The Best Software Programs & Applications
Posted: 30apr2001 | Updated: 23jan2004
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The right tools are required to exploit the benefits of the digital age.
This guide will help you select the right tools (software programs) to carry out your digital exploits.

The right tool is rarely the biggest, or most expensive.
If you want to go fishing, you don't need an aircraft carrier; a rowboat will do fine.
Likewise, selecting the right software program depends on what you want to do.

Selection criteria is posted [here].
Either [Windows 2000 Pro] or [Windows XP Pro] is the best operating system.
They both offer great compatibility, a user-friendly interface, and are refreshingly stable.





CD Audio Ripper

  • Exact Audio Copy. If quality (not speed) is your #1 ripping concern, look no further. EAC features a *secure* mode that guarantees flawless rips (at the expense of increased rip time).

    If your CD-ROM drive doesn't support C2 error correction, EAC will rip everything twice, and compare the two extractions, to ensure that your audio files are ripped perfectly. (My Plextor CD-ROM supports C2 error correction.)

    SatCP (Sid) at The Coaster Factory has posted a comprehensive EAC Tutorial that will explain it's features and help you configure the program. Or check out Chris Myden's EAC guide. See the Radified Guide to Ripping CD Audio & MP3 Encoding for additional info.

    EAC allows you to configure a variety of encoders (not just MP3) to launch automatically, after a song is done ripping. It may appear as if ripping & encoding are accomplished together, but actually, it's done in two separate steps.

    EAC will also burn standard audio CDs from MP3 (source) files, featuring the excellent MPG123 decoder library. Props to Andre Wiethoff for coding such a rad (freeware) program. You'll find none better.

    I also heard great things about PlexTools (includes ripping software) used with a Plextor drive. But my Plextor drive is too old to support PlexTools. I noticed that the download for PlexTools isn't available from their American site. 'Sup with that?

    Okay: Plextor Support says this software is only shipped with European drives. If you live here in the States, you'll have to get an original copy from one of your friends in Europe. Only updates are posted on the website. You can download a manual here.

    Feurio also makes a great ripper. It can be faster than EAC at extracting data from badly-scratched CDs. Feurio is the best program for burning audio CDs. It has many features which make it more complicated to configure than other programs, but it's worth learning. Shareware, nagware.

    I recently heard rumors that the current version of Feurio is now able to copy CDs that employ the latest copy-protection schemes. Have not verified this.

    CDex is also a good ripper, and easier to configure than the two programs previously mentioned. Some people claim that CDex offers a secure rip mode, similar to EAC's, but I haven't confirmed this. It's also freeware.

    If you want/need a ripper that's stupid-easy, quick & free, check out CD DAE. I must admit that I like the way it generates a color-coded wave file.

    I should also mention Audiograbber, which is one of the better, and probably the most popular, shareware ripper (US$20).

MP3 Encoder

  • LAME - an acronym for LAME Ain't an MP3 Encoder. (Don't you believe it.) SatCP at the Coaster Factory and Chris Myden have the best LAME tutorial. LAME (compiled) binaries are posted here (at Dmitry's). See the Radified Guide to Ripping CD Audio & MP3 Encoding for additional info.

    LAME can be used as either a stand-alone encoder (e.g. with RazorLame), or as a plug-in with EAC, or one of the other rippers, such as CDex.

    Dibrom's alt presets at his Project Mayhem site are on the bleeding edge of high-quality MP3 encoding (with LAME). You will find no better guidance. These presets use short code words, such as:
    --alt-preset standard to represent more elaborate encoding schemes (called arguments or switches). You can copy-n-paste Dibrom's presets right into LAME.

    If you need something more user-friendly, and don't mind paying for it ($35), Audioactive makes a nice product based on the Fraunhofer codec (not LAME). Audioactive also offers a feature-rich Pro version (~$150).

    After many listening tests, the MP3 encoding gurus have concluded that Xing makes the absolute worst MP3 encoder. The Xing encoder comes with products such as AudioCatalyst, which is very popular. I used to use AudioCatalyst myself .. before I saw (uh, heard) the light of LAME.

MP3 Player

  • Winamp is the definitely way to go. They've been playing MP3s longer than anyone else, and offer frequent updates. Developed by Justin Frankel (Nullsoft), later acquired by AOL/TimeWarner. In other words, a financial powerhouse is behind Winamp, which means it's not going away anytime soon.

    Winamp offers an overwhelming selection of plug-ins and skins. I prefer the no-frills Ampesizer Blue-Gray skin, which you can download here (put it in your /Winamp/Skins folder).

    I've tried all other MP3 players, such as Sonique, which offers cool visualizations, but always come back to Winamp. Sonique, which is the second most-popular MP3 player, had problems crashing on me. Perhaps recent versions are more stable.

    MP3 players fight over the right to play your MP3s. This can generate quirky conflicts. So it's best not to install more players than you actually need (one).

MP3 Manager

  • Media Jukebox features powerful data-basing functions. Click a single button, and it will search your drives and find and catalog all your MP3s. The more MP3s you have, the better you'll like it. Actually, Media Jukebox will catalog *all* your media files (including .wav, .mpeg, .ape, etc.), not just MP3s.

    MJ works best when your MP3s contain ID3 tags. Freeware, but offers premium features, such as the ability to burn at full speed, for $25.

    Another (freeware) favorite is Jurgen's MPEG Audio Collection (MAC), which sports a clean interface.

    Some prefer Music Library, but I can't see paying US$25 for an MP3 manager, when MJ and MAC are free. Likewise, Helium2 claims to be The ultimate MP3 management system. Tall words. Nice interface, but $35 is a lot of money for an MP3 cataloger.

CD Burning

  • Nero offers the best combination of features with ease-of-use. It will also burn VideoCDs (MPEG-1), and Super VCDs (MPEG-2).

    There's not much Nero can't do. It's the Swiss Army Knife of burning applications. If you were stranded on a deserted island, and could only have one burning program, Nero would be it. =) German company (Ahead). Good support.

    When it comes to burning, software is more important than hardware. I read the entire Nero Help file. It was a worthwhile and educational experience into how burning works.

    There is a known driver conflict between Nero and Adaptec's (now Roxio?) burning software. Over a year ago, I wrote to each company's support groups. They both acknowledge the issue. Their solution was simply avoid installing the other's product (duh).

    Since Nero's burning is more powerful than Adaptec's I have never even installed Adaptec's. I hear it is good for beginners. There are ways to circumvent the driver-conflict, but they aren't worth the trouble (for me). If you prefer Adaptec's software, don't install Nero (and vice versa).

    A close second (and some say better than Nero) is Jeff Arnold's CDRWin (goldenhawk). These two programs (Nero & CDRWin) are head-and-shoulders above the rest. I find CDRWin to be a little less user-friendly than Nero, but every bit as powerful (maybe more so).

    CDRWin is used by tech-savvy people, who know what they're doing. CDRWin is the best program for creating & burning .bin/.cue files. Some people think that Jeff Arnold invented the cue sheet (which you can view/edit with any text editor, such as Notepad). Nero will also burn bin/cue files.

    You can get a student discount for CDRWin, but not for Nero. CDRWin also offers excellent support. Most burning gurus use both these programs, each for different things.

    For example, I use CDRWin to create ISO image files (click the button labeled File Backup and Tools, the one with the picture of the wrench).

    Fireburner offers a lean burning program. Easy to use, but without the manifold features of either Nero or CDRWin. It's a good program to use when you're in a hurry, and don't need the robust features of Nero or CDRWin. For example, I use Fireburner to burn (drag-n-drop) ISOs. Nero is a little more complicated for this. Fireburner tutorial posted here.

    Feurio is the best program for burning audio CDs. It offers many features which can seem complicated to the newbie, but worth learning. A User manual (PDF) is posted here.

    Actually CD Architect (by Sonic Foundry) is the best audio mastering software, but SF discontinued it. I heard they weren't making money on it, which is surprising, cuz it retailed for a whopping $395.

    It's one of the finest pieces of software I've ever used, and offers ultimate control for creating CDs of perfectly cross-faded songs .. just like DJ's make. You can actually *see* the beats (waveform), and lay one on top of the other. Perfect for making that party-mix CD.

    If you can find an old copy somewhere, you can still use CD Architect as a Sound Forge plug-in. Simply output a wave file, and burn the wave file with your favorite burning software. CD Architect forums here (that's all that's left of a great program).

    Update 20oct2002 - Great news! Sound Forge is re-releasing CD Architect. See here.

    The quality of CD-R discs can affect burning quality. I heard that Taiyo Yuden made the best CD-Rs. Notice where it says here (under Taiyo Yuden) that it is "One of the best CDR Media on the market."

CD Copy

  • CloneCD rules at copying CDs that employ sophisticated copy-protection schemes. Copying is different from regular burning. As copy-protection schemes continually get more sophisticated, copy programs must adapt (which they do).

    Before buying this program, make sure that CloneCD supports both your burner & reader. You are legally allowed to make a back-up copy of your CDs (and you should). The Clone CD forums can help if your run into a problem. Psycho posted a Quick Reference settings guide here.

    If you're unable to copy a CD on-the-fly, you can usually succeed by first copying the contents of your CD to your hard drive (which involves a small, added inconvenience).

    Another powerful Copy program is BlindRead / BlindWrite. Actually this a suite, comprising two programs, which work together as a team. They support some burners that CloneCD doesn't.

    But they don't excel at copying on-the-fly, like CloneCD does. Rather, BlindRead is designed to dump the contents of your CD to your hard drive. BlindWrite then burns the CD from the 'image' stored on your hard drive. The suite does its job well, cuz it's designed specifically for this purpose.

    If Clone CD or the BlindRead / Write suite can't copy your CD, you'll have to find a crack, which is even more inconvenient than having to copy the contents of your CD to your hard drive first.

    I like the BlindRead / Write suite a lot. It's never failed to copy a CD for me .. even those employing the most sophisticated copy-protection schemes (knock on silicon). WebGhost posted a BlindRead tutorial here; BlindWrite tutorial here.

Trojan Horse Scanners

TDS. See here.



Web Development

  • Dreamweaver by Macromedia (what I'm using right now) is a solid favorite. Rarely does the community agree so completely on anything. 12 quick tips posted here. Dreamweaver FAQ site here.

    Macromedia also makes an industrial-strength version of Dreamweaver called UltraDev, which features support for dynamic scripting languages, such as ASP (Active Server Pages), JSP (Java Server Pages) and CFML (ColdFusion Markup Language).

    Some Mac users prefer Adobe's GoLive, probably cuz it was originally developed as a Mac-only product .. before Adobe bought it & ported it to Windows.

    The big boys seem to prefer ColdFusion, which was originally developed by Allaire .. before they merged with Macromedia. Although you can code ColdFusion with UltraDev, it's best to use ColdFusion Studio. Unlike most other products, ColdFusion was developed from the ground up as a web language.

    Macromedia now combines both UltraDev & ColdFusion Studio into a single package. If you need ColdFusion, you know more about web development than I do. A ColdFusion User's group is here.

    Web dev gurus frown upon FrontPage, cuz it rewrites and mucks up your code. I heard one guru refer to it as the Spawn of Satan. Yet it's probably the easiest HTML generator to learn, and fine to use for small-scale stuff.

    Old-school types still prefer hand-coding, using an HTML/text editor, such as Notepad, EditPlus, or HomeSite. Some claim that the Dreamweaver / HomeSite combo is the ultimate web-dev package.

    Hand-coding gives you the greatest control, but involves a steeper learning curve. An understanding of HTML tags is helpful for small-scale work, but increases in importance as your projects grow larger.

    Dreamweaver offers a split-window option called Show Code and Design Views, which allows you to see the code being generated (in upper window) as you design your web pages (in lower window). This can help you learn HTML.

    Design principles
    are also important. Often overlooked, they can make a big difference.

Text/HTML Editor

  • EditPlus - Notepad on steroids. EditPlus sports a clean, well-designed interface, with many custom User files available for download for various programming languages. Sometimes referred to as a Syntax editor. Colored syntax highlighting makes debugging much easier. Edit+ User's Group here (Yahoo, registration req'd to post questions).

    HomeSite is the granddaddy of HTML/text editors. Originally developed by Allaire (same people who developed ColdFusion). Allaire has since merged with Macromedia, who have taken over HomeSite.

    HomeSite could easily be called the best HTML/text editor, cuz it offers more features than competing programs. But it's significantly more expensive, and some people characterize it's features as nothing more than bloatware.

    There are several other favorites in this category, depending on personal preference .. such as TextPad. If you're a Christian, you might want to support Dave's UltraEdit, which has made believers out of many. After HomeSite, it is probably, the most highly regarded of the bunch.

    is freeware. Did I mention NoteTab yet? Notetab also offers a FREE lite version. If you prefer a minimalist approach, MetaPad might be right for you.

    I don't know any serious web dev people who use Notepad (not that they aren't out there). Of course, for certain non-HTML related work, there is no finer program. Some people (not me) can work miracles with it.

FTP Client

  • CuteFTP. You can download a demo at Download.com. CuteFTP is the original graphical/GUI FTP client. Heidi at WebMonkey discusses it here. CuteFTP also offers a Pro version ($60) for the security-minded FTP'er. CuteFTP tutorial posted here.

    There are many capable FTP clients to choose from. It's a matter of personal preference.

    SmartFTP is the best freeware FTP client. It offers a full plate of features .. unlike WS-FTP LE, which is a stripped-down (freeware) version of WS-FTP Pro ($40). WS-FTP home page is here.

    I suggest you try SmartFTP before paying for a shareware version. I like it a lot. In fact, I'm going to upload this web page with SmartFTP after I finish updating it.

    FTP is an old protocol. SmartFTP has a modern Windows Explorer GUI. It's very different from other FTP clients that I've tried. Some people feel that it's the best FTP client, bar none. I haven't used it enough to say that. The SmartFTP support forums are here.

    Bulletproof FTP ($30) has many fans and a cool name. AbsoluteFTP is another favorite ($30). I've never tried FTPVoyager ($40), but have heard good things about it.

    The interface design is of secondary importance (merely personal preference). What matters most is: does the client reliably transfer files?

FTP Server

  • FTP Serv-U offers the best balance of features and ease-of-use ($40). I didn't even have to read the manual. The only problem I had was failing to add Directory Access Rules. After I did that, it worked like a charm. Serv-U offers three different versions, one of which (the Personal version) is FREE. If you're like me, this free version is likely to work just fine for you. Thier Standard versionn costs US$40, Standard Secure $70, and Professional $250. Upgrade protection costs extra.

    WarFTP is not only powerful, but freeware. The downside is that it's more complicated (most powerful software is complicated) to configure than other FTP servers .. but it's not too bad. It will help you install & configure WarFTP. I use a combination of both FTP Serv_U and War, just in case someone has a problem with one of them. Here is a tutorial for War.

    Some of my friends swear by LeapFTP ($30). Bulletproof FTP Server (formerly Gene6) is also a solid favorite ($30).

    Windows 2000 comes with its own FTP server, when you install Internet Information Services (IIS), which is not installed by default. You install IIS by: Start > Settings > Control Panel > Add/Remove Programs > Add/Remove Windows Components (button on left) > put check mark in the box labeled Internet Information Services (IIS) Have your Windows 2000 CD ready.

    People can access your new IIS FTP server by entering:
    ftp://your_ip_address/ in their browser, or (better) by using an FTP client, such as CuteFTP. More configuration info is posted here. People tend to have bad things to say about IIS, especially regarding security. I still feel that it's fine for one-on-one stuff.

    I like the way that IIS allows you to easily configure virtual FTP directories. Say you have 25 different directories containing MP3s, and you want to give your friends access to all these directories with a single log-in. IIS allows you to configure this the easiest.

    IIS also lets you run a web server & a mail server, which is pretty cool. But if you need to run a web server from your Linux machine, it's best to use Apache for Windows (free). I had a conflict with my ZoneAlarm firewall that you should be aware of. More info on FTP servers is posted here.

File Archiving

  • WinRAR is the best. $35, nagware when you launch the program. WebGhost posted a well-organized WinRAR tutorial here. WinRAR is best for breaking up large files into smaller, bite-sized pieces .. altho the latest version of WinZip (v8.1) has made strides in this direction.

    Altho you can use WinRAR as your sole archiving program, most people use it in conjunction with WinZip, which is by far the most popular Windows archiver. In fact, I don't know a single person who doesn't own a copy of WinZip. But WinRAR can do many things that WinZip can't.

    A less-naggy program (only when you create archives) is StuffIt, which is probably the easiest archiver use. Clean, intuitive interface. Great support.

    WinACE is a favorite of many. I don't run across as many .ace files as I do .rar files, but WinACE is certainly a capable archiver.

    Powerarchiver is freeware. I prefer to see if a freeware version will meet my needs before opting for shareware. Give it a whirl, to see if it meets your archiving needs.

    Oops, with v7.0 PowerArchiver became shareware ($20). Dang. You can download the last freeware version (v6.11) of here (German FTP, 2.04MB). I heard some people complaining that PowerArchiver screwed up their context menu. Not for me.

    M any good freeware archiving programs are available. You can find most of them posted here. Of these, I have only tried UltimateZip. More people seem to prefer ICEows. IZArc is also very popular.

Web Search Engine

  • Google has an uncluttered interface. No annoying advertising banners. I like Google so much that I put it on my home page.

    Most importantly, Google yields the most relevant results to your search queries. In other words, you have the greatest chance of finding the information you seek when you search with Google. And that's what a search engine is all about.

    Thinkers have referred to the Internet as the greatest invention of our age. There is virtually no subject for which you cannot find detailed information - instantly. Search engines are the tools that enable you to tap into a vast database of information .. on a scale never before assembled in the history of mankind. The ability to search shouldn't be taken lightly.

    At one time, Yahoo was the overwhelming favorite. But times have changed. Yahoo has a staff of ~300 people who review and hand-enter only the best sites into their search engine. But it's becoming impossible to keep up with the web's geometric growth.

    I heard rumors that Yahoo is going to begin selling (out) search results. In other words, your searches will first yield links to the highest bidders (businesses, trying to sell you something you probably don't want). You'll have to dig deeper to find the information you seek.

    I have recently begun seeing pop-ups for gambling casinos at Yahoo. That's stooping pretty low. It's sad to see what was once the world's greatest search engine relegated to serving pop-ups for casinos.

    I recommended the Google Toolbar, which allows you to search from your browser. It offers advanced features that you can't get any other way. You can learn a lot about how search engines work at these forums here.

    Copernic is a program that searches using multiple search engines in concert. Copernic offers a freeware program, and two professional shareware versions, with powerful search features.

    I heard that the search engines of the future will scan your bookmarks (favorites directory) and rank pages based on aggregates of sites/pages found there. The theory behind this approach is that people only bookmark pages they feel are valuable. This is why I've included a bookmark button in my most popular guides.

    No discussion of search engines would be complete without mentioning Fravia's search tips, where the master shows you how to put the search mojo to work. [When you have time, click a few links at Fravia's. You can spend a week there and still not glean all that his site has to offer.]






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