Came across an article about how the newer versions of software may not be better than previous versions, most of it caused by increasing feature sets and thus bloat. I am pretty particular about what goes on my PC as I need all the CPU power and RAM I can get for my weighty development tools. Rather than sticking to the “last good version”, I try to look for alternatives based on the following criteria:
- Free is good, open source is better.
- Small footprint, but not at the expense of usability.
Instant Messaging Programs
Miranda IM is the best IM client on Windows. It is very light weight (the new version 0.7 features a new memory management model which makes it more memory efficient compared to the previous versions) and is very extensible, as it supports plugins. It does take some effort to set up so it works exactly the way you want it to, but I do not see that as a bad thing.
I use two different applications for audio and video. QMP by Quinnware is my audio player of choice. It is currently in beta, but according to the creator Paul Quinn, it is very close to release now. The memory usage might be a little on the high side (compared to svelte players like foobar2000 and XMPlay)but in my opinion its usability trumps that.
I use Media Player Classic for video playback. It looks like the old Windows Media Player 6.4 but that’s the point. I do not need my video player to have some incredibly slick interface. Just make it simple and sensible, and then stay the hell out of the way when a video is playing. I usually install the Combined Community Codec Pack (still the best codec pack) which features MPC as one of the installation options.
Image and Video Software
No idea about video editing software unfortunately, not one of my interests. For image editing, Paint.NET is the tool for quick and simple jobs. I find it to be very light weight and very functional.
For image viewing and management, XnView seems the best I have tried. Very quick, and the interface is a clone of early ACDSee. Only minus is that it has no Unicode support, but I can live with that… usually.
I also have CDisplayEx installed. It is an open source clone of CDisplay which is sadly very outdated. These are really niche applications for viewing scanned comics, but are capable and very fast image viewers.
And Two More Previous Favorites
For PDF viewers, Foxit Reader is very, very fast. There’s a bit of feature creep in the latest version 2.2, but its still fast. No way am I going back to Adobe Reader without some major re-architecturing efforts on Adobe’s end.
As for email, I have used Mozilla Thunderbird for years now. It is not light weight by any stretch of the imagination but I cannot do without the extensions nowadays. Lightning needs to mature before I can consider recommending it for most of my clients though.
Stuff Missed Out
The PC World editors missed one application, the Nero suite. Versions 7 and 8 clock in at a ridiculously massive 170+ megs. I just want to burn some CDs and some DVDs… There are free alternatives: InfraRecorder (open source) and CDBurnerXP (free as in beer). Both of these are very easy to use and will be more than adequate for normal burning tasks.