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These apps will help you work with files of all types - as well as back them up and keep them secure.
For all the talk of cloud computing and tablets and smartphones, the majority of tech workers still use a PC desktop or laptop. On that front, here are 10 tried-and-tested desktop apps that soup up your Windows PC experience — whether you need help with audio, images, video, security, productivity or even backup.
Windows has worked natively with ZIP archives and ISO volumes for some time now, but there are many other commonly used formats that requires unpacking. The open source 7-Zip integrates with the Windows Shell to work with a variety of formats, including TAR, GZIP and 7z — a trait that developers and system administrators who work with Linux would especially like. 7-Zip can also unpack a variety of other formats, including ARJ, CAB, DMG, MSI, RAR and VHD. Power users will appreciate the strong AES-256 encryption in 7z and ZIP formats, as well as the self-extracting capability for 7z format.
Acronis True Image
Cloud storage offerings abound, but they typically focus on protecting a single location on the storage drive, with no bare metal restore capability. For its part, Acronis True Image is full-featured data backup software that can make a full disk image of an entire system, including documents, configuration data and installed applications. It supports a variety of storage targets, including removable hard drive, optical media drive, USB storage, NAS appliances or even the company's own cloud storage solution. To save time and storage space, the app supports both incremental and differential backups after the first full-system backup.
The free Audacity audio editor touts itself as easy-to-use for recording, editing and manipulating audio on the desktop. Sound tracks can be spliced or mixed together, and Audacity is able to import and export in formats such as WAV, AIFF, AU, FLAC and Ogg Vorbis. If you are looking for less advanced capabilities, you will find a host of handy features, such as timer record and sound-activated recording features, as well as the capability to change the speed or pitch of a recording.
Need a quick and simple tool to convert video into just about any modern codec? Check out HandBrake. The software can process most common multimedia files (including DVD or BluRay sources) and output them into formats and display sizes suited for your favorite smartphone or tablet. Built-in device presets let beginners get started quickly, while advanced options offer ample opportunity to further improve video or sound quality.
IrfanView is a snappy image viewer that loads just about every image format imaginable, and it weighs in at less than 10MB of storage space with all its plugins installed. A fast directory viewing mode and thumbnail options let users quickly scan through large number of images. Professionals will appreciate batch conversion (with processing and renaming) and watermark to features, while a paint option allows for basic edits and the application of various filters and effects.
Nitro Reader 3
Nitro Reader 3 is a PDF reader that offers functionality not found in most other PDF readers. The reader opens PDF files quickly and supports basic editing features such as leaving comments and typing directly into a PDF document. A QuickSign feature offers the capability to electronically sign PDF files, while the bundled Nitro PDF Creator virtual print driver lets you print PDF files from practically any Windows application. Various aspects of the resultant PDF files can be customized as well, including colors, font-embedding, page size, orientation and output quality.
Nuance Dragon NaturallySpeaking
Dragon NaturallySpeaking from Nuance, the premiere voice recognition software for Windows, makes it simple to dictate long messages without ever touching the keyboard. Voice recognition aside, Dragon NaturallySpeaking also facilitates the voice navigation of the Windows platform and the Internet Explorer, Firefox and Chrome browsers. Dragon NaturallySpeaking Home Edition costs $99.99 and comes with a headset microphone.
Tired of the built-in Notepad application that comes bundled with Windows? The free Notepad++ may be just what the doctor ordered. Originally envisioned as a powerful source code editor with features such as syntax highlighting, folding and auto-completion, the lightning speed of the lightweight text editor also lends itself as the perfect Notepad replacement. Notepad++ can detect modified files, supports line numbering and allows for zooming in and out on plain text files. Finally, the default tabbed multi-document interface makes managing multiple text files a trivial task.
The open-source TrueCrypt disk encryption software can create encrypted files that are mounted as virtual disk drives. Encryption is automatic and occurs transparently in real-time, while parallelization allows for the delivery of read and write throughput that you'd expect from an unencrypted drive. For the security-minded, TrueCrypt offers a robust alternative to be used on top of BitLocker. The encryption software works on all versions of Windows, though full-disk support for new Windows 8 computers will only be available in a future release. However, encrypted containers are reported to be working just fine.
VLC Media Player
The VLC media player, often referred to simply as VLC, claimed its fame due to its capability to play video files with no codec packs needed. Fast forward a number of years, and this is still the case. The media player is lean, fast and capable of playing literally every input format that you might encounter today, including various versions of DIVX, MPEG, MP4, WMV and Real Video. All told, the free VLC download weighs in at just 22MB.