Seven more things you need for your computer.

Seven more things you need for your computer.

Seven more things you need for your computer.

Innovation, the Internet, gadgets, and more.
Nov. 13 2008 2:51 PM

Seven More Things You Need for Your Computer

Reader suggestions for software that you absolutely need to have.

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PeerGuardian 2. This app prevents Internet addresses that are known to be harmful from connecting to your machine while you're using peer-to-peer file-trading programs. It's hard to know whether PeerGuardian is really keeping you safe from malware (or perhaps from detection by Hollywood), but several perhaps paranoid readers called it a must-have, and it works quietly enough in the background that I see no harm in keeping it on.

Evernote. Many readers were puzzled by my note-taking strategy—I keep a single text file and use it to store all of my thoughts, to-do lists, and other urgent messages. Lots of people told me to use Evernote instead. In fact, I've long been a fan of this online service that promises to store everything you put in it—pictures, text notes, Web pages, anything—forever. (Read my review of Evernote here.) Its best feature is its ability to extract text from photos: Imagine that you're attending a conference and you meet a guy who works at Microsoft. To remember him, just snap a picture with your cell-phone cam and stick it into Evernote. In a few minutes' time, the software will have crunched the picture, even converting your new friend's conference name tag into searchable text. So when you search Evernote for "Microsoft," you'll see the guy's photo and name tag. I still find my text-file method easier for most of my notes, but for remembering Web pages and things that I snap with my iPhone on the street, I often rely on Evernote.


Foxit Reader. This Windows app opens PDF files quicker and with fewer crashes than Adobe Reader. What's not to love?

MediaMonkey. Last month, I complained that I'd found few good alternatives to iTunes. Apple's music program looks good and is easy to use, but it's slow to load up, and it's constantly bugging me to install slightly revised updates, a process that can take 10 minutes or more. Many readers shared my frustration with iTunes, and several told me that I'd have a ball with a Windows program called MediaMonkey.

But after installing it, I can only give MediaMonkey a half-hearted recommendation. True, the app is packed with features that are great for people who are obsessive about keeping their MP3 collections under control. If many of your songs are missing "metadata"—song or album names, release dates, etc.—MediaMonkey can surely help you out. (It can extract tags from Amazon and other online repositories, and it's got several search options to let you see which songs are missing which tags.) Trouble is, you'll need to look up an online how-to—here's one, and here's another—to figure out how to use the software. MediaMonkey's interface is neither pretty nor intuitive, and it took me a while to understand how it was laying out my music and how to get it to do the many great things readers promised.

Other warnings, if you're thinking about switching: The app can't play any copy-protected songs or movies that you've purchased through the iTunes store (which, to be sure, is Apple's and the music industry's fault, not MediaMonkey's; consider buying your music from Amazon's DRM-free MP3 store). Also, some people have reported trouble getting MediaMonkey to hook up to their iPhones. But, hey, MediaMonkey is free (a slightly more feature-packed Gold version sells for $20), and it installs quickly, so give it a try. You might well find it better than iTunes.

Backup. How should you safeguard your precious data against your computer's inevitable demise? You should back it up. But how? In my last roundup, I didn't recommend any sort of backup program. That's because I don't use one—while I'm careful about saving my data, my strategies are kludgy, mainly involving manually copying important files and folders to external drives. I realize this is madness, and many readers offered better ways. But I'm still searching for the perfect backup strategy. If you've got a great backup tip, please let me know. I'll report back in a later column.

Farhad Manjoo is a technology columnist for the New York Times and the author of True Enough.