Office applications and productivity software

Productivity software and viewers/utilities for various file types

  • OpenOffice -- Free and available on multiple platforms.  Perhaps the single best reason to use it is that it natively creates PDF format.  In addition to its own formats, it can read (and write) MS Word, Excel and PowerPoint files (usually -- sometimes formatting details go haywire, but they are constantly updating it.)

  • Adobe Reader -- Used for viewing PDF documents.  (You will probably want to install it with the very useful text search feature.) (Linux users can try xpdf as an alternative which is part of many distributions.)

  • Ghostscript and GSview: PostScript interpreter and viewer (and PDF too) that you probably want to have.

  • Online Document Conversion Services:  Neevia Technology and CERN Document Conversion Service both have file convertors that allow you to submit a variety of common (and uncommon) file formats in small numbers and produce files in different formats (PDF being of most interest probably).  Though not convenient for many files or very large files (and certainly inappropriate for confidential or non-public information), they are good to know about.  (Don't forget -- OpenOffice is able to export documents in PDF format too and handles a lot of file types.)

  • Graphics and Image Manipulation software:  The GIMP and ImageMagick are both quite capable tools available for free for multiple platforms.  Perhaps not perfect replacements for Adobe PhotoShop, but pretty darn good.  (If you are a PhotoShop veteran, then you'll have to spend some time learning the ropes, but it will probably be worth it.)

  • Compression Utilities:  WinZip is not free (though many, many people use it without payment).  Fortunately, there are freeware alternatives.  For instance:
    • 7Zip:  This is the current recommendation of this page, the reasons for which may be included in the future..
    • FreeZip (but not "FreeZip!" which is reported to contain spyware and/or adware)
    • ZipCentral
    • ZipItFast
    • ExtractNow
    • CAMUnZip
    • ZipWrangler
    • Freebyte Zip

  • If you've ever spent a few minutes waiting for MS Windows Search function to find a file on your system, then you might find the following can save you some time. The basic idea is similar to most internet search engines: index your files (while the computer would otherwise be idle so as not to slow things down for the user) and then consult the indexes when a search is requested:

    • Yahoo! Desktop Search:  This is a free version of a well respected product from X1 with a few features removed, such as indexing of remote drives, Eudora and Mozilla-based email.
    • Google Desktop Search:  Use Google's Desktop Search to quickly search for files on your computer using an indexing system much like Google's web indexing.  Not all file types are supported, but most common ones are, such as Outlook mail, MS Office documents and so on.
    • Copernic Desktop Search:  This is similar to the Google Desktop Search, but appears to be a bit more capable, though as of this writing I have not had time or cause to test it much.  User comments would be appreciated.
    • Windows 2000 and XP include an "Indexing Service" which (according to Microsoft) is "a base service [...] that extracts content from files and constructs an indexed catalog to facilitate efficient and rapid searching."  To configure the Indexing Service open Control Panels -> Administrative Tools -> Computer Management.  In the left pane, click the plus sign next to "Services and Applications", then right-click on the "Indexing Service" icon.  In the popup menu, select "All Tasks | Tune Performance".  The "Indexing Service Usage" dialog box will appear.  The Indexing Service is actually quite customizable, though doing so can add significantly to the resources required by the service.  A warning: it can eat up a surprising amount of disk space to maintain the indexes.  It has sped up basic searches for this author, but your mileage may vary in both search efficiency gains and overall performance penalty.

  • Cygwin: Cygwin has a number of utilities for handling, viewing and transforming file formats, so I have a separate page of Cygwin tips
  • Multimedia Players (work related, of course!)

    Pick one.  Use it.  If you find a format it doesn't support, try a different one, or go to the vendor's site and look for a download of an update or add-on (plug-in, patch, codec, etc.) for your format.  This isn't the place to go into the details, but some quick thoughts are included here:
    • Microsoft's Media Player -- you've almost certainly already got it, so why not use it? 
    • Real Player:  complaint -- by default it runs background processes continuously, pops up annoying little messages and practically begs you to register it, though it isn't nessecary for full functionality..  It isn't a big deal to disable these annoyances, but why should you have to?
    • Winamp:  There is a free version and an inexpensive "Pro" version that has CD burning.  It has been up and down over the years, with some versions much quirkier than others.  Currently it seems to be on par with the rest.
    • Apple's iTunes:  Though intended to suck you into Apple's music store, you can use the application without using the store.  In keeping with most Apple stuff, it seems to be well liked by those who like it.  Enough said.

Please send comments, corrections and suggestions to Wayne Betts: wbetts {at}