Free software: 14 programs to keep you organized

These 14 free software programs can organize everything from email to music.

Here are 14 free software programs to keep you organized. In some cases, you can upgrade for a small fee to even more powerful versions.

On Sunday, I reviewed the worthwhile book Getting Organized in the Google Era by Douglas C. Merrill, during which I mentioned that most of the productivity software I use for my work is free. A few people emailed me and asked about them, including this one (which made me smile) from Dot:

As much writing as you do I can’t believe you don’t use lots of expensive software! Good for you! (What do you use?)

Although I’ve mentioned my free software list a few times before, I figured there was no time better than the present to update this list.

Here are fourteen pieces of free software I use pretty much every single day for the work I do. Some of these come in free and paid versions – in each case, I’ve become such a loyal user of the software that I’m now a paid user, as I’m a big believer in paying for what I use.

Mozilla Firefox
I use my web browser far more than any other application – and Firefox has been my web browser of choice for a long time. Why Firefox? Identity theft protection. Popup blocking. Tons and tons of useful add-ons. That’s a start, anyway.

I use multiple computers. Xmarks enables me to access all of my bookmarks (and I have quite a lot of them) on all of the computers. It works with Firefox, Internet Explorer, Safari, and Google Chrome, so it’s not just tied to Firefox. Even my iPod Touch has all of my bookmarks on it, and I can get to them on other people’s computers, too, though it’s not as seamless.

I’m starting to build up an image archive of photos taken with my own camera for various projects. Picasa has become my organizing tool, as it keeps them all organized and easy to find, enables me to do simple touch-ups (I bust out Photoshop for major changes), tagging, and easy web sharing, though I still use Flickr for most sharing purposes.

I use Skype for my business-related calls. Most of the features are free, but I pay $2.95 a month to have my own phone number and the ability to dial any phone number in the United States – very, very helpful. I use a headset with this to minimize echo, so I’m sometimes sitting at my computer with headphones and a little mic, talking to someone using Skype.

I often use this for sharing files between various computers, as well as sometimes making files available to others that I want to share with. While I have home networking set up, it isn’t seamless and it doesn’t allow retrieval from anywhere, so Dropbox fills in that gap incredibly well.

Remember the Milk
Remember the Milk handles my to-do lists for me. I usually use RtM hand-in-hand with processing my “inbox” (mail, notes to myself, and so forth). If there’s a task I need to do, I put it into RtM, and when I need to get down to business, RtM simply has my to-do list ready to go for me. I’ve used it for years.

The best thing I ever did was consolidate my email inside of Gmail. It enables me to effortlessly search through all of my email from any web browser, which is incredibly useful for both personal and professional things. I often just email things I need to remember to myself so I can search for them and find them later on within Gmail.

This serves as an incredibly effective personal schedule for me, enabling me to quickly see (from almost anywhere) what’s going on today, tomorrow, this week, this month, and so on. Recurring appointments, the ability to color-label different kinds of things, and the plethora of different views just a mouse-click away makes this an essential tool for me.

Whenever I’m brainstorming, I usually use Evernote to keep those notes. The same is true if I’m taking notes in a meeting or anything like that. Evernote allows me to take notes on one computer (or my iPod Touch) and the notes are easily accessible on any computer, allowing me to retrieve my notes and thoughts anywhere.

I use Digsby on any Windows-based computer I’m on to keep up to date with Twitter, Facebook, and the instant messaging programs I use all at once. Whenever something new comes along, it pops up in the corner and I can click on it to reply if I so choose. It’s great to have on if I’m just searching for ideas and it turns off with just a click when I need to focus.

Notepad++ is what I use when I’m writing posts (this article was typed out in Notepad++), writing code, or trying to organize ideas. It does so many little things better than the default Notepad that I consider it essential. I even type out long emails in it, copying and pasting when I’m finished.

Google Docs
When I’m assembling longer documents, doing basic spreadsheet work, or assembling presentations, I usually use Google Docs. Doing this allows me to work on those documents no matter where I am. Even better, you can effortlessly share these documents for collaborative purposes, allowing other people access to the document and allowing them to make changes and keep track of them.

Google Reader
I try to keep track of (literally) hundreds of different blogs. I use Google Reader to do this – it simply shows me the latest posts from all of these sites at once. I can group these sites into whatever collections I like and it keeps track of which ones I’ve read and which ones I haven’t.

For my uses, this is the best media manager software, but that’s partially because I use an iPod Touch. Without that, I would recommend Songbird ( In either case, the software simply makes it easy to organize and sort through my music collection (which I listen to as I work), create playlists, track my preferences, and so on.

This list pretty much sums up the software I use on a daily basis – and it’s all free.

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