Free Software I Can’t Live Without*

There are five things I install as soon as I get a new computer: Google Chrome, F.lux, AutoHotKey, Microsoft Security Essentials, and TrueCrypt. The first two go on any computer, whether it’s a Windows PC, Mac, or Linux PC. I only use the other three for Windows.

These applications allow me to get up and running quickly so that I can be productive and secure on a new computer. And, best of all, they don’t cost anything.

Google Chrome

Chrome is the best browser you can get, as far as I am concerned. Internet Explorer has finally become “not that bad”—but not that good, either. Firefox is good, I guess, but I feel like it’s gotten too big and too slow over the years. Chrome is fast as hell with a good—and constantly improving—ecosystem of web apps built up around it. Google is even turning the browser into an OS.

It is secure, too. And each tab is its own process, which means one tab can crash without your whole browser going down. My favorite feature, though, is the ability to effortlessly sync bookmarks and apps between computers. Within moments of installing Chrome, I’m in a familiar environment with everything where I’m used to seeing it.


A while back, I stumbled across F.lux, an app that adjusts the “temperature” of your screen depending on the time of day (and, therefore the lighting you are probably experiencing). Since I started using it, I can’t stare at a “cold” screen anymore after the sun goes down.

If you have ever gotten bleary-eyed staring at your screen in the evening, give F.lux a try. It’s a lifesaver to anyone who clocks a lot of computer time after dark.


One thing I love about Macs (even though I don’t use them) is the extreme versatility of the keyboard. You can create em dashes (Shift+Option+-), section symbols (Option+6), and much more without doing anything special. On Windows, I rely on AutoHotKey to replicate the Mac keyboard shortcuts. Without it, I can’t write a thing without getting frustrated.

Plus, I have shortcuts set up for all the blogging code I need to use regularly. It saves me a ton of time putting together our top posts and attributing the images we use in our posts.

I don’t use a Mac enough to have needed a similar utility for OS X, but I know there are several options.

Microsoft Security Essentials

It took decades for Microsoft to finally release its own antivirus software for its notoriously vulnerable operating system. Which was unfortunate, because the cure was worse than the disease. Norton and McAfee were so awful I went without virus software for five years (and never caught a bug, thanks very much).

I guess Microsoft finally got tired of people complaining about bad anti-virus software, though, because a couple of years ago, it finally released Microsoft Security Essentials.

MSE is just what I was waiting for. It gives you the protection you need without constantly intruding (none of this: This file is safe! Just wanted to let you know!). And, unlike the above options, it won’t bog down your system.

Warning: TrueCrypt is not secure. See this post for details and information on migrating to Bitlocker or FileVault.


I’ve long argued that file encryption is a no-brainer. That’s because it is free and easy to do, and drastically increases your data security. TrueCrypt uses NSA-grade encryption to secure the contents of your hard drive, and setup takes about 5 minutes (although it may take a while longer for TrueCrypt to actually encrypt all your files—but you can check out and let it do it’s thing).

Here’s how to do it. Install TrueCrypt, then go to System > Encrypt System Partition/Drive&hellip and you’ll be good to go.

* Okay, I could totally live without these apps … as long as I didn’t have to use computers.



  1. Avatar Matt says:

    Wow. F.lux is incredible!. Just installed it at work and adjusted the setting to “fluorescent.” What a difference. Thanks for the information.

  2. Avatar John Swomley says:


    I’ve recently discovered this site having searched for hints ‘n tricks regarding ScanSnap S1500. (A comment on the post regarding this topic was indeed valuable!)

    Thought to return and investigate your site further and found this page. Perhaps– thinking along the lines of AutoHotKey (which I’ve used and give a thumbs up)– you and your readers might care to try HotKeyz. Personally, I couldn’t live without this FREE app! It allows me to create so many keyboard shortcuts (to include opsys apps) and the user interface is simple and easy.


    Be well!

  3. Avatar Sanjay Singh says:

    We have used and recommended various Anti-Virus programs in the past. Now to all small firms, we recommend Microsoft Security Essentials(MSE).

    It does as good a job (if not better) than most others… and it does not slow slow your computer down like some of the others.

    MSE is free for personal use or for business use in small companies (10 computers the last time I checked).

    It does check your copy of Windows so make sure you are not running a “borrowed” copy.


  4. Avatar Lisa Solomon says:

    Microsoft Security Essentials is horrible. When I got my current laptop a year ago, on the recommendation of a trusted IT professional, I went with MSE instead of installing Kaspersky (which I had used for a number of virus-free years on my previous computer).

    Six months later, my laptop was infected with a virus that was so bad that my local computer geeks (a shop that’s been in business for 15 yrs, not the Geek Squad) had to go into (or under?) the OS to remove it. I was without my computer for 4 days, and out a couple hundred dollars. The techs said that MSE started out as a good antivirus program, but its effectiveness has sharply declined; they recommended Avast (free) or Kaspersky.

    • Sam Glover Sam G. says:

      I’m not sure “I got a virus” necessarily equals “MSE is horrible.” Nothing is foolproof, and it’s quite possible you had bad timing or just bad luck.

      Or, it’s possible MSE is horrible. I’ve got my own anecdotal evidence to the contrary, but maybe I just have better luck. I haven’t had a virus in well over 10 years, 5 of which I didn’t use any anti-virus software (on Windows XP), but just checked a couple of times a year using Norton or McAfee, temporarily installed. The rest of the time, I’ve used MSE, and it’s been great, as far as I can tell. I haven’t gotten any viruses, anyway, and it doesn’t slow down my system. Those are my two criteria for good anti-virus software.

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