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Thread: What are your essential (non-cartographic) software picks?

  1. #1
    Guild Apprentice
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    Feb 2009
    Louisville, Ky

    Question What are your essential (non-cartographic) software picks?

    This really doesn't concern cartographic software, so it doesn't really fit in the software discussion forum. I posted this list in my Facebook profile, but I'm interested in what y'all say.

    Oh, and please note which operating system you use.

    My list of essential software (Mac)

    I've left out programs that come with Macs - like Mail and Address Book. This is a little list of software that everyone should have. They're all useful programs that I use on a daily (or near daily basis). Of course, the few programs might have made the list because they're free...

    Yojimbo - best $39 I've ever spent. I couldn't live without this program. Have a scrap of information that you need to write down, but it doesn't warrant its own document? Yojimbo is great for keeping track of notes. Image files that don't belong in iPhoto (like artwork)? Yojimbo! Want a hard copy of a website you refer to all the time? Yojimbo! A lot of PDF files to keep track of? Yojimbo! They offer a free 30 day trial.

    Quicksilver - hard to explain. Its free, so you might as well try it. I had it for about a month before I started trying to figure it out. Every few days I'd play with it for a few minutes, and then give up. A few days ago, in a eureka moment, I understood how it works, and I use it all the time now. Check out their website, or this wikipedia article.

    Office 2008 for Mac
    - who doesn't need Word, Excel, and Power Point? Check out Open Office for a free (somewhat buggy) alternative. ($150-ish)

    Opera - a free web browser. I really liked the interface, but Facebook doesn't like it. Several other sites also seem to have trouble loading in it, so I've switched back to Firefox. If companies made plug-ins for Opera, I'd use it anyway, but few companies bother. They only do Internet Explorer, Firefox and Safari.
    One feature that Safari has that the others don't, and I wish they did, is that if you note a web address in your address book, it would show up in safari's bookmarks under the name of the address book entry.
    Opera -
    Firefox -

    Notebook - when I switched to Macs from PCs I had a minor breakdown when I realized that Microsoft OneNote was not available for Macs. Between Yojimbo and Notebook, I've largely come to a happy medium. Notebook is a tabbed writing program that mimics, strangely enough, a notebook. I write all my notes here first, and use it as a journal. ($49.95)

    Gimp - does almost everything that Adobe Photoshop ($699) does, but is priced about $700 less, free in other words.

    Inkscape - an free alternative to Adobe Illustrator($599). I've come to really like vector graphics, and I'm looking forward to using this software more.

    Scrivener - a tool for authors. A great application for drafting prose. ($39.95, free 30 day trial)

    Scribus - a desktop publishing program. Alternative to Adobe InDesign ($699) or Microsoft Publisher ($169). Its free!

    Skim - a free PDF viewer. More functionality than the equally free Adobe Reader. Allows you to make bookmarks within PDFs, take notes, etc. Still won't allow you to fill in forms and save the information if the PDF author doesn't want you too. Damn them.

    FreeMind - a mind mapping program. I don't really understand how to use it yet, but the mind maps I saw made with Curio were really cool. Too bad Curio is expensive ($99).
    Curio -
    FreeMind -

    FastScripts Lite - a tool that allows you to assign hotkeys to scripts. Very useful if you're script happy (like me). The free version only allows you to assign hotkeys to 10 scripts, but with Quicksilver, you don't really need any more. The pay version is $14.95.

    Delicious Library - There are a bunch of programs out there to keep track of your books, compact discs, and DVDs, but as far as I know, only Delicious Library can use your webcam to scan their bar codes. Just hold the book/CD/DVD up to you webcam and Delicious Library scans the bar code and looks it up online. It also can look up electronics, power tools, and board games. Anything you can buy at Amazon, Delicious Library can catalogue. Have an easy to maintain list of your possessions for when the insurance people need one. ($40)

    AddressBookSync - a free utility that downloads peoples profile pictures and birthdays from facebook to your address book. Only does folk you already have in your address book, and it follows Facebook's guidelines on such things. Pretty cool. Now if only they'd allow for scheduling they sync.

    Name Mangler - a free bulk renaming utility. Very useful.

    OnyX - a system utility to run various maintenance tasks. Don't know how useful it really is, but I like having it around, and I use it about once a week. Its free too.
    Ða Sælig Fērscipe of Dreörcnihtes

    Watch out for the mad "relative deficits in [my] social skills"! "The pronoun system in Cherokee is just better." My reader feed.
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  2. #2


    I don't have too many indispensible applications. Antivirus Guardian and Spybot Seek & Destroy to keep my PC safe.

    Open Office.

    I recently switched to Opera after Firefox started getting weird on me. It was about time, though. FF is too high-profile now, and the black hats have started exploiting it. (Is there a decent FTP plug-in for Opera? I haven't needed it yet, but I'm sure I will soon.)

    Illustrator, Photoshop, Premiere, and After Effects for school (and mapping. Well, the latter two not so much—I'm not an expansimator).

    Sony Acid Pro and a little piece of audio editing shareware called N-Track Studio, which is nearly as good as Soundforge but 1/5 the price tag.

    QuickGamma to keep my monitor calibrated. DeepBurner for CD/DVD burning. Winamp for media playing.

    The Font Thing is a recent addition, but one that I think I will continue to use. I keep my old CorelDraw disc handy for the fonts folder and license.

    For web editing, I use Notepad. And I make frequent use of the Windows Character Map, though I am getting better at remembering keystroke commands for special characters that I use frequently.

    Shareaza for downloading The Big Bang Theory, since CBS continues to refuse to put it up on their website for online viewing.
    Bryan Ray, visual effects artist

  3. #3


    Apart from the stuff to the side here, my freebie essentials for Windows are:

    Audacity - music editor.
    Fatbits - on-screen magnifier, great for seeing details in maps.
    MWSnap - screen grabber like grabzilla.
    Freebie Notes - app for putting virtual sticky notes on your screen.
    Xnview - a useful picture viewer.
    JDirPrint - app to print out a list of what's on your drives.
    MinTimer - reminds you to switch the oven off before the smoke alarm does!
    Nbos Inspiration Pad - generate 40 orcs with various weapons, with a few mouse clicks.
    Rainbow Folders - colour code your folders, sweep away the default yellow.
    VCLZip - unzipper - and zipper.
    Heatsoft Clone Cleaner - searches out duplicate files.
    WinMerge - compares two versions of a document with the option to merge them.

    Clone Cleaner and Winmerge make a great team if you've been untidy. HCC finds files that have the same name, then WM lets you compare them side by side, line by line if necessary, to make sure you don't delete the wrong one. My version of WM was a bit buggy though, wouldn't scroll properly, and HCC has apparently self-destructed and is now pestering me to re-download.

    Some of this stuff may be available as standard in XP. I dunno, I haven't got it and don't really want it.

    That mind mapper looks interesting and has a Win version, thanks.
    Mapping a Traveller ATU.

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    Look for Chit Chat, Sandmann's blog. Enjoy.

  4. #4
    Guild Apprentice
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    Feb 2009
    Louisville, Ky


    Quote Originally Posted by icosahedron View Post
    WinMerge - compares two versions of a document with the option to merge them.
    Oooh. I used to love WinMerge. I used it all the time to compare code that I was working on. It was on my computer at work, and I never got around to installing it at home, so I'd forgotten about it.
    Ða Sælig Fērscipe of Dreörcnihtes

    Watch out for the mad "relative deficits in [my] social skills"! "The pronoun system in Cherokee is just better." My reader feed.
    And yes, I'm on Facebook. Professed deviant.

  5. #5


    Open Office
    ABC MUS --> reads text-based music files and plays them back in MIDI. Very helpful for learning music by ear.

    Itunes. . .

    That's about it really.
    "The medium is the message." -- Marshall McLuhan

  6. #6
    Community Leader NeonKnight's Avatar
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    Aug 2007
    Surrey, Canada, EH!


    I must be the most basic

    Windows Media - Music
    and MS office (2000, really gotta upgrade)

    ............and other than games, that;s it.
    Daniel the Neon Knight: Campaign Cartographer User

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  7. #7
    Community Leader Facebook Connected torstan's Avatar
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    Jul 2007


    Interesting thread, and some interesting software on that list. I guess our choices say a lot about us....

    For me, using windows XP Media Edition:
    maptool (obviously)
    stickies - great way to keep notes and you can pin them to folders or apps. I get an initiative sticky whenever I open up maptoolfor example.
    Open office - great for quickly pdfing documents
    dropbox - a good free 2GB of filesharing and online backups that synchs with your computer
    Picasa - much nicer previewer than windows, though really doesn't handle cmyk files.
    emacs - well, not for everyone I'm sure, but it does help with coding
    posterazor for cutting up large images into pdfs
    Core ftp lite - good little ftp program
    pdftk builder - great for collating pdfs into one document, or breaking up pdfs into separate documents

    Other useful bits and pieces - xming and putty for working remotely, imagemagick for command line image processing.

  8. #8
    Guild Artisan Facebook Connected
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    For me:
    For Writing:
    • As mentioned here: ConnectedText ($30) is a personal wiki-type-thing for keeping track of notes and ideas, etc. I use it as a project notebook where I can keep track of all my ideas and thoughts on a particular subject. It's core functionality is the ability to enter links in the page you are working on to pages that don't exist yet by enclosing the name of the page you want to link to in double-square-brackets. This allows me to say "Yada yada yada about subject A relates to [[Subject B]]" without having to detail everything about Subject B right now. It also has some other cool functionality that I found to be well worth the price. It just works the way my brain works.
      If free is more your price, I used Wikidpad before I discovered ConnectedText. Wikidpad has the same core "personal wiki" functionality, but ConnectedText has some great features that Wikidpad lacks, and has a much better looking, more polished, and easier-to-use UI.
      ConnectedText has a free one-month limited-function trial, and this is what sold me (even the limited-functionality was so much better, to me, than wikidpad that I was ready right away to slap my money down).
    • Wordweb is a downloadable dictionary app that allows me to look up definitions, even when I'm not connected to the internet. Just let it run in the background and ctrl-right-click on some text to get a definition of a word. As a writer, I've often tried to stay disconnected from the temptations of the Web while writing, leaving my only alternative to or to be the analog, manual-word-lookup (in a dead-tree edition dictionary) when I needed to make sure I had the right word (which often broke my rhythm) - until I discovered Wordweb. It's got a bizarre "free" license (it's free as long as you don't take too many flights during the year, or something like that; I don't travel much right now, so even if they could track me down, I'm still under their limit).
    I think, therefore I am a nerd.
    Cogito, ergo sum nerdem.

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  9. #9
    Community Leader Facebook Connected Ascension's Avatar
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    St. Charles, Missouri, United States


    Photoshop. That's all I need and use that I can't replace. If I were stuck on a desert island that had electricity to run my pc I'd have to have Civ 4 and the Fall From Heaven mod for Civ 4. Everything else I can work around as it's not so wonderful that I can't find something else to replace it.
    If the radiance of a thousand suns was to burst at once into the sky, that would be like the splendor of the Mighty One...I am become Death, the Shatterer of worlds.
    -J. Robert Oppenheimer (father of the atom bomb) alluding to The Bhagavad Gita (Chapter 11, Verse 32)

    My Maps ~ My Brushes ~ My Tutorials ~ My Challenge Maps

  10. #10
    Community Leader Facebook Connected Steel General's Avatar
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    Ft. Wayne, IN


    As long as it works, I have a need for it and it doesn't cause problems, it's all good for me
    My Finished Maps | My Challenge Maps | Ghoraja Juun, my largely stagnated campaign setting.

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