Multimedia (Photos, Video & Audio)
MakeMKV [Windows, Mac, Linux] – Free
This program is free while in beta, which it has been quite some time. You just need to get a new key from their website once a month. You may quickly find this program worth purchasing at $50, especially since you do not need to buy a separate program to deal with encrypted discs (such as movie discs). That is a big savings. This program rips Blu-ray and DVD to the MKV format, which means perfect video quality, subtitles, and all the audio tracks you would like (as long as they are present in the source). Since this program is ripping, it is fast! And since there is no converting of audio and video (hence the perfect quality), the file sizes are quite large.
The main download page only lists the versions for Windows and Mac. The Linux version is available in the forum. I suspect this is because it is not as polished and requires that you compile the source code to install it. You can get the Linux version here.
MKV has become such an accepted video format you should not have too much of an issue playing it. If you want perfect quality and don’t mind large file sizes, this is the perfect program for you. http://www.makemkv.com/
HandBrake [Windows, Mac, Linux] – Free
An open-source, multiplatform, multithreaded video converter, available for MacOS X, Linux and Windows. I use HandBrake when I want to compress or convert my video files, which still provides video with good quality (depending on the compression level used). There are different formats supported, such as MKV, MP4, even the somewhat experimental X265. http://handbrake.fr/
Plex [Pretty much everything supported] – Free & Paid
There’s almost too much to say about Plex. It streams your videos, photos, and music from almost anything (Windows, Mac, Linux, FreeBSD, and NAS devices) to almost anything (computers, mobile devices, Roku, Chromecast, and more) whether on the same network or over the internet. Plex is a media server, but you may also watch content on the same computer on which it is running. The quality of streaming content over the internet will depend on your upload speed. If you have anything less than 3 Mbps you may experience playback issues and the quality will not be very good.
The Plex interface is very attractive and it does a good job of finding cover art and information about movies and television series. It sometimes finds and incorrect match, but you may manually correct it. You may also change how movies are organized. I like to do this with James Bond movies so they are all in a row instead of by title (Diamonds are Forever, GoldenEye, etc.).
You may use Plex for free, but some features may be limited. I recommend purchasing the lifetime Plex Pass for $75 to get all features (this includes the normally $5 app on iOS or Android). https://plex.tv/
VLC Media Player [Windows, Mac, Linux/BSD, Android, iOS & More] – Free
VLC is a free and open source media player that will play almost anything on almost any operating system. At first glance you may think the program is rather plain looking, but you will realize it is function over form. You may spruce up the interface, but I doubt you will care once you start using it. I also think you will not use Windows Media Player after using VLC. It’s free so try it. Donate if you like it. http://www.videolan.org/vlc/
CamStudio [Windows] – Free
CamStudio is able to record all screen and audio activity on your computer and create industry-standard AVI video files. http://camstudio.org/
Paint.NET [Windows] – Free
This software has more features than Microsoft’s Paint that is included with Windows, but not as complicated as the feature rich The GIMP [free]. This software has great features that I use on regular basis, such as the ability to blur portions of a photograph. http://filehippo.com/download_paint.net/
Greenshot [Windows] – Free
A screen capture utility for quick and simple shots. This program create complete or partial screenshots quickly. You can easily annotate, highlight or obfuscate parts of the screenshot.It will send the screenshot to a file, the clipboard, a printer or to e-mail as an attachment. http://getgreenshot.org/
Notepad++ [Windows] – Free
If you need to edit certain types of documents that require Notepad, this program will make your task much easier. Some types of documents/files look like a jumbled mess of texts when using Notepad, but look perfect using Notepad++. http://notepad-plus-plus.org/
Google Docs [Windows, Mac, Linux] – Free
This is an online software suite with no software to download and install – all you do is go to a web page. You create your document, spreadsheet, drawing, or presentation and then download it or store it online for free. You can share your creation or keep it private. Try Google Docs, there’s nothing to install. http://docs.google.com/
ESET NOD32 [Windows, Mac] – Paid
Very effective at preventing and removing viruses and my top choice for antivirus. NOD32 is also one of the few antivirus programs that will work on Windows Home Server and not charge an outrageous price. You simply use the same version meant for home users. I only recommend the antivirus version and not the “security suite.” I find the security suite (spam filtering, firewall, etc.) too bloated and complicated for the average user. The antivirus only version (referred to as NOD32) is also cheaper. And speaking of price, don’t pay the retail price or renew for the full retail price. If you shop around you will often see NOD32 for $20 or less for a year of service. Newegg.com often has the three PC version of NOD32 for around $20 if you sign up for their newsletters.
Malwarebytes’ Anti-Malware [Windows] – Free and Paid Versions
This program can detect and remove malware that even the most well known anti-virus and anti-malware applications fail to detect. Malwarebytes’ Anti-Malware monitors every process and stops malicious processes before they even start. The free version does not actively prevent malware from installing, but it is great at detecting and removing it when you run a manual scan. Update and run it often.
If you are not too tech savvy, I recommend buying the paid version to prevent the installation of malware. http://www.filehippo.com/download_malwarebytes_anti_malware/
Sandboxie [Windows] – Paid
Sandboxie runs web pages or programs in an isolated space (called a sandbox) which prevents them from making permanent changes to your system or allowing viruses to infect your system. This means you can download and install a virus and have it not make any changes to your system. You simply empty the contents from Sandboxie and the virus is gone. http://www.sandboxie.com/
Want to write zeros to your entire drive, whether flash memory or a hard disk drive? This program does exactly that. It is great for sterilizing a drive for disposal, donation, forensics, etc. The free version is limited to writing at 50 MB/s, but the paid version does limit the writing speed and only costs a mere $3.30. http://hddguru.com/software/HDD-LLF-Low-Level-Format-Tool/
Acronis True Image [Windows, Mac] – Paid
This program is not free, but worth the money. The retail price is $50, but Newegg often has it at a lower price if you subscribe to their newsletter. I use this program on most of my computers, except my Mac – I use the included and free Time Machine.
True Image allows you to make backups on a regular schedule. The types of backups are also versatile. I prefer what is called incremental, which first makes a full backup and then only what has changed. It allows me to choose a restore point according to my backup schedule, all while using less hard drive space for backup storage. True Image may also create a rescue partition that allows you to restore your computer at boot by pressing F11. This is great if Windows will not complete booting. If the computer will not even spin-up the hard drive due to total failure, you may install a new hard drive and restore the backup by using the True Image boot disc.
True Image is a little bit for the tech savvy, so you may need some help if not familiar with backup software. You will also need a secondary hard drive for the backup destination. You could use a partition on the same hard drive, but I do not recommend this because of the possibility of hard drive failure. If the drive that is backed up dies and the backup is on that drive, the backup goes with it… Just add a second drive or get an external drive – they are cheap these days. http://www.acronis.com/en-us/personal/pc-backup/
CCleaner [Windows, Mac] – Free & Paid Versions
A system optimization, privacy and cleaning tool. It removes unused files from your system – allowing Windows to run faster and freeing up valuable hard disk space. It also cleans traces of your online activities such as your Internet history. Additionally it contains a fully featured registry cleaner. See my tutorial on how to use CCleaner. http://www.filehippo.com/download_ccleaner/
Ubuntu [Linux] – Free
One of the finest and most progressive Linux operating systems that can run from a CD-ROM, be installed alongside Windows on the hard drive, installed within Windows like a program, or just be installed to the hard drive as the sole operating system. There are versions for desktop computers (32 & 64-bit) and servers (64-bit only). I recommend Ubuntu for seriously security conscious people. You can browse the internet, email, pay bills, etc., without worrying about viruses and spyware. It is also easy to update Ubuntu – and that is about all the maintenance you will ever need to do. http://www.ubuntu.com/
7-Zip [Windows] – Free
A file compression/decompression tool with a high compression ratio when using its native format (7z). I rarely use the 7-Zip compression and stick with zip for interoperability with other people. This program will also decompress (unzip) most any other format, which is very handy. http://www.7-zip.org/
VirtualBox [Windows, Mac, Linux, Solaris] – Free
A general-purpose full virtualizer for x86 hardware. Targeted at server, desktop and embedded use, it is now the only professional-quality virtualization solution that is also open source software. I previously used VMware player until I came across this program. http://www.virtualbox.org/wiki/Downloads
SyncToy [Windows] – Free
An easy to use program that helps users to do the heavy lifting involved with the copying, moving, and synchronization of different directories. Most common operations can be performed with just a few clicks of the mouse, and additional customization is available without additional complexity. I use this program for basic backup tasks. http://www.microsoft.com/en-us/download/details.aspx?id=15155