I rarely buy software as a "pig in a poke". I often avoid buying it at all! (No, I don't setal it or get reviewer's copies!)
Please note: The material on this page may be somewhat dated, at 2/18.
Lots of good software is available free, or as shareware: software that you get to try before you buy.
However, sometimes you do have to go the painful route. If I bought nothing else, I would buy good anti-malware protection. (Anti-malware: Anti-virus+ Firewall+ other. Try not to think about rootkits, another form of malware. They are worse than root canals.) In a "devil I know" sort of way, I like Norton more than the others I've tried... not that I'd give Symantec an "A". Do for instance look around for a best price, even within one store. I once saw an upgrade being sold for more than a "new purchase"... on the same shelf in a major chain. The manager agreed with my interpretation. Also be very wary of the "automatic" renewal "services" of, at Jan 2010, at least McAfee and Norton. You may find yourself charged far more than you would pay if you uninstalled your current anti-virus, and installed a "new" copy, from a CD bought in a store. Sigh.
Also, the effectiveness of Norton (and McAffee, another well known brand) were disparaged in a major magazine's reviews, early in 2007. McAffee was again disparaged in late 2010. But it is fairly "idiot friendly". It will always be the case that "the leaders" come and go. Don't let that tempt you to shirk having some anti-malware software in place, even if yours is getting bad reviews at the moment! (In the 2007 review, Steganos looked good, but I haven't tried it myself. (I don't like McAffee... too many hassles in the past.) When you buy anti-virus software, remember you are not only getting the product, but also the services of their scientists for the coming year, identifying new threats and suitable responses. Maybe the price seems more reasonable? There is a free anti-virus product that got good reviews in 2007. The free AVG has received good, or at least "not bad" reviews, too... for many years. (This updated in January 2011).
Especially if you have a broadband connection, a good firewall is also important. Yes, I know: XP comes with one... but I'd like further protection. If the hardware with which you connect to your broadband service has a hardware firewall that is good. Simple USB modems often don't; boxes combining routers with modems often do. It has to be turned on.Alternatively, or additionally, you can buy software combining anti-virus protection and a firewall.
Another option is Outpost, a free firewall from Agnitum. I used it for a while and liked the user experience much more than I like Norton's retail product. I'm afraid I cannot knowledgeably comment on how good the security of either is, though. I like the fact that I can easily see and adjust what Outpost is doing. I could find no mention in the Norton User Guide of how to access its rules. You can get to them... but I haven't found an easy way. But then I was teased through a trap door into a "pay for it" version... I didn't go through it on purpose. That cooled my enthusiasm for Agnitum.
I've used Norton's Anti-virus for years, and, on balance, prefer it to others I've seen. I've also used their firewall... first impressions were not good, but I've grown used to it. And remember the strength of the protection is important, and I'm not in a position to judge that. I would hope that a product from someone like Symantec would be strong. However, in addition to the problems noted elsewhere, I encountered the following with Norton's firewall: When I FTPed some pages to the server hosting my website, the html was corrupted with unwelcome, unannounced additions! I looked in the Symantec knowledge base for one of the added tags (SymRealOnLoad) and found nothing. (I took Sym as "Symbol"... pity I didn't realize it was from "Symantec"... and that Symantec weren't telling. I wasted a lot of time before establishing that it was the firewall doing this to me.) (By the way, if you get something like "Error LM1812" when doing LiveUpdate, be sure to search the Symantec knowledge base for "LM1812", not "lm1812". I was surprised by this need for case specific queries.)
Geotagging: You can now "write" where a digital picture was taken "into" the digital file that you may have thought was just the picture. Automatically- no human typing of latitude and longitude necessary. Details at my page on geotagging photographs.
While shareware or freeware alternatives exist, I have used Serif's PhotoPlus photo manipulation software happily for years. Sadly, in early 2010, I found that my PhotoPlus would no longer start, and the tech support people at Serif seem to be operating under new rules. They used to be excellent, but when I wrote to them for this, they replied that they will not help you with a "old" version. (I was on X2. I think X3 had been released fairly recently.) I spend many, many hours on the problem and never solved it. In the end, I downgraded to an older version of PhotoPlus. Serif also offer DTP and drawing packages which have received good reviews over the years and are reasonably priced.... I just have no need, personally, for what they offer. I do my "DTP" with OpenOffice, and I don't often do drawings. What drawing I do can be accomplished within PhotoPlus or Open Office's drawing package.
Click here to download free stuff from Serif. (Not trivial downloads)
Photograph editing: I haven't used it myself, but having mentioned some alternatives, I should mention that Adobe sell something called Photoshop Elements which is highly regarded. It may be a "cut down" version of their flagship Photoshop, but with the full program costing hundreds of dollars, you can imagine, I hope, that they can still give you a lot in the "Elements" version, at a better price.
I like Delphi for programming. It was originally created by Borland, which became Inprise, which, I think became Borland again, and then the name changed again. For some time, the company controlling the product has not been "friendly" towards "the little guy," I rely on an old version on a CD which pre-dates the era when software can only be installed by a visit to a currently willing corporation. (My own software is "key" controlled. If you have the key, you can install it. Whether you can still contact me or not.
I used Symantec's WinFax for many years of faxing needs, but I now just send digital photographs of documents as email attachements when the need arises. (There's more on faxing here.)
I used Microsoft's AutoRoute for planning journeys in the UK before Google Maps came along and solved my needs there so well, so much better. What an amazing company! Autoroute had postcode location lookup, and I used the GPS integration the product offers. I have also used and liked Route Master, but when the British postal authorities changed some of the postcodes, I couldn't find a new copy of Route Master via eBay.
The annual bill is not for the faint hearted, but if you invest in the US stock market, making your own stock selections, Valueline provides an excellent monthly CD with 1700 company's details available to you via pdf's of traditional ValueLine pages and a database you can search. I believe that they also have a mutual funds product.
I use Nero for CD burning. You won't often have to buy it if you buy a CD drive with Nero bundled... a good enough reason to buy "Brand A" over "Brand B" if the only difference is what software is supplied. As always, the product has been expanded and expanded, and some versions now cover DVD burning. I believe there are also sundry "bells and whistles" creeping in, for instance CD label printing. Speaking of CD burning: I don't know if it is Dell, Microsoft, or Nero I should be annoyed with, but a client had no end of problems (about 6/04) with a new laptop with a CD/ DVD writer. Every time we called Dell's tech support, we got a different, frequently bad, answer. Finding the right upgrade on a site... Nero's, I think it was... was tricky. Error messages were misleading. In the end, we DIDN'T pay to buy a fancier piece of software, and we did download a patch for the bundled software, and after that, CD burning seemed to go okay. Was it the patch? I think so... but wouldn't swear to it.
Pinnacle also sell a CD/ DVD burning product which I've seen get good reviews. I've made limited use of their Studio Quick Start to capture / edit / burn material from my old VHS tapes (you could also "feed" it from a camcorder), and initial impressions are good. I eventually turned to MoviePlus from Serif for my video editing... but I didn't get very far in that world, with either product.
For many years, and for many important legacy jobs still, I use Paradox for database work and Quattro for spreadsheets. For some time now, since well before May 07, I have been using, with no regrets, OpenOffice for all new (and some converted old) word processing, spreadsheet and database work. The database manager supplied with OpenOffice since version 2 is a completely different beast from Adabas, which had a connection with OO version 1. (I've done some tutorials on ooBase, if you want to know more.) Paradox and Quattro come with WordPerfect Office, and, in the versions I've seen, you can install just these. PAradox and Quattro foten.. but not always... came with (come with?) Corel's WordPerfect. (You don't have to install more than the Paradox, unless you want to.) Not all versions of WordPerfect come with Paradox. You could buy well at eBay once upon a time. At January 2011, I'm still using Paradox.... version 9?... with XP. (Version 2000 professional, WP9, Paradox 9, Dragon Naturally Speaking 4, for 95-XP, including NT on eBay at 3/06 was available as a "Buy It Now" for $35 including shipping.(Price update, 5/07 without "shopping around", I quickly found the same product for $40, including shipping, again on eBay as a "Buy it now")). Even if you only use the database part, you've had a great bargain. I tried to check the price of a used copy of Access and gave up.
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