Essential software for your laptop
I rarely travel without my 13” MacBook. I love the convenience of having a portable device which is capable of managing all my communication, entertainment and planning needs. This convenience wouldn’t be possible without the programs listed below, which I’ve found essential for life on the road.
Internet & Communication
Google Chrome or Firefox
I prefer Chrome and Firefox over Internet Explorer purely from a web developer standpoint. As an advocate of web standards, I couldn’t possibly recommend a browser which has chosen to ignore it for so long. Saying that, I’m well aware this wouldn’t mean much to the standard user, so I’ve listed below a few more reasons why you should make the switch:
- Speed – Chrome is an incredibly fast browser to use.
- Security – While Internet Explorer 9.0 has made some significant leaps forward in terms of security, some of the earlier versions are still easily exploited.
- Privacy – Both Firefox and Chrome come with an “incognito” mode which is perfect for when you’re using a shared computer.
- Extensions – Both browsers are highly customisable with a plethora of extensions available to enhance your browsing experience.
As I’m never in one place for long, the onus to contact family and friends is understandably on me. However, as international calling rates are ridiculously expensive and I’m incredibly cheap, it’s not an arrangement that I support wholeheartedly.
Skype makes it affordable to keep in contact with family and friends abroad with their free and paid services. As it can be a logistical nightmare to organise a time when we’re all online, I tend to bypass the free skype-to-skype chat and make use of Skype’s affordable international calling rates to call them directly.
iStumbler / NetStumbler
The above programs are pretty much useless without a decent internet connection. Generally the in-built WiFi detector in your machine does the job just fine, however if you’re looking for a more detailed list of available networks, I’d suggest trying NetStumbler (Windows) or iStumbler (Mac).
A personal favourite, Evernote allows you to organise your digital life into one simple program. The focus is to make it easy to capture, organise and find your documents fast. While your documents are stored locally on your computer, an option is available to upload your documents online. Once uploaded, you can view and edit your documents on virtually any computer with the aid of a web browser.
For years we’ve been taunted with codec errors from inferior media players when all we were trying to do is watch a simple video. I can happily announce that after a solid few years of using the VLC player, I’m yet to receive one of those infuriating warnings. If you haven’t made the switch yet, I strongly suggest you do.
Picasa is a downloadable program which allows you to import, edit, organise and upload your photos. The major appeal with Picasa is that it provides an online and offline solution to organising and storing your photo collection. Unlike other services which are purely web-based.
1Password can create unique passwords, remember them, and restore them, all directly in your web browser.
The key to using 1Password is to think of a secure password which cannot be guessed. Ideally you would use a random password generator to create a password such as w9r8hgFZL and burn that sequence into your memory. If you think you’ll struggle with that, you can make it shorter and a tad more familiar, but make sure to use letters, numbers and throw in the odd capital letter too.
If you have dozens of online accounts, 1Password is an invaluable piece of software to keep them all sorted, remembered and secured.
A popular and most importantly, free, VPN tool. By securing your connection, Hotspot Shield prevents unsavoury characters from accessing your computer. It also protects your identity by making you invisible to third-party websites and ISPs.
Another noteworthy feature is that it allows you to bypass filters in the countries which choose to censor their internet.
To keep your computer running smoothly, it’s important to protect it against any menacing viruses or spywear. Even though a good proportion of Mac users choose not to install an antivirus, it’s better to err on the side of caution. While there are several paid antivirus programs available, there are also free versions which will do the job just as well.
iAntiVirus / ClamXav for the Mac and Microsoft Security Essentials / AVG Antivirus for Windows are four free programs which I would recommend. No computer should be left unsecured.
Dropbox provides an online solution for backing-up and sharing your documents. The process is painlessly simple. Once the application has been installed, simply drop the files you wish to back-up into your Dropbox folder and sit back as they are quietly uploaded into your own online Dropbox account. Viewing the uploaded files is as simple as going back into the Dropbox folder located on your computer, or viewing them online.
For more cloud based backup solutions, check out our article How to keep an online backup of your photos and documents which contain a bunch of helpful tips.
As I use a MacBook for work, the programs below are only available on the Mac.
I could have suggested Adobe Photoshop, but who has that type of cash laying around? I certainly don’t. While it doesn’t boast as many features as the mighty Photoshop, it does provide enough for you to get by.
While Pixelmator will set you back $59.95, you can download GIMP for free which will provide you with a similar experience. GIMP is available on both Windows and Mac.
Armed with some HTML and CSS knowledge, you can keep your website looking sharp and running smoothly. As a HTML and CSS coder by trade, this is my go-to program when I need to get some work done.
Transmit will handle all your FTP needs. While like Espresso it’s a paid program, it’s undoubtedly worth the money. A vital tool for any coders toolbox.
I’m more of a Google Docs man personally, but if you’re looking for a free word processor which you can fire up without an internet connection, you should consider Open Office, which is available on both Windows and Mac.
And we’re done!
I hope these programs will be as useful to you as they have been for me. We’d love to hear what your must-have programs are, let us know in the comments below.