Personal and Small Business Technology
Software for a new computer need not be expensive. Open source alternatives are quite good today.

Ten Software Packages for a New Computer

A friend recently bought a new computer to replace an aging Windows 7 machine, and asked what software I though he should load. It was easy to come up with a short list of programs that would satisfy the basic needs of most people. This list is heavily weighted to open source software and to programs that run on both Windows and OS X, there really are not any sacrifices to be made.

Libre Office

The easiest recommendation is for LibreOffice, an open source office package for word processing, spreadsheet, presentation, graphic design and light database work. It can read and write files in Microsoft Office formats, though because MS Office uses copyrighted fonts, the look will not be identical. Unless you need exchange a lot of business documents with other MS Office users, this will meet your office software needs.

Browsers

Most people should have a couple of different browsers installed, as some web sites do not work with all browsers, and some browsers are not very good about privacy. I generally use one browser for sites where I am logged in and need to keep session cookies (Chrome), and another (Firefox) where I delete cookies and all history when I close the browser.

Firefox

Firefox is generally the best browser for those who are security and privacy conscious. The default settings are pretty tight by changing the default search to DuckDuckGo, you can have a much more privacy than with Chrome or Internet Explorer with default settings.

Chrome

Chrome is the most popular browser and has the fewest compatibility issues at this point in time, but the default settings are not very good from a privacy perspective. With default settings, Google will know pretty much everywhere you go and what you do.

Chromium

Chromium is an open source distribution of Chrome, but with somewhat better default privacy settings.

Vivaldi

Vivaldi is a browser that was developed and released by some of the team that originally developed Opera. Although I used Opera a lot, I have stopped since it was acquired by a Chinese firm. I am just less comfortable about privacy and security with software from Chinese companies, especially after what happened to StartCom after it was acquired by WoSign.

Password Manager

Good security today requires a that you never reuse a password, and this in turn requires that you use a password manager. There are many good candidates; here are a few that I have used.

KeePass

Keepass is an open source password manager that is available on all major platforms. It does not provide cloud capability, which can be a plus or a minus depending upon your security philosophy; personally, I think lack of cloud capability is a plus as it requires a compromise of your machine to get access to the file and potentially to a key file that you can keep on a flash drive.

1Password

This is a popular option for OS X.

Thunderbird

An old-fashioned desktop email client is still a necessity for times when you want to work with email but are not connected to the Internet. Thunderbird is open source and has some key features that are hard to find:

  • Google addressbook synchronization (via a plugin)
  • Google calendar synchronization (via a plugin)
  • S/MIME email encryption and authentication (via a plugin)
  • PGP email encryption and authentication (via a plugin)
  • Integration with major CRM software to keep email attached to customers (via plugins)
  • Tools for sending large attachments via a secure cloud-storage link (via plugins). This is really helpful when you need to send attachments that are larger than the receiver's attachment size limit.
  • Powerful filters and rules for deleting/forwarding/handling mail based upon the contents and senders.

The only think it does not do is provide a multi-line display like the one in the Apple mail client.

DigiKam

Both Windows and OS X have built-in photo library managers, but if you want to retain the ability to move between operating systems, you may want to consider using DigiKam, an open source photo library manager. DigiKam is perhaps more complex, but it provides more control for facial recognition, file formats and a variety of other things.

Messaging

It is really handy to have a messaging app that works on your phone, tablet and desktop and that provides end-to-end security. There are many candidates, but here are two that are widely used.

Signal

Signal is one of the most secure messaging systems and is now one of the most convenient with a desktop application. It is moderately widely used but is slowly growing in popularity.

Hangouts

Google Hangouts is no longer a stand-alone application, but is instead a browser extension for Chrome. It is available to anyone who has a Gmail account.

Adobe Acrobat Reader

You will need something to read PDF files. Though there are clients that are better, it is always handy to have Acrobat installed.

Two-factor Authenticators

If you use Google Authenticator for two-factor authentication, you will probably want to have a client on your desktop. This is an area where trust in the application provider is paramount; you will probably want to use one from the Microsoft, Apple or Google Stores respectively.

Microsoft Windows– Oracle Authenticator

Of all of the authenticators in the Microsoft Store, the Oracle product appeared to be the most trustworthy and easy to use. Microsoft has a authenticator in the Apple App Store, but only for phones and tablets. I cannot find one in the Microsoft Store.

HTML Editor

Anyone who does work for a non-profit will need to write HTML for a blog post at some point, and for that you will need a simple HTML editor with syntax highlighting and spell checking. Advanced users will want more, but here some simple ones.

Bluefish

Bluefish is a very simple HTML editor with few bells and whistles, but it runs on Linux, Windows and OS X. It taks very little to figure it out.

Brackets

Brackets is also a cross-platform editor like Bluefish, but has more options and capability than Bluefish.

Audacity for Audio Editing

Audacity is an audio file editor that will help you speed up or slow down audio without changing the pitch among other things. If you are doing video or podcast editing, this can be handly. It is cross-platform.

GRAMPS for Family History

Family history (or genealogy) is a growing hobby with many for-fee packages. If you are looking for something that is free or cross-platform to enable cooperation with people running lots of different systems, GRAMPS is a good open source alternative.

Network Caller ID

Robocalls are a constant annoyance today; Network Caller ID (NCID)can turn you computer (and modem) into an effective call logger and blocker. See Stopping Robocalls from Rachel at Cardholder Services for a longer description of NCID.

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