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Computing Corner: Software Guide

I've spent so much time playing around with new browsers and e-mail clients lately that I thought I'd share some of what I've learnt. I started out by writing some fairly unstructured comments on my favourite software, but realized that it all quickly became incoherent and not as much use as I'd intended. So what you've got is this: a table of software, with some basic information. I'll add extra information on these and others as I get the time.

Palm/PDA section added January '05

All comments are just my impressions and I'm happy to be corrected on any errors.

Last updated: December 2013...

Type Program Rating External Link
Web-browserPale Moon Pale Moon
This is my current browser of choice, installed in December 2013. It is an optimized 'Firefox', but with some key differences. There are some additional customization options, and the browser is tweaked to ensure best performance. Certainly I've noticed that there is less lag than the equivalent Firefox version, but the main reason I opted for Pale Moon is that it retains a proper status bar (which will shortly vanish from Firefox when it receives its Australis make-over).

I've never understood the logic of placing all the operating controls at the top of the screeen. All ny other controls are the bottom (task bar etc) and that where I want the address bar, and the various function buttons that I use on a regular basis. These include: print, view source (via Notepad++), secure login, zoom, privacy, tile panels, ghostery, notes, and ad-blocker. With Opera having abandoned almost all cutomization, and Firefox about to abandon the status bar (I tested one of their 'Nightly' builds), Pale Moon offers a fast, stable and cutomizable alternative.

Like Firefox, Pale Moon supports proper colour profile management, necessary if you are using a wide gamut screen.

It handles pretty much all the Firefox extensions. The key ones I use are:

  • Adblock Plus
  • All-in-One Gestures (mouse gestures)
  • All-in-One Sidebar (placed on the right)
  • Color Management (makes changing colour profile settings easier)
  • Extended Statusbar
  • Page Source
  • QuickFox Notes
  • Secure Login
  • Speed Dial
  • Tile Tabs
  • Zoom Page
Security is on a par with Firefox.
Web-browserOpera

With the introduction of the new Opera 15, everything good I had to say about the previous incarnations of Opera has all but vanished. Opera 15+ is based on the Chrome 'Blink' engine. It has very limited customization, lacks some very basic features such as proper bookmark management, and adds some odd commerce-based 'features' such as 'Discover'. For me, the new Opera 15 is unusable, and you'd be better using Chrome or even the latest IE.

These features are no longer in Opera:
· great password control via the 'Wand' (a 'killer' feature. Just brilliant!)
· fully customized toolbars - I keep my most frequently used bookmarks on the status bar!
· single click to disable graphics
· a 'Notes' feature to capture bits of text (and trap the URL)
· user mode for viewing pages as you want to see them
· integrated newsfeed, newsgroups and mail
· zoom control
· panelling (allows several tabs to be displayed together)
· RSS and Atom feeds
· developer tools
· bookmark management
· side panel

My old Opera 12 set-up
Mail screen
OperaMini on a Palm

Web-browserFirefox firefox
This entry deserves a re-write. Firefox is now up to v23 (I hate these rapid number changes). It is highly customisable, works well, and best of all has decent colour management which is perfect if you are using a wide gamut screen (if you need to ask, you're not).

I've added numerous extensions to make it work how I like it. I'm odd in wanting panels to the right and address bars at the bottom. I've never understood why this isn't how everyone likes them, but with Firefox that's not a problem. I've added the 'all-in-one sidebar' and the 'extended statusbar', which means I can put things where I want them (Opera 15+ take note). 'Tile Tabs' give a decent approximation of the Opera MDI (now missing from Opera!), plus other extensions mean I have secure notes, password control, ad-blocking etc.

Overall, the most comfortable of the mainstream browsers. I'm happy with it!

See Pale Moon, above for an optimized and slightly more customizable version of Firefox.

Current Security Comparison.

Web-browserInternet Explorer  
I have to admit that Internet Explorer has improved over the years, but I still find the lack of customization a problem and I very rarely go anywhere near it.

Current Security Comparison.

e-mailPegasus pegasus
I've had a version of this on my machine for over a decade. It is idiosyncratic, but is a dream to move from one machine to another. I use it as an archive more than anything else (my main mail app is Outlook, the proper version). Main strengths are considerable user control, ability to switch off html and other executable files, and solid filtering. It's very safe. The downsides (which loses it a star) are the awkwardness of setting it up for the first time, and some slightly odd behaviour when sending attachments.

Update (1): been using this for several months now, running multiple accounts via different servers, with different authentication settings. I use the excellent in-built filters to sort mail so that I can keep control of what goes where. The more I use it, the more I like it.

Update (2): although I'm increasingly using the in-built Opera email system because of its integration (I can see new mail arrive in a side panel without switching between applications), Pegasus remains my number 1 choice.

Update (3): August 2005 - The public beta of 4.3 is out and is working fine. Most of the changes are in the background. Upgrading was seamless.

Update (4): December 2005 - The full version of 4.3 is now available and includes security enhancements.

Update (5): September 2006 - One other excellent feature of Pegasus is that it is the easiest email system to transfer between machines. Currently running it (with all my old emails intact) on a Vista 64-bit machine.

Update (6): Now running the same package on Windows 7. Still works. Still does the job.

e-mailThunderbird thunderbird
This is a complete re-write having just installed Thunderbird v3 in early 2010. I'm using for an IMAP account which carries around 2.5GB of email. Installing was as simple as any email package I've ever used... I typed in a few details (username/password/email address) and Thunderbird did the rest for me. Nice search features, and very smooth to use. I still block all html mails. Overall a good package. If you aren't using it but are looking for a straightforward, fully featured stand-alone email client this is looking the business (or was 3 years ago...).
e-mailOutlook  
This is what I use daily. Obviously a very powerful program, with a host of office/business tools. For personal use I ignore most of the extras, but do use its RSS feed reader. I have 6 accounts set up on it (in a single profile) and redirect all incoming mail into a single inbox. Works extremely well, but then you do have to pay for it.

News ReaderAgent Agent
Agent is a great newsreader. Solid, reliable and a pleasure to use. I switched to this after getting fed up with Outlook Express dropping new posts if you you synchronized too quickly. I'm using version 1.93. Version 2 has just been released. A free version (Free Agent) is also available, but this is a package worth the small fee

Update: I'm using this rather less now (March 2005), the main reason being that Opera allows me to manage newsgroups via the browser interface. The big drawback with Agent is that's its clunky for checking multiple servers (basically you need to set up separate versions of it). This fairly significant shortfall for heavy users should be fixed in the next round of product updates.

Update (2): August 2005 - Agent v3 has just been released, and I'm once again using it daily. Agent now handles multiple servers, has a great global search, automatically retries on server errors. All in all an excellent package.

Update (3): I'm now on version 4, and further updates have been released. Still a great package.

File Transfer (ftp)WS_ftp(LE) WS_ftp
I started life with an early version of WS_ftp (LE) version 5.08, a free and very stable ftp program. And to be honest I've had no real reason to change it (though it looks somewhat dated now). I did try to go for an upgrade recently, but the registration failed for some reason.

Have since picked up a copy of the latest Pro version (free with a cover disk). Looks good but has nothing I'd use that isn't also on Filezilla.

File Transfer (ftp)Filezilla filezilla
Filezilla is a free, open-source package. Easy to configure, and very smooth to use. It can run multiple threads which speeds up uploading and downloading.

If you are looking for a low-cost (i.e. free) industry standard ftp program I doubt Filezilla can be beaten.

FirewallMicrosoft Windows  
This is built in to Windows and once upon a time was switched off by default. This changed with later shipments of XP and is now all I use. These days I'm happy enough to use the firewall in Windows 7, which is reasonably configurable.
(Anti) Virus and FirewallF-Secure F-Secure
I get this through a work licence and it's excellent. Using a utility called Backweb that ships with it, it updates automatically at least a couple of times a day. I tend to leave it alone and let it get on with it's job. Hasn't let me down. If I had to pay for it, I would. It's non-intrusive and has never caused any problems. It's not fancy, no glitzy control panel or anything like that. Just good, simple virus protection that is as up to the minute as you can get. I used to use MacAfee until the settings blew up on me, but have never used Norton on my own machine (it looks very bloated to my eyes and judging by newsgroup reports can be problematic and a pain to uninstal).

There are plenty of other AV programs you can use - several of them free - but I've not come across anything as straightforward to use as this, nor anything that updates as frequently.

Update: (March 2005) I've just installed F-Secure Anti-Virus Client Security 5.55-SR1, an integrated anti-virus and firewall. The user-interface is much improved, and automatic updates are now in-built. F-Secure has the fastest update cycle of all the major AV prgrammes, which means the highest protection level you can get against new viruses. The firewall is also simple to use (but with high level control for advanced users), and effective. I'm hooked. Update 2012: I've continued t ouse F-Secure on and off over the years, but had problems with an update in late 2011 so switched breifly to Sophos but am now using Microsoft Security Essentials which is the least intrusive of any AV software I've experienced. As long as it works!

(Anti) VirusAVG AVG free version
This is my favoured free anti-virus program. It's easy to install, updates frequently and seems very solid. As with all anti-virus software you need to set it to update automatically, and I've happily installed it in preference to Norton on numerous machines. Worth trying out.
Text EditorNotepad + + Notepad ++
OK, not the sexiest piece of kit on a PC, but since I create the whole of my website by hand, it's probably the most used bit of software on my machine. Notepad ++ is an open source project which colour codes the source text. This makes it easier to find bits of code and is great for editing html files. Before I found this I'd used the standard Notepad that comes with most PCs, occasionally using Word Pad. I then tried a series of different text editors, all of which were either too complex for me (i.e. did too much), or clunky in some other way. This one does everything I want (and does it very well).

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