June 29, 2009

998 words 5 mins read

Netbook Friendly Software

For those that haven’t been following along at home, we’ve been doing an entire series of netbook related posts. Today’s posting is about what software we enjoy using on our Netbooks, specifically Windows compatible software (after all we did just talk about installing Windows 7). Most of the software here is probably going to come across as “run of the mill” to tech-heads, but I’m also taking a small bit to explain WHY I think it is good to have on a Netbook.

  • Firefox — I’m a big fan of open source software, but more to the point I really loathe Internet Explorer and love my Firefoxy. On top of my love for it as a browser, Firefox has a lot of extensions and communicability. This is really important because you can make Firefox better fit the Netbook screen size. In other words, you can make the UI tiny and have as much space as possible for browsing (critical when you screen is only 5” tall). The next blog post in the series will be about Optimizing Firefox for Netbooks.
  • The Combined Community Codec Pack — CCCP is the best all around media playing package I know of. I’m a big fan of Media Player Classic, which they package as one of the two players in the CCCP. MPC has one feature that I find critical for Netbooks, the ability to boost the volume (In MPC — View > Options > Audio Switcher > Check “Normalize” and “Regain volume” then drag the “Boost” slider up as needed > Ok). I find that with some environments (say a car) and some video files — even with the volume all the way up (in Windows too) it just isn’t enough — this is where the Boost comes in. At the current version, if you use MPC on Windows 7 to watch anything with Subtitles, it wont work unless you follow this fix.
  • Skype — Since we use Skype at the office, it is a requirement for me to have it. That being said, Skype is useful for even the part time users, because of its excellent VoIP to POTS services. Translation: You can make damn cheap calls to and from anywhere in the world. If you make a lot of calls, Skype has many subscription plans. Even if you don’t, it is only $0.021 per minute to call the US, which is cheaper than most people pay for long distance inside the US. Now keep in mind if you are in San Francisco or Sydney, it makes no difference to Skype — as long as you can get on the internet. Also for those really long trips Skype has Video Chat, which works well since most Netbooks have webcams.
  • Tomboy — This is a note-taking application that was originally written in C# and uses Mono for Linux. Since Mono was originally written to replicate .NET on Linux, it is fairly easy to take Mono projects back to Windows, which is what they’ve done here. In order to install Tomboy you’ll need to install GTK# for .NET first. I used Tomboy originally when I was running Ubuntu and found it a decent, lightweight note taker. It doesn’t have a ton of features, but it doesn’t really need them. It has a spell checker, simple styling, and support for as many “notes” as you’d like. Another option is Notepad++ which is a far more powerful version than Windows’ own Notepad. Generally I’ve got both of these.

    • KeePass — Writing your passwords on post-it notes is pretty damn stupid — not even my mother does that (any more). KeePass is a very simple and lightweight password manager. If you’re storing ANY sort of passwords on your Netbook — make sure they’re in something like KeePass. Even if you’re Netbook gets separated from you — your passwords/banking information/etc are safe and encrypted.
    • Picasa — There is a large amount of image management software out there, personally I enjoy Picasa. It is extremely important to have something on your Netbook for image management. Why carry 20 memory cards for your digital camera, when you can carry just one and offload it to the Netbook?
    • Adobe Reader — PDF’s are EVERYWHERE. You’ll need a reader for them and while there are alternatives, they’ve all got their pro’s and cons. If you install Adobe Reader, just make sure to go in msconfig and disable the Adobe Updater and related launch items.
    • CDisplayEX — It’s a Comic reader based on the original CDisplay. If you read manga, comic books or similar — you’ll want a decent view. CDisplayEX gives you some very handy options like the ability to rotate pages so you can use more of your Netbook display (even if it requires holding the Netbook on it’s side, like a book). This is one of John’s favorites.
    • Sudoku Portable — Keep the Mother out of your hair, give her Sudoku. One resource to keep in mind through all of this is PortableApps.com. While they aren’t packaging apps for netbooks (actually they package them to run on USB drives sans install) specifically, having prepackaged applications can be handy in many cases. Generally they are fairly speedy and it saves you from needing to have a bunch of “crap” installed.

    There are hundreds of pieces of software that work “well” on Netbooks (or are just plain required — like Adobe), unfortunately I don’t have time to use them all. If you’ve got any other suggestions for good Netbook applications, I’m interested in hearing it. Especially in the way of music players/organizer. Right now I’m using Songbird which is lighter than iTunes (while still supporting iPods) but still not exactly the smallest crayon in my Netbook box. Suggestions for Twitter clients also very welcome, normally John and I both use TweetDeck (and we do love it), but it isn’t exactly a lightweight either (especially since it also needs Air); thus we are both on the lookout for an alternative option.