The Ten best free programs of 2011

Many sites have “best of year” program lists that are really “best of all time”; so is this one of them? Well, yes and no. This is a list of the best free software that has either been launched in 2011, or has been significantly improved upon and come into it’s own in 2011.

1Wunderlist: task management on the PC and on your device

More than just a to-do list program, Wunderlist is a sleek, well designed task management app that stores your data in the cloud, giving you access to your lists from your computer or any iOS or Android device. It will also let you share lists; for example you and your spouse can see each other’s house errands or shopping lists, and move items back and forth. Or you can see every item that each of your team members has on their list right from your iPhone while waiting in line at Starbucks, and even have an ‘unassigned’ list for those things that no one is taking on, etc.
Wunderlist makes any other task management program that doesn’t support cloud storage, handheld devices and list sharing simply seem outdated and obsolete. ‘List sharing’ is going to be one of those terms, like ‘tweeting’ and ‘friending’ that everyone will understand in the near future.

2Freemake Video Converter: powerful video conversion that is a delight to use

This one was released in 2010 but improved so much over the past 12 months to become one the world’s best video conversion programs, free or paid. Combining a tremendous user experience with awesome power under the hood, Freemake raises the bar extremely high.

3Listary: real time file filtering of files and folders in Windows

A Windows tweak that lets you type a letter or two in Windows and instantly get a filtered list of file and folders matches (see screenshot). I have been using this software for months now, and has become a staple that I put on every machine. It is one of those interface enhancements that you think should have come built into Windows. You will like it.
The free version of this is so good that I often forget that there’s a souped up paid version.

4Comodo Programs Manager: monitors programs installs in real time to remove all traces on uninstall

I know this one will be controversial, with some people reporting errors and problems with it (see the comments section of my original Comodo Programs Manager review); however, I have been using it without problems ever since reviewing it in October, and finding it an excellent tool that delivers what it promises, and does so beautifully. Comodo Programs Manager is what you need if you install and uninstall a lot of software, as I do.
This just may be the uninstall utility that is better than Revo (although I do use both on my machine). It installs itself as a service, and is always running in the background monitoring for program installations; it then records everything that they do on your computer; all file and registry changes, enabling you to uninstall all traces later on. But it also can optionally re-instate (re-install) a program if you want. You might think of it as ‘undo’ and ‘redo’ for program installs. Overall, a top notch program that has won a permanent spot on my machine.

5Paragon Backup & Recovery Free 2012: one of the best free disk imaging and backup software

Quick: what is the best free disk imaging and backup software? If Macrium Reflect or EaseUs Todo Backup came to mind then let me introduce you to Paragon Backup and Recovery, which I guarantee you will like.
But there’s a reason I say this: we recently did a head-to-head comparison of free disk imaging software (which will be published in the next few weeks), and Paragon’s ‘normal compression’ backup profile had one of the best combinations of backup time to disk size to restoration time of any imaging program. It is also possible the most feature-packed free imaging program, supporting differential backups, data exclusion, scheduling, and simple recovery media creation, to name a few.
Note that (a) you will have to register with a valid email to receive a registration key, (b) the screenshot above is taken from the program’s ‘advanced’ view, and (c) the program is freely available for personal use, but ou will need to purchase a license if you want to use this software in a commercial setting.

6HaoZip: one of the best free zip/compression programs out there

If you ask a sample of tech-savvy readers to recommend a free zip/compression programs, my guess is that most will say 7-Zip or PeaZip, or one or two others which are in fact based on the 7-Zip engine. Which is fair enough; all of these have various strengths, but if you want a solid, well-rounded, and quite powerful compression software that performs well in terms of compression ratio and speed, extraction speed, support for 64 bit, as well as a solid performance on both high and low end systems, then give HaoZip a try.
I say this because, once again, we tested a host compression programs head to head, and found HaoZip to be a general high performer on most counts (we will publish this comparison on Network Solution Tips in the next couple of weeks).
Also look for a little know feature where HaoZip can install an image resizing and conversion function in the right click context menu.
Overall, highly recommended.

7Otixo: manage various cloud storage services and accounts from a single place

t seems that more of our files and data is migrating off the hard drive and onto the cloud with every passing day. Which is why this free web service is so useful. Otixo connects to almost all popular online storage services, such as Dropbox, Box.net, Google Docs and others, and lets you perform file operations across different services and accounts as if they were merely different folders in a single file system. I like that it will move files from one account to another without first downloading it to your machine and then re-uploading it. It also lets you share files extremely easily, in the same way irrespective of where they actually reside.
If you’re just a single Dropbox account type of user this service may not be for you, but if you have multiple cloud accounts all over the place you will love it.

8TunnelBear: dead simple VPN (Virtual Private Networking)

Ok, so this is a somewhat specialized service that you will only need if you (a) are restricted from accessing the internet at large or certain website by your internet service provider or employer and want a way around this, (b) live outside the US and want to access some web services that are US only (such as Hulu, Pandora, and others), or (c) you live outside the UK and want to access some UK only sites (e.g. BBC iPlayer film & TV, Livestation, etc.)
Tunnelbear is not the first VPN (virtual private networking) service with a free component, but the fact that it is so easy to use (literally two buttons), and that it works so well, and that it is available on iPhone and Android devices makes it a winner in my book. The only drawback is that you can get up to 1.5 gigs of free bandwidth per month, but sometimes you can use Tunnelbear to merely get your proverbial foot in the door, and don’t need to consume its provided free bandwidth.

9LibreOffice: advanced, free Office Suite

Aside from an OS and security applications, there are 2 pieces of software that every computer must have: a browser to surf the internet, and an Office suite to do actual work. No wonder Microsoft’s Office is the most profitable software franchise of all time.
LibreOffice, launched in 2011, is an offshoot of OpenOffice.org created by a group of starry eyed developers who wanted an Office suite that is compatible with MS Office and ODF as well as other document formats, and one that is independent of a corporate vendor. LibreOffice is truly open source and supported by a community of users. It also happens to be a fantastic program and one of the most complete and powerful office suites around.

10Cyberduck: all in one FTP, WebDAV, Cloud Storage, Amazon S3 and Google Documents desktop client

There are powerful free FTP clients out there, such as WinSCP and FileZilla, so it no small feat when a program comes out of nowhere and takes the place of these. Cyberduck is exactly that program.
The fact that is so simply and nicely designed, and that it connects with so many protocols and cloud services helps as well.


Use Smart Defrag For Accurate Defragmentation

As programs are installed and uninstalled and files are deleted, remnants of the files are left behind and sectors of the hard drive become fragmented. Uninstalling programs does not completely get rid of them, fragments of the files and folders remain behind, occupying hard disk space, rendering it unusable for storage. Defragmentation tools are included in the Windows package and it is a decent application, but many users discover that there are third party defragmentation applications which seem to do a better job than Windows Defrag. Among those, some perform better than others. IObit’s Smart Defrag is one that is ahead of the game. It features highly efficient and fast defragmentation ability. Some applications take hours to complete and entirely too much fragmented space is left behind. Smart Defrag does the job quickly with far greater accuracy than the typical application.
Defragmentation works by moving fragmented files into one continuous block, thus freeing up available physical memory. Smart Defrag is a freeware application by IObit, and software from IObit is impressive in general. Smart defrag analyzes a hard disk much more rapidly than you would expect and defragmentation completes quickly. The interface is a sleek and friendly, offering Auto Defragmentation to top things off.
Since fragmentation is occurring constantly, it is important to defragment your computer’s hard drive(s) on a regular basis. The interface is easy to use and the application will defrag your filessystem while your computer is idle and maintain optimal disk performance at all times.

On a PC that has never been defragmented, a significant amount of memory is unnecessarily occupied by fragmented files and this can slow down performance while blocking hard drive sectors from being usable. In this case, you will see a significant amount of fragmented blocks colored in red on the interface during analysis and the process will take longer to complete, but it is well worth the wait. A large amount of physical memory can be restored. For those of us who run a good defragmentation application regularly, there is little fragmentation at all and is much easier to sort out.
The Auto Defragmentation is a set it and forget it feature so you don’t have to be concerned anymore about cumulative fragmentation. Smart defrag does not run constantly in the background, as this would damage the hard drive over time. Instead, it has a “Safe Intelligence that decides when and how to start defragmentation. This feature also has an interesting interface that shows you the results of continued performance over time. The percentage of fragmented space is indication as well and there is a CPU meter built in.
Upon completion of defragmentation, Smart Defrag clearly .displays the amount of fragmented space before and after the operation is completed while indicating the number of defragmented files and directories. It does a better job than most other similar applications and this is apparent from the first use.
You can set Boot time defragmentation in addition to the Automatic feature. For the average user, this is usually not as essential as it is for those geeks among us who just have to install software and test it out and often we end up uninstalling it anyway. This leaves quite a mess and Smart Defrag is ideal for you to try out if you are frequently making changes to programs. It is designed for modern, large hard drives and, as a result, eliminates long waiting times without occupying too excessive resources and none of your files are ever harmed.

Firefox 9 Final Available, Get It Before Anyone Else

December 20th is the official Firefox 9 final release date. The browser has been uploaded to Mozilla’s ftp server prior to release. It is currently distributed to Mozilla’s first and third party distribution network to ensure a fast and uninterrupted distribution to Firefox 8 users.
I have covered all Firefox 9 changes back when the Aurora version of the browser was released. Aurora versions on the other hand are not always what final users can expect from the browser.
The biggest new feature that Mozilla introduces in Firefox 9 is Type Inference which improves JavaScript performance significantly by using inferred type information. Mozilla noted that the new feature can speed up the browser’s JavaScript performance by up to 30%. Users will usually see less than that percentage though in their day activities.
The developers furthermore have added support for font-stretch, improved support for text-overflow and improved overall standards support for HTML5, MathML and CSS.
Mac OS X Lion users benefit from the new two finger swipe navigation and improved theme integration.
The release notes list several stability enhancements and bug fixes that have made their way into the browser (check the complete list of changes for details, linked on the release notes page).
Most Firefox users can probably wait the day until the browser is officially released by Mozilla. Users can then update Firefox with the browsers automatic update feature, or by downloading the new version from the official website.
Firefox users who experience issues with the current stable version, for instance crashes, may want to install the new version as soon as possible to resolve the issues.
Those users can download Firefox 9.0 Final from third party websites such as Softpedia. Please note that Softpedia only hosts the English version of the browser.
Have you tried Firefox 9 yet? If so, what’s your impression of the new version?

How To Recover When Thunderbird Is Broken

Yesterday I started noticing a strange issue in the Thunderbird email client. I could open the email client as usual, and mail would be retrieved. I was also able to click on one mailbox and read the mails there. But when I tried to click on another mailbox, or another folder of the same mailbox, nothing would happen. When I restarted the email client, I was again able to click on one mailbox, but not on any other.
I tried a lot of “internal” fixes, like removing the msf files so that Thunderbird would regenerate them, or reinstalling the program to see if that would resolve the problem.
Unfortunately though nothing did. I did notice that my mail was still there which was reassuring to say the least.
I first thought about backing up all emails to Mailstore and starting anew, but this would have meant that I would have to juggle between two programs (the new Thunderbird and Mailstore) for a while.
I kept the option in mind and decided to play around with profiles first. First thing I did was to add -profilemanager to the end of the Thunderbird startup command to launch the profile manager during start up.

You can do that by locating the Thunderbird shortcut in the taskbar or start menu. Right-click it and select Properties from the options. Look for the Target field and add -profilemanager at the end of the command. This launches the profile manager before the email client is started. A profile is like a new user account for Thunderbird.
I decided to create a new profile. This is a simple process, all you need to do is to click on create profile and enter a name if you like. Exit the window afterwards.

Now for the difficulty part. Locate your Thunderbird profile folder on your hard drive. Windows users find the profile under C:\Users\Martin\AppData\Roaming\Thunderbird\Profiles\
Note that you should see at least two profiles listed there. For the sake of simplicity, we assume you see two profiles. First your original profile with all your emails, and then your secondary profile that you have just created. We are now going to move important data from the old profile to the new one. Important data in this regards are all emails, contact information and preferences.
Locate the Mail (and if you like ImapMail) folder in your old profile and copy it to the new profile. Look into the root folder of the profile and copy the following files to the new profile: all abook*.mab files, all prefs files, all signons files.
Once done start Thunderbird using the new profile. Please note that you need to enter the mailbox passwords again. All extensions and other customizations are not moved. I’d suggest to install them anew, but you could try and move them from the old to the new profile.
You should now see all your mailboxes in the new profile. The preferences should be the same as in the old profile, as we have moved the preference files to the new profile as well.
This process has resolved the issue on my end. I selected the new profile to be started with Thunderbird automatically, and removed the profilemanager command from the startup.
Have you ever experienced issues with an email client? What did you do to resolve them?