Essential Free Stuff

Every once in a while I recommend a list of utilities and programs I find useful.  I don’t like paying for software so most of the stuff listed is gnu open source or free.

Operating Systems

Most of us don’t install operating systems, They come with the computers that we purchase and seldom change. Basically, we have three different flavors available to us.

  • Linux
  • Apple OSX
  • Microsoft Windows.

Operating systems are pretty good these days. Most of us seldom see crashes,  all of them.  Many of us remember the Blue Screens of Death, lockups and forced reboots in the form of the 3 finger salute. (<ALT><CTRL>+  <DELETE> They all have more features than any of us will ever use.

Todays operating systems are much more than the fundamentals that allow us to make our computers run other programs.  They contain a bunch of useful programs that come with the Operating system package.

Apple OS X

I don’t have a lot to say about OSX, because I don’t use it very much. That isn’t to say it’s a less worthy system.

OSX is Unix based, much of the GNU open sourced software is available for the Apple platform.  It also comes abundantly equipped with its suite of apps, such as Facetime,  Safari, Quicktime, and iTunes.   Arguably the OSX system is best at handling media such as music video and pictures.

Microsoft Windows 10.

Windows has been the most reviled os ever. Vista sucked Windows 7.0 was a marked improvement. Then followed the 8.x disaster.   Windows 10.x is pretty decent. Its reliable robust and intuitive. It’s very full featured.

Because it’s a very popular os it has a huge online support community. OEM support is scheduled in twice a year updates at around April and October. Unlike the previous service pack updates of earlier Windows versions, The updates are smooth with few reported update fails. The updates are somewhat automated although they may require a couple of reboots.  I tried to avoid using Windows on my home computers in the Vista through the windows 8 days. Windows 10. is a vast improvement and is a pleasure to use.

Linux (Ubuntu)

Linux is ideal for the beginner computer user and the hacker types. It’s turned into a mature and very functional operating system  A dual boot system can be installed on most systems, It can be installed on a flash drive or as part of a dual booted system.   Linux will run on just about any hardware.

Ubuntu is what is called a distribution,  A package of selected programs and apps. It is the most popular Linux distribution. Ubuntu is suitable for Complete novices. IT professionals and Hackers.

  • For novices the simplicity of the Graphical interface, and the inclusion of the most commonly used application. Ubuntu hardware requirements are low and will perform better than most modern operating systems with limited hardware.  Children and novices find the system easy to use, partly because they have no preconceived notions on how things should work, It being free and runs efficiently on low priced systems.
  • IT professionals love the power of Unix based systems. Ubuntu and other Linux based systems form the basis of the internet. Everything from online servers, the cloud to routers and smart switches are running Ubuntu and Linux.  Ubuntu is available in two major flavors; With a Graphical Interface, much like Windows or OS X and a Text-Based server system.
  • Hackers and tweakers have lots to play with,  The native terminal mode is very powerful,   Systems can be customized to suit almost any desire.  perl, python,  and ruby. It also has  GCC which is a sort of super compile that supports. C (gcc), C++ (g++), Objective-CObjective-C++, Fortran (gfortran), and ADA.Ada (GNAT). Since the operating system is open it is well understood and documented.  Linux was designed from the beginning to be a developers playground and can be customized to small enough to operate a home router, a gamers system, or a super computer’s OS

A terminal version of Ubuntu is available internally to Windows 10 . It can run under the command shell or from the Start menu. OS X has its own native Unix like shell.  A full-blown Linux system can be installed to replace the original Windows or Mac Operating system or alongside it in a Dual Bootable system.   I have a little notebook that was running Vista. I replaced the OS Use it for when traveling for surfing and for  running CHIRP to program my ham radio’s.

Another option is to run take a portion of disk space and to reconfigure the system to run dual booted. The user has the option of booting into either system. I have a newer HP Envy 17. It’s got a 1 TerraByte Hard drive, Windows 10 will never miss the 200 GB I stole to run Ubuntu.  There is plenty of storage for either platform.  This is a spare computer that my wife and I share.  Useful for extended travel, and computing without being wired around our home.  We both use Windows. I use Ubuntu for programming  In Python and C/C++.

Free Programs/Apps

Following is a list of essential free essential programs that are useful and might increase productivity.


This is a quick and fast viewer for image files. Irfanview is capable of doing some basic editing function.  Although the editing functions are Basic it does what it does very well. Irfan view will display,   crop, resize/resample brightness/contrast, rotate and color correction.  Unfortunately this is a Windows only Program It is free with no advertisement.  It is not Open Source and there is a small charge for commercial uses.


This is a serious photo/Image editor.   It has a huge advantage over Photoshop. because not only do you get to own it, rather than rent, It’s free.   It will run on Linux, OS X or Windows.  Although there are lots of tutorials, and a great manual,  The program isn’t all that intuitive for the casual user, but it is capable and not real difficult learn the basic functions. It is Gnu  OpenSource and free without obligation or strings attached.


Other than a web browser office software is perhaps the most useful of any personal application software. LibreOffice is more than just a program or an app, it’s a suite of powerful productivity applications. A few of them are:

  • Writer the processor
  • Calc a spreadsheet program
  • Impress: a presentation Program
  • Base: a database program.

What it doesn’t have are an email program and a calendar type program such as Outlook. This can be rectified by installing Thunderbird with the Lightning add-on.

The only real competition to LibreOffice is Microsoft Office which costs money. It’s available on a lease basis or outright purchase.  LibreOffice is free.  Free as in no cost, no strings attached.

LibreOffice is not an inferior product to its Microsoft competition. While some of Microsoft’s features might have an appeal to certain personal environments LibreOffice has it’s own set of advantages.

Even if one has bought and paid for Microsoft office it cost nothing to load LibreOffice anyway, it can’t hurt to have a backup.

One of LibreOffice’s biggest strengths is its compatibility.  Office productivity software has come and gone in the past. LibreOffice supports just about all the formats Including Wordstar, Lotus, or Quatropro. Writer can be used for HTML files. Not least of all Microsoft Office files can me read edited and written.

Governments outside of the United States have adopted LibreOffice as a standard, The Open Document File (ODF) format is an ISO standard. and is unlikely to ever go unsupported. It is critical for government agencies to have access to files forever.  Not only is LibreOffice capable of reading old WordPerfect or Wordstar files stored in the ODF format are assured to have future accessibility.

Old versions of LibreOffice and its predecessor OpenOffice often had problems with keeping the same formats. Libre office is very good at this in newer versions.  I had to surrender and purchase Office a few years ago because the editing and submitting of certain court reports had some formatting issues. This has been resolved and MS Office is pretty much retired.

I find that LibreOffice is very intuitive, some might not but only because it’s not the same as the Office suite that they are used to.  The user interface is excellent as are the help files and online user-generated he n in Windows Apple and Linux Systems. There is no Microsoft Office available for Linux.

Python Programming Language

Most people won’t see a need to install a programming language.  Learning some programming does have its benefits. Python, in particular, lends itself to doing small repetitive tasks. and automation.

Python is what is called a high-level interactive language,  Which means that it has a powerful syntax, and tends to be able to do powerful things in a simple program. It is interactive. One can type in one line at a time or terminal either to test code lines or to use as a calculator.   Whether to automate simple tasks or to learn a little bit of programming Python is a great place to start.

Some reasons to select Python are:

  • Unlike BASIC this is modern, and because it’s from a single source it’s consistent between platforms.    Python is very powerful and often allows complex problems to have simple solutions
  • It’s Interpretive and interactive. Interpretive means there is no complex compiling and linking involved.  You type save it and run it.
  • It uses the standard C language library.
  • There is lots of available help, tutorials and example programs. site has excellent tutorials and example programs.


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