I've just been updating my productivity software to the latest versions, uninstalling the old, and generally keeping just the applications that are used all of the time. I thought that while doing this I would compile a list of the applications I think are must have for each type of work flow.

While many of the applications I use may be more specialist to my design orientated work I hope some of these I've listed will be useful for you all to use or try.

  • Office 2003 Pro - can now be found cheaply due to 2007 release.
  • Office 2007 - Huge change in layout and functionality, but only if you need the new features.
  • Open Office 2 - If you cannot afford the commercial Microsoft Office, then this completely free Office Suite is just as good for practically everything that M$ Office can do. Perfect for Students and home users as it is completely cross compatible with Microsoft file formats.
  • Alcohol 120% - If you download a lot of CD and DVD images then Alcohol is one of the only burning applications you will need as it supports a lot of different formats. DO make sure it is kept up to date though otherwise it sometimes cannot open newer formats. It is also good for copying discs.
  • Ahead Nero - For general CD/DVD burning and creation Nero is the only App you will need. It contains a complete suite of software to create Data, Audio, Video and much more.
  • DVD Decrypter - This free application is no longer developed due to legal pressure from the film industry, but you can still find the last release in a lot of places and it is a much have utility for copying Movie DVDs, and it is also great at copying games console discs.
  • DIKO - Another freeware utility. This converts downloaded DivX and XVid video files into DVD ISOs so you can then burn them to disc to play on your standalone DVD player. The process isn't fast, taking around 2 hours for a feature film, but the results are normally very good. It also supports the use of subtitle text files so you can add subtitles to other language films.
  • DVD Shrink - Again a freeware utility. This program allows you to edit the contents of a movie DVD. You can remove unwanted language files, extras, and anything else you don't want, and increase the compression of any movie files. This is perfect for shrinking a DVD9 based movie so it fits on the cheaper DVD5 blank media. Works well with DVD Decrypter. Use that to rip the DVD to your HD, removing any protection, and then shrink it down to fit on a blank disc.
  • Gordian Knot - Again another freeware utility. This is used to create DivX movies from DVDs.
  • FireFox - The browser everyone should replace Internet Explorer with as soon as they can. More stable, more secure, and it sticks to web standards much more than IE ever has. It also has the most extensive third party extension support of any browser. You can get addon extensions for pretty much anything you can think of.
  • Opera - A great alternative to Firefox. It can sometimes be faster at rendering pages than other browsers. And it contains a lot of features as standard that you would need to install extensions for in Firefox to gain.
  • Adobe Dreamweaver CS3 - If you are into web development of any level then Dreamweaver is a much have application. It offers an amazing level of control over site development and it's the only development application anyone should need, expect for those opting for Microsoft technologies such as ASP. In those cases looking at Microsofts software might be a better option, although opting for ASP over PHP is madness in itself anyway. BTW, the older Dreamweaver 8 is still just as good for pretty much most things so just grab a discounted copy of that instead if you see one.
  • Apache - Forget Microsoft IIS servers, Apache is the only server worth using. While IIS servers may work OK they don't have the worldwide presence of Apache servers or the level of open and free community support Apache enjoys. The best way to run an Apache server is via a Linux install as most come with it preinstalled, alongside PHP and MySQL already setup. But the Windows version of Apache runs quite happily too and is ideal for local site development and testing.
  • Navicat MySQL - If you are a web developer and work with MySQL databases then as standard you will most probably have access to two ways of accessing and manipulating the database. SSH commandline or PHPMyAdmin. The Telnet SSH method is normally only offered on higher commercial hosting packages, whereas PHPMyAdmin is normally offered as standard with most. The later is easy to use for more experienced users, but can take some time to work out for novice database users. Navicat MySQL is a commerical application that you install locally, which can access local or remove MySQL databases. It offers a more friendly database environment more similar to Access, allowing users to more easily access and edit their databases. I used to use this, but am now perfectly happy with commandline and PHPMyAdmin so it has become redundant for me, but others may find this nice application very useful.
  • Adobe Photoshop CS3 Extended - This is the only graphics application anyone needs to own for bitmap based graphics. It has been and will continue to be the only real commercial graphics application which is an industry standard. The latest CS3 adds some nice improvements to the interface which speed up and declutter the screen. It also adds some nice new features. One of the best being live filters. Before when you applied a filter it altered the image permanently. Now with live filters you can apply them and then alter the effects later and the image will update. You can stack the filters in layers and change their order to create different effects. Think of live layers working in a similar way to filters in video editing applications.
  • Adobe Photoshop Elements - If the price of the full blown Photoshop makes you cough then I highly recommend Elements. It is based on the full Photoshop, but has removed the more advanced professional features and reworked the interface to make it more friendly to home users. It's price tag is also more friendly to the casual home user too. And I can guarantee that most people would not miss any of the features missing from the full version of Photoshop because Adobe maintained everything that a homeuser needs from the full program and just removed the advanced features most home users would never need or even use. I recommend this over Paint Shop Pro too.
  • Adobe Illustrator - Illustrator is to vector art what Photoshop is to bitmap graphics. It has been around just as long and it's workflow is very similar. Again it is the industry standard and is the best for any form of vector art. I often create vector art in illustrator for Flash rather than trying to create it directly in Flash as you have so much more control. Equally for logos and detailed layouts, logos etc it is be best applications to use.
  • Adobe Indesign - QuarkXpress used to be the industry standard for page layout design for printing. That has long since changed. Quark remained clunky and out dated, even in the latest version. InDesign is now the much better page layout application and the best on the market. And completely forget Microsoft Publisher. This is a horrible offshoot of Word and not of the same standing as either Quark or InDesign. If you need to do any page layout work that is destined for printing then Indesign is the one to use.
  • Adobe Fireworks CS3 - Fireworks has been around for years, focusing on web graphics creation. It blends vector art with bitmap graphics, and contains extensive animation tools for gif and other online animation work for banners and other web graphics. It's workflow shares much in common with Photoshop because until Adobe recently acquired Macromedia it was a competing product, and until now Photoshop came with a sister application called Imageready that shared a lot of the same features for web graphic development with Fireworks. But I am very glad that Adobe didn't scrap it's development in favour if it's own Image Ready because Fireworks has always been the better of the two. It's vector based tools are unique and really do speed up workflow when creating a lot of similar graphics for websites. It is also the best for creating web templates as it has a very good set of slicing features for cutting up a template image and optimising each slice to get the best size to quality ratio. And instead of scrapping Fireworks Adobe went the other way and got rid of Image Ready, instead merging the best bits of that into the Web export options in photoshop itself and keeping Fireworks as it's standalone Web graphics application.
  • Painter X - This application has been around for many years and centres around the recreation of natural media. It can simulate most natural art materials such as oil, watercolour, pastel, and on many different types of surface. This is a favourite of many more traditional artists and is designed to work well with graphics tablets where pressure sensitive nibs allow for a great range of freedom in creativity.
  • Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 1.0 - This application is targeted directly a photographers and if you like to take a lot of digital photographs I highly recommend you take a look. It is very similar to the Apple Mac Application Aperture; not so innovative but very similar in what it does.
Interactive design and animation
  • Flash CS3 - Everyone has heard of Flash and most see it at some point daily while browsing the internet. Adbanners, browser based games, online interactive tutorials, streaming web videos such as You Tube. Since it's beginnings as a simple vector art based web animation tool it has now grown into a full blown interactive multimedia application with a complete and extensive programming language built in called actionscript that makes it possible to make Flash do pretty much anything you like. Being vector based, flash is perfect for online development as it makes the final files very small. If you are interested in anytihng from animation to multimedia presentations, adbanners to games development I highly recommend you learn flash. It's timeline based animation roots still shine through due to it still being base don timeline control with it's structure in a library, and it works well.
  • Macromedia Director MX 2004 - Adobe have yet to update this great multimedia application, but I really hope they do soon as I've been using it commercially for 10 years now to create multimedia presentations for corporate clients and it is quite unique. It is complex and take time to learn. It is much older than Flah, but much of it's structure and way of working has slowly been mirrored in Flash as it's been developed over the years. It is still different enough from Flash for the two to co-exist so I hope Adobe continue it. I use this for Interactive presentation, CD-Rom presentation, corporate presentations and Kiosk development. Think of it as Powerpoint, harder to learn, but much more powerful and overall a lot better.
  • Storyboard Artist 4 - This is great if you need to work with oncept storyboarding.
  • Toon Boon Studio - If anyone remembers Take 2 on the Amiga they will know the idea of how this works. It is a traditional cell style animation application that you use to create hand drawn animation on a frame by frame basis. Highly recommended for anyone still wanting to do hand drawn animation, with the ability to create cue sheets, inking and colouring.
  • Adobe Premiere Pro CS3 - For me this is the only Video editing application needed for main timeline editing and project assembly. On the Mac Final Cut Pro is the leading and really the only editor of choice, but for the PC there are a very options. Avid create a few such as Liquid Edition which is good but quite complex and hard to grasp. Sony have their own editors and there are more. But personally I thing Premiere as matured, borrowing much from it's sister application After Effects in terms of feature control and is now a very nice application to use. It is also now very stable and easy to use, even for newer users.
  • Adobe Encore CS3 - This is the best DVD Production application on the market for the Windows market. It's key strength is its close integration with Photoshop, Premiere, After Effects and Illustrator. You can perform live editing between all of the Adobe applications during the production process without the need to manually save and load files between them. This feature is also possible in many of the other Adobe products and does make a big difference when you need to be alternating between the different applications often during development. It is also pretty much on a level with the Mac only DVD Studio Pro from Apple in regard to what can be achieved, regardless of what Apple fans might say
  • Adobe Premiere Elements - For home users, much like Photoshp elements, Premiere Elements is a cutdown home version of the full Premiere application and is the perfect choice for most home users. I recommend this over all other video editing applications I've seen aimed at the home market. Pinnacle used to produce the best home editing package but now Adobe Premiere Elements has taken over.
  • Adobe After Effects - This application isn't lf much use to home users. It is a video post production application which is quite specialised and has quite a complex and powerful timeline structure. It can be used to perform post production of all types to video footage, as well as being used for the creation of motion graphics and title sequences. It is used a lot in the commercial film industry for these purposes and it very good.
  • Discreet Cleaner - Most video editing applications have quite advanced output rendering abilities to export their timelines into various file formats, using a large range of compression and codec types. But for the best results I recommend Cleaner. It is a standalone video exporting and conversion utility that can take an output directly from the timeline of Premiere or from a standalone file and has extensive settings to create a video file in a large variety of formats tailors for different internet connection speeds or media formats.
  • Discreet Combustion 4 - This is an amazing Video Post Production application. Most computer users will never see this or get to use it. It shares the same interface as the higher industry standard Discreet products such as Fire, Flint and Inferno and is the entry level application in this range, designed to be used on standard workstations compared to their higher end packages that require very expensive dedicated Workstations. Its abilities are very similar to those of After Effects, but the way it works is quite different. After Effects has slowly been catching it by slowly adding most of the features Combustion has enjoyed since it's very first version. What makes it so good? It works natively in a 3D space. You add you video and graphic content and can move it anywhere you like within the 3D space. The camera can be positioned just like a 3D application and lights can be added to a scene. You can therefore add masks to video clips and position video clips anywhere within the 3D space, so can play around with depth and distance between clips, with different space between the camera and te clips. It has also always worked directly with 3DSMax which is another of it's big strengths. You can export a 3DSMAX scene into Combustion and retain all of the X, Y and Z axis information, allowing you to manipulate the 3D scene within combustion along with the video clips. You can map video onto 3D objects, or of even more use you can track the movement of 3D objects within a video scene. So if the camera in a scene is panning you could track the 3D objects to they follow this movement and appear as a part of the scene, or you could track it against something moving within the scene. Equally you have advanced rotoscoping, tracking and wire removal tools in the package. Lastly it has the same video colour correctly tools that it's bigger brothers use.
If any of you are interested in getting into video editing and post production I highly recommend a powerful system. More important that CPU speed to the amount of ram and HD space you have available. For ram I recommend a minimum of 1GB, but I recommend at least 2GB minimum for better performance and a much nicer working environment. I have 3GB in my main system that I use for video editing and post production and I could still do with more. When working with After Effects or Combustion you need to use a live ram preview to see how the scene will look and even with 3GB, using full frame, full quality previews I can only see under 1 minute of footage at full framerate, sometimes less than 30 seconds when the scene is complex. And for HD space, as much as you can afford. You will quickly eat up all HD space once you start to play around wit video files.


While 3D is a more limiting area of computer use for home users, it has always been a fascinating area for me. And in more recent years as computers have become much more powerful 3D applications have really been allowed to take full advantage and have finally been allowed to work at a speed that is useful, compared to years ago where even a small render could take hours to finish.
  • 3DSMAX 9 - I've been using 3DSMAX since version 2 many years ago. It remains as complex and confusing to new users as ever but is very powerful. It isn't my favourite 3D application, but I've used it longer than any other overall and tend to still use it more than any other, mainly because it has such direct support with other applications such as Combustion, After Effects, Illustrator and now Photoshop.
  • Maya - Maya has always lived in parallel with 3DSMAX but has also always done things slightly differently. It would be very difficult to just pick up Maya and try to use it, I doubt you would get very far. However it is very powerful and it's way of working is much faster than that of 3DSMAX once you have learnt it. It is now owned by the same developer as 3DSMAX and while most were worried for it's future it seems to still be developed alongside 3DSMAX.
  • Lightwave - Any Amiga fan will know about Lightwave, having started life running on the Newtek Video Toaster hardware and for a long time being the most powerful 3D application available for the home and small commercial user market. It has always done things slightly differently from other 3D application, splitting its workflow into two distinct parts, the modelling and the scene. I personally have always found this a bit annoying, having to model and edit a model in one screen and then position, light, texture and animate it in the final scene in another screen. I much prefer the single environment of other 3D programs. But it is still a very good 3D application and still has one of the best particle systems of any.
  • SoftImage XSI - This is a very expensive industry 3D application that is very hard to get to grips with initially, but contains the best rig system of any 3D application for character and face animation. It is therefore used extensively in the film industry, especially for animated features. I managed to get hold of a copy but have not managed to get too far with this, even with some video tutorials. Only touch this if you have a specialist interest in animation.
  • Cinema 4D - This 3D application originally started out as quite a low budget consumer orientated product, but over the years it has slowly become more advanced and is now highly recommended. Out of all current 3D applications it is the easiest to pick up and learn by experimentation. It has a much easier interface to use and due to it's modular nature it can be expanded as and when required. If you are new to 3D then get Cinema 4D. It's rendering isn't as good as Mental Ray or other renderers that come with the most expensive applications I've mentioned but it's still able to render so very good results. It also comes with a lot of features.
  • Vue 6 Infinite - This is the best landscape generator you can get. Definitely much better than Bryce.
  • Poser 7 - This character animation program has been around for years and has evolved greatly recently. If you want to animate 3D character motion then it is very good. It allows quite advanced motion without the need to get involved in IK, bones and rigging that is needed in full 3D applications.
  • Google SketchUp - If you have never tried 3D then give the completely free Google Sketchup a try. There is also a commerical Pro version, but for that price I would recommend Cinema 4D instead.
  • Blender 3D - This is a completely free Open Source 3D Application that has been in development for many years now. It is more like 3D applications of old with a more commandline based approach to model creation than most current 3D applications that can make it much harder to use. But it is free!
  • Audacity - If you just need to clean up some audio (mp3, wav), capture some audio (microphone, or tape of LP) then Audacity is perfect. It even contains click, hiss and pop removal which does a pretty good job. And best of all is that it is open source and completely free. Most will not need anything more advanced.
  • Sony Sound Forge - If you do need a more advanced sound wave editor then Sound Forge is highly recommended. I've been using this for many years, long before Sony purchased it as it used to come bundled with Macromedia products such as Director. It is fast and very easy to use with some advanced features and filters.
  • Soundbooth CS3 - This is a new audio application from Adobe and it is replacing Audition in it's new CS3 range of application suites. It is less complex and advanced than audition. Instead it concentrates on what designers need, allowing sound editing,and the ability to edit and que up sound tracks and audio tracks in time with video playback. It is definitely a good move by Adobe to use this with their creative applications instead of Audition. Audition is more for true music creators, whereas Soundbooth is for designers and developers who need to work with audio within the projects.
  • Adobe Audition 2.0 - I'm not sure of the current situation with Audition as it has been dropped from the new CS3 range of products. It is a very advanced wave editing and multi-track creation application. If you are into music creation I highly recommend this.
  • Media Monkey - I've tried a lot of Music Library and player utilities in the last couple of years and I've yet to find one better than this. It comes in a free version which is perfectly fine it you just need a MP3 player and library manager, or the paid gold edition that adds some more advanced features to rip audio, burn compilations and interact with mobile devices. It is also much faster to use than the library of Windows Media Player and much better than Apple iTunes and without the restriction of copyrighted files.
  • CDex - If you need to rip some CDs to MP3 or oter digital formats than this freeware utility is very good and very fast. It supports CDDB too for direct file naming.
Benchmarking Software
  • Futuremark 3DMark 2006 - If you want to see what your graphics card and system can achieve then this is the program to use.
  • AquaMark 3 - This is starting to get old now but it does still give the graphics card a good run, along with a nice set of demo sequences.
  • SiSoftware Sandra Professional - This benchmarking suite is all you need for any information about your system, as well as to see how each part compares in speed and performance against other hardware.
File Scanners
  • Outpost Firewall - I've used a lot of different Firewall applications over the years and Outpost is the most stable and easiest to configure and live with. It also does the best job at watching everything moving around your network. It also has the bonus of coming with an always on spyware scanner which while not as extensive as a standalone one, does work well.
  • Kaspersky Anti-Virus - Again I've used all of the major, and some not so well known Virus Scanners and Kaspersky is easily the current best on the market. Live updates of it's definitions every hour if needed so it is always completely up to date. This stops the old chore of needing to wait for a weekly big update to download as each update during a day is very small so you don't even notice them happening on a broadband connection.
  • Spyware Doctor - And again, I've tried most of the spyware scanners available over the years and for the freeware scanners I found you needed to run both of the main ones on the same system to try and make sure you have scanned for everything. Spyware Doctor is a commercial scanner, but it is much more extensive than the free scanners and it does a much better job of telling what each file it finds is and it does a great job of removing them. It comes with an always on scanner too if you want it running all of the time.
  • WinRAR - The standard compression utility. As well as Zip and Rar files, it handles a few other common formats and it pretty quick.
  • IZArc - This compression utility can handle a lot more formats than WinRAR, but doesn't always handle RAR or ZIP files as well. However it is useful to have for the other formats it does support, especially if you need to open more exotic formats from Linux or Mac.
  • ZipZag - I came across this compression utility recently and highly recommend it. It supports even more formats than IZArc and can also use TotalCommander plugins to extend it's file handling to other exotic system formats including Amiga files such as PowerPacker.
Misc Utilities
  • Directory Opus 9 - Since the Amiga days, DOpus has been the best file manager on the market. If you don't know what a file manager is, Windows and every other OS has one that you use daily. The icons and folders you use daily are accessed via a basic file manager. In the case of Windows it is Explorer. You may wonder why you need a third party one when the OS does quite a good job itself, but give the free 60 day trial of DOpus 9 a try and experience all of the advanced features DOpus offers over the standard OS filing manager. You won't want to go back after. It is much faster at accessing files and allows you to do so much more.
  • SmartFTP - My personal favourite FTP client. It is also completely free. I especially like the file queuing it has which can auto resume downloads and uploads for you while you are away.
  • ViceVersa Pro 2 - If like me you collect collections of files (emulation roms, images, mp3s etc) then you might have a backup copy of them on a second or external HD. This program can compare the contents of the two locations and tells you the differences, allowing you to update them so they are the same.
  • Where Is It - I've used a few file logging applications over the years and this one is very good. If you backup a lot of files to disc then sometimes you can lose a file. With this application you can log the contents of all of your discs and then search the log to find files at a later date.
  • VisualRoute - This utility is mainly for web developers. It allows you to trace any IP or URL. It gives detailed informaton about every step of the journey between the accessing connection and the source of the IP or URL. This can be invaluable for locating servers, finding out who someone is, or to see if there are any problems with the connection between the two.
  • IRFanView - Again completely free. This small utility is great and I recommend it to everyone. It is an image viewer and converter. It can open a lot of image file formats, and can convert them to a lot of other formats. It even has extensive batch converting features. I use this a lot to batch convert files for websites, including converting Amiga screenshots from GIF to PNG.
  • Cool Beans NFO Creator - This is only of use to file uploaders. It is common practice to create an NFO text file and include it with any file uploads you make to a P2P network or to other sites hosting files. You generally include all information about the files you are including, such as origin, release date, authors, installation instructions etc... Cool Beans generates NFO files from an extensive set of menus and options. You can manually create them using Notepad, but this is for the quick generation of NFO files when you need to handle a lot of them due to many releases. We may hav a use for this once classicamiga starts to have more downloads.