrfanView can also do rotations and minor
editing (like red-eye removal); for bigger editing jobs (such as removing
blotches from lens spots) I turn to GIMP. [I've
recently started looking at XnView as well -- it's a similar program,
but will work within .ZIP files, too.]
I also use GIMP's File/Create/ScreenShot capability quite a bit for
capturing on-screen images to send via email or to include with a help
file on a program I'm writing. However, sometimes that can be a bit
cumbersome -- such as when trying to capture a pop-up menu. There's
a very good, open-source (and therefore, free) screen capture utility that
makes that a bit easier. Greenshot
lets you capture the entire screen, a single window, or any rectangular
portion of the screen you pick, and either save it to a file (in just
about any standard bitmap format), put it on the clipboard, or even edit
it in its own editor. Plus, it has a portable version that you can take
anywhere on a USB thumb drive.
| For home use
| Windows 10 / 11
| For business use
|| Eset NOD32 (Commercial)
The major players in the antivirus category, McAfee and Norton, are NOT
recommended by me. They are large and slow and have a tremendous effect on
the speed of any computer they're installed on; in the case of McAfee, the
user interface tends to be complex and slow to respond as well.
If your computer is a home computer and is not used for any business
purposes, there's no reason for you to pay for an antivirus program at
all. There are several perfectly good ones out there that are free for
home use. If you use Windows 7, I generally recommend Avast!
It's completely free for home use, although they'll try to convince you to
buy their paid version. Don't -- you don't need it.
Windows 10 and later come with their own built-in antivirus. I've been
using it since it came out on the laptop I got to use as a Windows 10
testbed, which has slowly morphed into the computer I use most of the
time. In that time, I've never had any problems with viruses, whatsoever.
I have no qualms about recommending the built-in Windows 10 antivirus.
Since most of my own computer use has some business purpose, I don't
qualify for the free antivirus programs, apart from the one built into
Windows 10. I've used several different commercial antivirus packages over
the years, but the one I've settled on for the last nine years or so
. It's highly
regarded, small, lean and fast. I still use it on my Windows 7 computer,
and also on my server and the laptop I use for square dance calling. (The
latter because I'm VERY paranoid about anything gaining a foothold on that
NOTE: I recommend getting JUST the
from any of these companies, and not the
full-fledged "internet security suite." The antispyware and antispam
components of the suites are generally not as good as standalone programs,
and you can cause numerous problems on your computer with a software
firewall if you don't know exactly what you're doing. I generally
recommend sticking with the firewall built into Windows, and supplementing
it with a home router if you have a DSL or cable internet connection — the
router will act as a firewall and block any incoming probes unless you
specifically configure it to allow certain ones through.
Most of the most effective programs in this category are either free or
free for home use. Currently, MalwareBytes seems to be the most effective
at removing the toughest infestations. MalwareBytes is also readying an
anti-rootkit product for release which appears to be very good; parts of
it have been included in their main product.
Spybot and Ad-Aware are the venerable longstanding entries in the field,
but they have been somewhat outdistanced by the others over the last few
years. And, there are some other tools available for removing things that
even MalwareBytes has trouble with, but they're generally things that only
an expert should be using except under strict supervision.
MBAM is BOTH commercial and freeware. The free version is generally
an on-demand scanner only — you have to tell it when to run, and tell it
to remove what it finds when it scans. To get automatic protection, you
have to pay for the commercial product.
Hands-down the best web browser I've used. I've tried most of the other
ones out there — including, of course, Microsoft's Internet Explorer — but
it all comes down to one thing: I can make Firefox work the way I want it
to much more easily than the others. It can be modified by the use of
small programs called extensions
which change the way
that Firefox works. The ones I use most often are
|| Removes most of the annoying multimedia/Flash ads that pop up
on web pages
||Allows the current page to be opened in any browser installed on
the computer. Great for testing.
||Allows the current page to be checked for compliance wiht HTML
and CSS standards. Good for developing pages that should run in
I used to use a lot more extensions than I do right now, but a number of
them had their functionality absorbed into Firefox itself, and some were
abandoned by their developers. These are the ones that I still use every
There are, of course, other browsers available. I've tried most of the
ones that run on Windows — Opera, Safari, Google Chrome — but I keep
coming back to Firefox. The only one that gives FF a run for its money is
Chrome. However, every time I use it, I keep running into little ways in
which I like Firefox better, even though FF is slower than it used to be.
An email "client" is what you generally think of as an "email program" —
it downloads your mail from the server for you and displays it.
Optionally, it might do some spam checking and weed out messages that it
thinks are spam. An email "checker," on the other hand, is a program which
lives in your computer's system tray and notifies you when your server has
mail waiting for you to download — you can then either preview it in the
checker (and delete the ones you don't want coming in to your computer) or
fire up your email client and download the mail.
I used Pegasus Mail
I first got an Internet account, up until about the end of 2014. It's a
free program from New Zealand, and it was among the first programs to have
the ability to filter incoming mail into different folders based on the
source or content of the mail — very useful when you subscribe to Internet
email lists. It has a very good trainable spam filter — meaning that you
show it what messages you think are spam and what you think aren't, and it
uses that to learn to classify incoming messages to your preference.
The downside to Pegasus is that setting it up tends to be a bit
complicated, so I don't recommend it for casual users. Also, there have
been very few updates for the past several years, and some people (notably
GoDaddy's tech support mail system) had problems with the format in which
it sends email. So, to start 2015 I moved over to Thunderbird
— it has many of the features of Pegasus (including a trainable spam
filter), but is easier to configure and is a little more modern overall.
I used to use instant messaging fairly often, but almost never do any
more. When I did use it, Pidgin (formerly GAIM) was my program of choice.
It is an open-source IM program that will connect to multiple messaging
networks. I used it with AIM, ICQ and Yahoo, but it'll connect to a bunch
of others as well. Much better than having 3-4 different IM programs
running at once!
FTP (File Transfer Protocol) is one of the major ways of moving files
between your computer and servers on the Internet — for example, I use it
to transfer the files representing my web pages from my computer (where I
create them) to my hosting provider's web server. While there are other
FTP clients available, FileZilla is solid, functional, easy to use — and
Communications / Terminal Emulation
This is the type of program you'd use to log into a shell account on one
of your ISP's servers, either by Telnet or SSH. If you don't know what
that means, then you probably don't need it! For those who do, PuTTY
doesn't have a lot of bells and whistles, but it has all the major
features, including support for creating SSH tunnels. And, it's free.
As a square dance caller, I work with audio files a lot. I use Audacity
to convert tape or phonographic music sources to sound files on my
computer, and to clean up those sound files (reduce background noise,
eliminate pops and clicks) and change the pitch and tempo. The LAME
encoder is a plug-in used by Audacity and other programs in order to save
files in the MP3 compressed format.
Traditionally, square dance music has come on 45RPM records; to get that
music onto a computer, you have to connect a turntable to the computer,
play the record, and record the audio to a computer file (using Audacity,
in my case). In recent years, however, a lot of producers have been
releasing music on CD and as downloadable MP3 files, and CD looks like it
will eventually become the "hard" distribution medium of choice due to the
low cost of producing a CD relative to the cost of pressing a vinyl
record. CDs are easier to bring into a computer as a MP3 file, too — all
you need is a "ripping" program. There are many available, including many
free ones. I've settled on fre:ac
(formerly called BonkEnc), partly because of its ability to fill in the
song titles automatically when the CD is in an Internet database (not the
case with square dance CDs), and partly because of its ability to use
several different encoding formats. Now, if I could just get it to
automatically insert 3 seconds of silence at the front of every
MP3...well, it won't, but MP3 DirectCut
will let me paste a sound clip directly into the front of any MP3 file, so
that works well enough for my purposes.
When playing back those music files at a square dance, I use the free WinAmp
player, or a program that I
wrote specifically for playing music while calling. Pacemaker
is a plugin for Winamp that allows the user to control pitch and tempo
while the music is playing.
When I'm calling, I usually use a Snapstream
remote control device to control my music playback. Girder
allows me to assign various commands to keys on the remote, so that I can
kick the pitch or tempo up/down, skip to the next song, pause the music,
or change the volume by 1% or 10% increments. It's a commercial product
with a 30-day trial version (although it was shareware when I first
started using it), but it does a great job and is pretty simple to
With Winamp, I don't really need the VLC
— except that it tends to do a better job playing
videos (downloaded from YouTube) than Winamp does. It will also play just
about every audio and video file format in existence.
"Has your data been
— $aint $ilicon
It's VITALLY important that you have current backups of all of your data.
If you don't already have one, run out and get a USB external hard disk at
least as large as your computer's internal HD. ("You say it, but you won't
do it. Do it NOW!" -- Blanche Bickerson)
There are two types of backups (for different purposes), and two types of
| Image Backups
|| Creates an exact bit-by-bit copy of your entire hard disk,
which can then be used to get your computer up and running again
with a new hard disk if the old one fails completely. Seagate
Disk Wizard (free, but only works with a Seagate hard
disk in the system) and Acronis
TrueImage (same program, without the Seagate limitation,
but not free) do this. I've mostly switched my image backups to Macrium Reflect,
which comes in both free (for home use only) and commercial
versions. And, Windows 7 and later includes an image backup option
built-in, but I've found it much easier to restore Reflect backups
on a bare system than the Windows images..
| File Backups
|| Creates copies of each file on your hard disk, which can then
be copied back to your hard disk if the original becomes lost or
corrupted. This type of backup generally CANNOT be restored
directly to a new hard disk to get a working system, as important
files held open by the operating system while it is running can't
be backed up reliably. However, it is very good for making backup
copies of your documents and data between image backups. Cobian
Backup is this type of backup program — very reliable and
completely free, but it lacks the capability of backing up
directly to a CD or DVD drive. (Works great with an external hard
disk, though.) Windows 7 and later also includes a backup feature
built-in, but I prefer Cobian.
Hard disks can be divided up into partitions — basically areas on the hard
disk which get assigned their own drive letter as if they were separate
disks. Sometimes when a system is partitioned in this way, we run into a
situation where one partition gets filled up while another is nearly empty
— and something else absolutely HAS to go into the first partition.
Wouldn't it be great if we could adjust the sizes and make the first
partition bigger and the second smaller? That's just what these programs
I used to use a program called Partition Magic for this — it was the
program that created the entire category of on-the-fly partition editors.
Then Norton/Symantec bought the company out, and because of my
disenchantment with Norton I never tried it again. For several years,
Acronis' Disk Director Suite was a good substitute, as are the two
open-source packages listed above. However, I've recently settled on
MiniTool's product — it's very capable, and it's free for non-commercial
Error Detection and Repair
There's nothing else like it. If you have any disk problems, you need this
program. It will read every sector on the disk in sequence, optionally
rewriting the data to refresh the magnetic signature. If it has problems
reading a sector, it will read it repeatedly and perform statistical
analyses to reconstruct the data that was once there, write it to a known
good sector, and then either repair the bad sector (if possible) or mark
it to prevent future use. It'll give a problem disk new life, and can
recover data off of a failing disk.
A grab-bag of smaller programs that generally do one thing and do it well
|I tend not to use the ubiquitous Adobe Reader to open PDF file.
For years, I used Foxit Reader, but they started bundling adware
with it, so I went looking elsewhere. A company in Canada made a
program called PDF X-Change Reader that worked well...and then
they added the ability to actually EDIT PDF files to it. I use it
all the time now. They also make a free addon for creating PDF
files by printing to a special printer, which is included in the
registered version of the editor.
| Gives information about the computer's processor chip,
motherboard, and memory. Useful if you aren't sure what speed
memory to buy — PC-2700? PC-3200? PC2-5300? This will tell you.
| Lets you view all the tasks that start automatically when your
computer starts, and selectively turn some of them off.
| Shows all the processes running on the computer, and gives
information about each, plus system memory usage. Like Task
Manager, but LOTS more (and more useful) info.
| File compression and decompression utility that handles many
different formats — not limited to just ZIP
| Utility that deletes unneeded temporary files and browser cache
files from your hard disk, and searches the registry for deadwood.
| If you're worried about someone recovering sensitive files
you've deleted, Eraser will either do a military-level scrub on a
file before deleting it, or do that same military-level scrub on
all the empty areas of the hard disk.
| Very good text editor, with features for programmers and web
(Freeware / Shareware)
| Good program for synchronizing files and subfolders in two
folders. Basic version is free, with a donation to unlock some
features like auto-update.
(Freeware / Shareware)
| Analyzes how much space is being taken up by each folder's
contents. Basic free version; more elaborate version is paid.
| Stefan's Tools
| Some good Windows Explorer add-ons and standalone utilities
from one of the principal authors of TortoiseSVN. I use GrepWin,
StExBar, and (occasionally) SKTimeStamp.
I used Microsoft's FrontPage 2000 for quite a few years, but it was
eventually abandoned by MS, forcing me to look for another program.
Dreamweaver was too expensive for the amount of use I expected to get from
it, and Microsoft's new offering, Expressions Web, just didn't seem right.
I'd tried a little program called Nvu a few years back, which seemed
promising but never went anywhere. I later found out that the original
developer had abandoned it, but a new one picked up the project, changed
the name to "KompoZer" and was working on fixing the outstanding bugs.
I used KompoZer for a number of years, but Kaze eventually ran out of time
to continue its development, and the rendering engine embedded in it fell
far behind the ones in the current generation of web browsers.
In the mean time, the original author of NVu returned to the field and
released a successor program called BlueGriffon. I don't like its
interface nearly as much as KompoZer's, especially for CSS, but it has the
advantage of being mostly caught up with current standards. I'm using BG
for initial design work now, but I generally switch to hand-coding with
the PSPad text editor once I have the design worked up.
I used to do a lot more programming and development than I do now — I was
heavily into Turbo Pascal and JPI Modula-2 back when MS-DOS was still
king, and did x86 assembly language programming as well. When I began
working at Computer Scene in Ukiah (and began calling about the same time)
I had less time for programming; plus, Windows came on the scene, making
programming more complicated. So, I got away from it, and only started
getting back into it around 2003 (after my divorce).
So, I'm not what you would call a heavy user of programming tools. Still,
there are a number of things that I use on a regular basis and that I
would unabashedly recommend.
This is the development environment I use. Think of it as Visual Basic,
except that it uses Turbo Pascal instead of Basic. (Well, Object Pascal,
not Turbo Pascal, but it's an outgrowth of TP.) As a language, it's about
as powerful as C++, but not nearly as difficult to learn. I had the
original version 1 of Delphi (for Windows 3.1) and put it aside, then got
version 6 in 2002 and started getting back into programming.
These are the main component libraries that I use with Delphi, in addition
to the components that come built-in. The JCL and JVCL are large libraries
that have just about everything I could think of (so far, at least!). ICS
is a set of Internet communication components.
These are add-ins for the Delphi IDE which add features and generally make
it more convenient to use.
This is a program (actually, it very nearly qualifies as a programming
language in its own right) for creating setup programs to install
software. Written in Delphi, of course.
This is a comparison program — it looks at two files and shows you the
lines in them that are different. It'll do the same thing with two folders
— show the files that don't match. I used to use an open-source program
called WinMerge for this, but I've switched to Beyond Compare. The main
reason for this is that Beyond Compare has a feature that lets you compare
a local folder on your computer with a remote folder on a FTP server and
ony copy the changed files — very handy for updating my website. WinMerge
lacks this feature, and the primary author indicated that it probably
would never be added. Besides, BC is written in Delphi. :-)
This is a special type of graphics editor. It will import a graphic file
(or let you create one in its editor, but I generally import an externally
created one), and will generate from that a set of Windows icons in
varying standard sizes and color depths appropriate for the different
versions of Windows. It makes generating program icons pretty easy, and
even allowed me to very simply generate the favicon.ico file for this
website. (That's why you see my "LJ" logo in your address bar next to the
page address, instead of a blank square.)
Subversion (or SVN) is a "Version Control System" or "Source Control
System." When used by a single developer (as I use it), it's basically a
system that stores the history of changes to your programming source code,
so that if you make a change that doesn't work, you can easily go back to
the way that it was before. When used by multiple developers, it allows
them to coordinate their changes to the same source code files.
I use SVN both to manage my programming projects and to manage my web
work. Every change I make to one or the other gets committed to the SVN
repository for the project in question, so that I: (1) have a history of
what I've done; (2) can easily revert back to an older version; (3) can
create two different versions and switch between them [not that I do that
very often!]; and (4) have a secondary copy that could function as a
backup in an emergency.
is a Subversion
client that integrates into Windows Explorer (the interface for managing
files on your computer, not the web browser — that's Internet Explorer).
It allows you to do all of the standard source control operations on files
by right-clicking them and choosing options from the pop-up menus. It can
operate either with or without a server; until 2009, I'd been operating
without a server with the repository stored in a separate location on the
same computer I was working on. However, that's now changed.
Visual SVN Server
available and built mostly from open-source parts (the Subversion server
software and the Apache web server), but contains some parts that are not
open-source. However, it is free, and it is extremely simple to set up and
start using. I decided to install it on a whim in 2009 so that I could put
my website files under version control (I work on my website on a
different computer from the one I do my programming on), and it literally
took me less than ten minutes to install it, import all my old
repositories, and create a new one for the website. Another 5 minutes to
install the TortoiseSVN client on my main machine and import the website
into the repository, and I was done!
Android Phone Applications
At the end of May, 2011, I traded my Blackberry Pearl for a LG Phoenix
running Android v2.3. Then, in January of 2013, I upgraded again to a
Samsung Galaxy SIII running Android 4.0. Three years later, I moved up to
a Google Nexus, and then a Samson Galaxy S8 two years after that.
Overall, I've been very pleased with my choices, although I outgrew the
Phoenix quite quickly. (My upgrades to the Nexus and the S8 were prompted
by battery failures.)
Android phones synchronize easily with my Google Calendars and address
book, and do email well (my biggest criterion). My phones have gooed
enough cameras built in that I've stopped carrying a digital camera with
When I switched from my Blackberry to the Phoenix, my Internet data usage
went up quite a bit, from an average of 20-30MB per month to about
150MB. With the Galaxy, it went up again, averaging 200-300MB per
month. Still well below my account limit, but I'm obviously using it
more. In fact, I entirely stopped using my Virgin Mobile
pay-as-you-go wireless modem for my laptop, years ago, because the phone
does almost everything I need to do when I don't have access to a WiFi
Of course, the phone also runs applications, or apps. I don't load
my phone down with a lot of these, but there are a few that I've found to
be very useful. Some come with the phone, while others I've downloaded
from the Google Play Store.
- Firefox Mobile
- Google Calendar
- Google Search
- Google Maps
- Wifi Analyzer
- Gas Buddy
is a handly little
program that tells you what wifi networks are in the area, what channels
they're using, and how strong they are. Handy when setting up a new
wireless network, although it's not a spectrum analyzer -- it won't show
you interference sources that AREN'T wifi networks.
condition info over the internet directly from CalTrans. Very useful if
you have to be travelling in the mountains during stormy weather and want
to see if chains are going to be required ahead of you.
And, of course, SqView
.is Thomas Bernhed's program for playing
square dance music. It's nowhere near as full-featured as the Windows
version is, but it's plenty good enough for calling an occasional tip off
of the phone, or for emergency use.