Having just experienced a computer collapse and rebuild, and at the same time configured a new home laptop, it got me thinking about the software that I need that I could not do without. I decided to construct a list. An essential ingredient is interoperability with mobile devices, something that didn’t enter into serious consideration only a couple of years ago. The desktop is now just one in a triad of equally important devices (the tablet and smart phone being the others) that any digitally literate person depends on, so my list has to embrace these platforms as well.
First, and foremost, is Dropbox. It is the number one app I need on each platform. It acts as a digital lingua franca. If you can get a file into Dropbox you can get it anywhere on any of your devices. It features unparalleled usefulness and simplicity.
Since most of the things we do these days is web-based, the second most important piece of software anyone needs is a browser. I like, and recommend, Firefox. Not because it works better than Chrome, my second choice, but because Mozilla’s approach seems so noble. Look no further than Firefox or Chrome, however. The competent browser list ends there for me.
After selecting a browser, selecting the essential extensions and plugins is also critical. Both Firefox and Chrome support Clearly and Web Clipper, from Evernote, which is itself in the same category as Dropbox, being essential note taking and systems integration software. Clearly takes those web pages that are heavily laden with ads and other trash and cleans them up for easy reading. Web Clipper lets you easily clip any URL, page, or article to your Evernote notebook. And Evernote itself is indispensable for doing research on the web. Many people also think that “read later” software is indispensible, like Instapaper or Pocket, but when I run across something I intend to follow up on I simply make an Evernote note out of it. I dispensed with Instapaper when I realized that I had so many “read later” entries that I would never look at them all, and that if I truly intended to follow up making a note in Evernote seems to cement the intention for me.
Even though the web is moving away from Flash, the Adobe Flash player is still essential as a browser plugin in order to play non-HTML 5 video or other animations. Ditto for the Adobe Reader. Like them or not, you still need to download and install them. Chrome users have alternatives, but others do not.
As far as “productivity” software is concerned, a word that is synonymous with Word/Excel/PowerPoint, there is no substitute for Microsoft Office. It is the best productivity software in the world, by far, and is now available to individuals (but not yet at our institution) on a subscription basis that allows for document saves to the cloud, settings tracking, and instant updates. I personally subscribe to Office 365, which allows me five simultaneous installations, either Mac or PC, at the cost of $10 per month. The best deal of which I am aware is Office 365 University which allows for only 2 simultaneous installations, but costs $79.99 FOR FOUR YEARS, renewable for another four years. This works out to about $1.67 per month for the best product of its kind on the globe. You must be a student, faculty or staff member to qualify. But wow. Enough said.
After Office, I would say the next most essential program for me for content creation/manipulation would be SnagIt, and I would think this would be true for most people. With Office and SnagIt we have strayed into for-pay territory, but if you want the best you sometimes have to pay for it even in the software age of give to get. While we license SnagIt for full-time faculty at our institution, it is definitely worth the educational price of $29.95 for others.
Since I still edit a lot of web pages outside of WordPress—though the number is getting smaller—I need an html editor too. My motto is ‘why pay when you can get a great one for free’ so I use Microsoft’s Expression Web 4. Maybe by the time it is deprecated by Microsoft I won’t have to work on raw web pages any longer. That is definitely the trend.
For Geolocation, and a million other reasons, everyone needs Google Earth, especially since it has a Google maps tie in. Feel the earth rumble, find the epicenter in seconds; need to find a mexican restaurant near you, bingo; what does the meeting site look like from street view; like that.
That’s the end of my essentials list, believe it or not. The rest falls into the realm of personal taste: media player, music service (Spotify gets my vote); movie apps; books; audio books; newspaper and magazine apps; twitter client; video editor; messaging client; and so on. Many of us would call these apps essential, and others would regard them as frivolous, and I haven’t even mentioned games, which I too regard as frivolous.
For what it is worth, the software mentioned above is what the adequately equipped digital literati owns.