Services and Add-ons

As a kind of miscellaneous category, I’ve lumped together several disparate apps or add-ons that have become regulars in my computer use.

I suppose because it was the first cloud file storage service I was aware of, Dropbox continues to be the one I use. I’ve tried One Drive and Google Docs a little, but like Dropbox better. Also, I do not really need more than one place. Someday I might choose to use one of those as a kind of backup, but so far, I have not seen the need for that.

As I mentioned in a previous post about my use of Twitter, I have kept my Facebook account purely for lurking. I never post anything, and long ago deleted what little I had done. I have my privacy settings at the highest level possible. Even so, I’m considering deleting the account completely, because I am so thoroughly disgusted with its failure to follow its own policies consistently, and its intentionally vague responses to avoid full transparency.

Pocket has become one of the most useful services for me. The quick and easy ability to save a site to read later is one of the handiest items created, in my opinion. (When I first began to use it, it was called Read It Later, which still is an excellent name for the purpose.) I learned toward the end of 2018, via a note from Pocket, that I was in the top 10% of users last year, which was a real surprise. And, I’m still a little leery about believing it, but I have used the service for more than just reading later. It has become a kind of archive of stories, sites, etc. grouped by topics I created by use of tags. I have no clue how many sites I’ve saved, but I find it a good way to go back to items I want to use again. Another great feature is it is available on all platforms, so when using the iPad or cellphone items can be saved quickly.

Several years ago, I found Google Reader a useful app and used it for my homepage. It has long since met its demise, but igHome was built by a developer who intentionally created it as knock-off of Google Reader. I have used it now for years as my home page on at least one of my computers.

My Yahoo also was a decent home page option when I was following sports more closely than I am now, but I have discontinued using it. I’ve tried a few other such as Start.me and more recently Protopage, but do not like them as well as igHome.

One add-on I have used for years is Web of Trust (WOT). Some browsers have discontinued it, but it still works fine in Firefox and Chrome. For a brief period of time a couple of years ago, it has some serious security issues, but they have been corrected. The little green/orange/red circle serves as one reminder of taking care not to visit dangerous sites online.

Other add-ons in Firefox: Privacy Badger, DuckDuckGo privacy Essentials, uBlock Origin, Facebook Political Ad Collector, Start Page private search engine, Save to Pocket

Other add-ons in Chrome: Privacy Badger, uBlock Origin, Save to Pocket

The most recent add-on I am now using with Firefox is Feedbro. It is one of the replacements for Firefox’s own feed reader that was just discontinued recently. I have come to really like Feedbro, and had I known about it sooner I would have used it instead of the built-in reader.

For the most part, I do not like to use add-ons, preferring to keep the browser lean, so these are the only ones I use now.

 

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Media Players

It is probably a little overkill to have a separate category for the two media player apps I use, but there are reasons for not just using one.

When Windows 10 first debuted, there was no media player with it. I honestly do not know when it finally was added again, but I needed a media player to play CD’s and ended up buying and using VLC Media Player. It has been very useful and I still use it for some podcast listening.

For most basic uses, I have Windows Media Player set as my default, and it works fine.

 

Communication Software

Discord has become the primary program I use for audio and video calls. Most often it is used audio only during gaming, but over the holidays the video was nice for connecting with family far away.

We used to use Facetime because we all had one or more Apple products, but I think Discord might be a bit better quality overall. We probably still will use Facetime at some point when it is most convenient, but because Discord runs on all platforms, we used it this time so we could use a larger screen.

I use Tweet Deck daily to see all of my Twitter accounts simultaneously. It has been very reliable and so I rarely use Twitter only on my pc’s. On my cellphone, occasionally I will use the Twitter app switching from one account to another as I read. I am almost exclusively a lurker on Twitter and use several accounts for easier management of the different topics of interest to me. However, the primary exception to my lurking is auto-Tweeting the posts of this Tech Muddler blog. That is one way to follow this blog without manually checking the website regularly. One can also follow via email or RSS feed.

Skype used to be the primary program for audio during gaming, but the interface changed so much with Windows 10, I became disenchanted with it. Also, my grandsons introduced me to Discord, which seems to provide better sound quality, so that is now what we use.

 

Utility Software

Sometimes specialized software is essential for accomplishing certain tasks. Currently I use some regularly and others sporadically.

Since I use backup drives (WD USB) on both my computers, I find the WD Smartware and Quick View apps to be useful for management of the backup process. It allows me to set the frequency of and times for executing the backups.

Because I use various Intel products, the Intel Driver and Support Assistant is helpful. In one check it analyzes all drivers and indicates which need to be updated.

Similar is the Razer Synapse that I use primarily to check for updates. It is much more than an update app allowing for many customized settings of the sophisticated gaming mouse, but I don’t use any of that in my gaming.

When I rented my own Minecraft servers, FileZilla was the go-to program for backing up, uploading or downloading files, etc. Since I no longer have servers, it very rarely gets use now, although I try to keep it updated to the latest version.

Finally, FoneTrans was at one time the only way I could move files, especially photos, from our iPads to the Windows-based computers. Now, the latest versions of Windows 10 have made it possible to do that without use of dedicated software. (I used FoneTrans because after having major problems with Apple iTunes, I vowed never to install or use it again.) It caused a full computer crash requiring a complete reboot of Windows 10 back when I had just upgraded from Windows 7 to 10.

I suspect there are many other utility programs that are useful to many, but currently these are what I use.

 

Photo Management

One of the major disappointments I’ve had with Google’s discontinued projects, is it’s failing to continue support for Picasa 3. I still find it the best, easiest to use program for my purposes, which is mostly to organize all my digital photos systematically by date in one place. As long is it continues to work, I will use it. I have even kept the installation .exe file to set it up on a new computer, which has been useful three times already this year.

There are two other apps that I need to use to get all photos in the same place. They are Google Photos (including Google Drive) and Verizon Cloud. Both are helpful in moving files from our cellphone and iPads to our main computer, where all can be organized by Picasa. At one time I did use One Drive also, but have discontinued using it completely because I prefer other online storage options.

When it comes to manipulating a picture, I use Microsoft Paint, but I use it so rarely that I will simply mention it here and not go into any detail.

For the most part, my working with photos, as one can see from the above notes, is pretty rudimentary. Nevertheless, I find these apps essential to my computer use.

Productivity Software

In the last post, I alluded to using Microsoft Office. For years, that has been the primary software suite for word processing, spreadsheets and databases, etc.

As a higher education administrator, Word, Excel, and Power Point were essential tools for my work. At home, I have no need for Power Point, but do use Access for management of various things, especially mailing address lists for easy production of mailing labels.

The only other Microsoft tool I use somewhat infrequently is Notepad. I have never used OneNote or other office tools, and probably never will now that I’m retired.

In the “office” grouping, I recently installed LibreOffice primarily to re-learn it so I can help my daughter, who is in early stages of developing her blog. She does not want to invest in Microsoft Office, so this was the best option. I also am looking ahead to the day when I abandon Office because I simply do not want to buy into Office 365.

Several years ago, I used OpenOffice quite a bit on my laptop because I did not want to buy a second copy of Office. It worked well for me than, so I anticipate Write and Calc (the equivalents for Word and Excel) will be quite adequate for our current purposes. One very nice feature is to save files in Word and Excel formats so they can be easily transferred to Office when necessary. The other components are less portable. Most disappointing is the Base Database being so different from Access, that whenever I give up on Office, I’ll have to rebuild the databases from scratch.

Even though browsers now have PDF reader capability, we use Adobe Reader DC on the desktop. Since I’m trying to not load the laptop with too much software, I use a browser for viewing PDFs.

One other very useful program for PDF is PDFsam 3. The “sam” stands for split, add, merge. The free version works fine for me, so I have resisted buying any pro versions. The times I use it most are when scanning lengthy documents printed on both sides of the paper. The merge function makes it easy to create a single PDF document out of two scans.

For many years, I have used Quicken to keep track of bank accounts and credit card purchases. The latest version I have used is 2015, but earlier this year they discontinued support for it and I can no longer download data from banks. My practice had been to upgrade only when my older version was no longer supported. This year, I’ve managed alright without it, but checking manually is more complicated and tedious, so I decided to breakdown and buy the Quicken 2019 license, knowing I will be investing in a new version now every year.

One final productivity program I have come to like and use daily, is Wunderlist. It is a to-do list app, I use in both PC and Android versions so works very well for keeping grocery lists that can be created or added to on any device. I then use my cellphone when shopping to check things off the list as I put them in the cart. Obviously, it can be used for all kinds of lists. One feature I like, is lists can be shared with other users, so my wife and I can work from the same shopping list. This is one of the rare exceptions of my use of the cloud technology. Privacy and security are not such a big deal for grocery lists. 😊

As I did with email, I’ll mention some of the older programs I’ve used in the past. One college I worked for used the Novell networking system and we all used Corel software – Word Perfect, Quattro Pro, Presentation.  I liked them all just fine, but had to change to Microsoft at the next college, so they have gone by the wayside.

Before that I was an Apple IIe user exclusively, so AppleWorks (later ClarisWorks) – word processor, spreadsheet, database was what I used at home. The earliest word processor I remember, but not likely the first one I used, was Word Juggler. I also was an early user of Visicalc. I remember the spreadsheet program Lotus 1-2-3, but do not recall ever using it. As I recall back in the 1980’s dBase was the program most DOS based computers used, but I never had one of those at that time.

Email Programs and Providers

When I first thought about this category, I was thinking only of the installed programs we use regularly – Microsoft Outlook and Mozilla Thunderbird. (Opera Mail is another installed program we have tried a couple of different times, but it is too limited for our regular uses, so I have uninstalled it.)

I like both Outlook and Thunderbird quite well, taking advantage of the different options and features they provide. Our desktop has Microsoft Office 2016 (a version that includes Outlook) so that is the default email program on that machine. My laptop has Thunderbird as the default program. When upgrading to Office 2016, I did not want to pay for the full version for the laptop, so got the Home and Student Edition. That meant choosing another email option and Thunderbird is by far my preference over other options I’ve looked at over the years.

After more thought about what to include in this category, I’ve decided to discuss all the myriad other online email providers here also. They could be considered services as well, but since they provide the basic email function, the primary focus of this post, I’ll include them here.

For various reasons I won’t bore you with here, I use numerous different providers and maintain many email accounts, some more than one with a provider. The one attribute I require of a provider – it must be free. Almost all the ones I use also allow POP3 access without charge. A few I rarely use anymore have never allowed POP3 or now charge for that service.

The most heavily used are:

  • Mediacom – my cable/internet/phone provider
  • GMX – an online provider based in Europe
  • Gmail
  • Microsoft Mail (Windows 10)
  • Riseup – a very secure provider focused on support for activists’ email and newsletters. It is located somewhere in the northwest of the United States, but for security reasons, they will not say exactly where. It is free, but to get an account one has to submit a statement of the activist work you are involved in.

The full list of others I still have active:

  • Hotmail
  • Yahoo
  • GishPuppy– no free POP3 access, actually an alias account that auto forwards to your real account without giving the sender that information
  • Hushmail– no free POP3 access in free version, but no tracking
  • Juno – no free POP3 access in the free version (I have had this the longest of all and just use it occasionally as the second email option for other accounts)

I have been using various email options for well over thirty years, so have a little experience with some of the earliest programs. CompuServe was my first private account. Around the same time, the university I worked for began setting up online email for employees only. It was Unix-based and Pine was the program that we used accessed via dial-up.

I never used Prodigy and tried AOL for a while, both competitors then with CompuServe, but never really found them what I liked.

A few years later, I changed institutions and the college I worked for had a similar dial-up system for email. For my private, home email I used NetZero and Juno – both free dial-up servers. Soon after, the college switched to using Pegasus Mail on their network. Because it was free, I installed it at home right away, and that quickly became my favorite for many years. I tried Outlook Express but did not really like it.

Another change of colleges and I had to learn a whole new set of programs. The new college was migrating from a Novell network and software to Microsoft. I was used to using Novell and Corel Word Perfect, Quattro Pro, Presentation, etc. so the learning curve was a bit steep at first. Eventually, I decided it would be easier to have the Microsoft Office at home as well, so bought it with the educator discount – a substantial savings over the retail price. Ever since, Office has been a staple in my computer use. With improvements in later versions, Outlook is now a very powerful program, and probably my preference overall.

In that new location, Cox cable was the provider for my home service, and that was my first experience of having email accounts through a cable provider. It worked well most of the time, so when we moved to our current location, Mediacom became my primary email provider and still is.

For now, that concludes the saga of my email use.