The editors here at CNET Download.com have bashed our heads together trying to sort through the bloody mess that was the past 12 months in software. The rise of webware sure changed the playing field, but we think we've found 10 Windows applications that are either new to the world or had such a major upgrade that they might as well be. We present these in no particular order, but please feel free to add your favorites in the comments below.
If you're into social networking, Flock is your browser. Built on Firefox, it's designed to make interfacing with social sites easy. Most Firefox extensions work, but there are still some bugs--notably the Quick Search box.
Flock, the Social Browser
Buttons at the top of the collapsible sidebar make accessing any of social networking or frequently used sites easier than Twittering what you had for breakfast. Two of the tons of innovations include dragging-and-dropping photos into Flickr and an integrated RSS feed reader. The People button turns the sidebar into a nifty way to track your accounts, there are hot links to most major blogging sites, and even self-blogging configs. It's resource-heavy, but Flock is the way to go if Twittering, Facebooking, or YouTubing is how you spend most of your time online.
For more, check out CNET Webware's Newbie's Guide to Flock.
If programs were people, Camtasia Studio 5 would be a body builder. The full-fledged screen recording studio has enough tools and settings to make a newbie feel like a weakling, but the tips, video tutorials, and preset options help anchor and guide novices through the entire process. Camtasia makes it easy to record any action with or without sound, adding gems like cursor highlighting, resizing apps within the recorder, and drawing on-screen. Clips are compiled, trimmed, and bedecked with visual effects in an accessible production studio, and it comes with tools like a standalone audio editor and a CD menu maker.
The license isn't cheap, but if the trial leaves you wanting more, it's a worthwhile investment for screencasters requiring a powerful feature set. Users looking to develop skills with prolonged use should start here too.
Miro has been a true breakout app, overcoming serious stability problems in beta and presenting a much-needed piece of freeware that should redefine how people watch videos. It's a player that can subscribe to and download vodcasts while comprehensively managing your saved vids. The sharing component is an essential part of the program.
The left nav and center pane layout is instantly recognizable, and the tools for downloading and managing videos are comprehensive, up to and including a built-in torrent client. There's also folder watching to manage hard drive folders, resumable playback, channel surfing that organizes video feeds by topic, video sharing and hosting, and assistance in creating videos.
When everybody you know uses different chat clients, Pidgin will solve your problems. This year saw a new name and interface for Pidgin, and although it has a notable flaw receiving files from Yahoo IM, it's not the resource hog that other third-party IM clients are. Open-source and free, Pidgin accesses multiple IM networks from one window, including AIM, YIM, ICQ, Google Talk, MSN, and MySpaceIM as well as lesser-known protocols such as Jabber and Gadu-Gadu.
The IM features are unimpeachable, it comes with 22 plug-ins, and small things like logging and time-stamping are well-executed. Although it lacks IP telephony and video conferencing, Pidgin is highly recommended.
Launchy lets you open nearly any program, file, folder, or Web site on your system with just a few keystrokes. It lives in the background, and a quick hot key combo calls up the small, skinnable Launchy box.
Enter the first few letters of a file or program, and Launchy automatically displays the rest of the name. Simply press Enter to open or launch it. If the name displayed isn't what you want, wait a few seconds and the tool displays a drop-down list of other likely candidates. The tool is easily configurable, and it also looks at your default browser's Favorites file.
A credible rival to MS Office, OpenOffice.org includes powerful applications for making text documents, spreadsheets, presentations, diagrams, databases, and HTML and XML documents. It handles complex equations and multipart documents as easily as simple letters and faxes.
Even advanced Office users will find the templates, collaborative features, macros, and programming language familiar. Extensible and open source, it lets you both import and save documents in formats as diverse as MS Office formats, PDF, HTML, WordPerfect, XML, and others. However, the default is to save files in the open-standard Oasis OpenDocument XML format for maximum compatibility with other applications.
Multilingual and cross-platform, OpenOffice.org is a compelling option for anyone in search of an alternative office suite.
Although it hasn't exploded onto the mainstream music-listening scene, the tune-sharing Simplify Media has a growing network of fans. It lets users share music from wherever they are, even with themselves at different computers, as long as you're using iTunes or WinAmp. Share and listen to music via your player's left-hand nav, and a separately running Simplify Media application lets you add other friends and customize settings.
Claims of resource hogging and installation headaches are somewhat valid and installation requires Apple Bonjour, bundled with the program. Still, Simplify Media is an excellent and simple method of sharing music collections with friends or yourself in remote locations.
CrossLoop provides a quick, easy, and completely free way to give a colleague, a friend, or a relative access to your computer. Or vice versa. Remote tech support just became universal.
Start the program and it assigns a random access code. When you give that number to someone else they'll have full access to your machine. CrossLoop is ill-suited for business presentations, but the complete system access and 128-bit encrypted connection combine to create a great solution for low-budget, long-distance tech support. No router configuration is required, file transfers are supported, but the purpose here remains collaboration: CrossLoop doesn't work without explicit permission from the host. It's a subtle program, but that we think deserves a lot more attention.
With so many audio editors out there, finding the right tool for the job can be tricky. The multiplatform, open-source editor Audacity has leaped to the top of our list with its clean interface, excellent features, and support for 32-bit floating-point audio. Audacity is feature-rich and flexible, while remaining uncluttered. Most functions--such as effects, edits, and project management-- have been relegated to handy drop-down menus.
Audacity supports uncompressed audio and has a full complement of basic effects such as reverb, delay, and compression. Plug-ins are available and there's a tool to peg the BPM. Though Audacity lacks advanced features out of the box, its usability sets this freeware wonder above the crowd.
The only major medium left without a definitive e-management system has been books. Adobe's Digital Editions, powered by AIR, wants to be the iTunes for e-books, and it's made some serious inroads toward that goal.
The familiar design is a smart move, with management on the left and reading and navigation in the center. Icons in the center shows your books, while the author, page count, and other details are available through Item Options. Last Read tops the nav bar, followed by bookshelves listing All Items, Borrowed, Purchased, and Recently Read. Digital Editions is an excellent first try, and we hope to see future versions with more file support and a browser for e-book discovery.