Tag Archives: Free software

WeChat – It’s free and fun but seems full of bugs.

WeChat is now the most popular topic on Computers Made Simple. Check out the comments at the bottom of this post: Weixin/WeChat – Shake your way to new friends, and you’ll see what we mean. People all over the world are using this free and fun app to meet and greet other users.

Photo of WeChat
Have fun with it but don’t take it too seriously.

WeChat is not without its problems, however. If you look at the comments from our readers, you’d think that WeChat is more of a problem than a solution. That’s not the case but, on the other hand, the makers of this app have not responded to our repeated requests for their input into the bugs. On yet another hand, WeChat is totally free. Because of that, users really can’t complain too much.

App software is a relatively new phenomenon, one that doesn’t require much or any cash input from users. These apps are usually platforms for ads. Some of them, ones such as WeChat which attract younger users looking to meet users of the opposite sex, are wide open to misuse and abuse. Some of the bugs that crop up may be the result of hackers who have found a way to manipulate the software or its servers for their own gain.  Also, we suspect that some governments in the world would rather not have their citizens using such an app.

Because of all of this, we’re here to say, “Enjoy it for what it is. Don’t take it too seriously and, lastly, if WeChat is the only way someone can meet other people, maybe they should take a break.”

If you’re shelling out your hard earned money for something, you have a right to gripe when it doesn’t work. WeChat usually does what it says it will do and is our current choice for keeping in touch with friends from around the world. Why? Simply because it offers so much for so little, nothing as a matter of fact. Chatting, sharing photos and videos, voice messaging, searching for other users, video conferencing, voice chats, well, you get the picture. If it doesn’t work perfectly when we’re looking for other users, no big deal. When it does, it’s fun. When it doesn’t, we do something else.

Finally, we know that this kind of app is addicting. Angry Birds is addicting too but in a different way. WeChat has opened up the world by allowing its users to find, communicate and add friends from just about anywhere. On top of that, WeChat lets you do this in a very unique, fun way. In the same way that Angry Birds was addicting because it was new, WeChat is very similar but the addiction comes not from knocking over pig’s homes but from maybe meeting the right girl or guy who could possibly change your life. Let’s call it a digital single’s bar.

Questions about WeChat or any other topic are the lifeblood of Computers Made Simple. We can’t always help but we do our best.

Thanks for reading!

The Best Free Software – Irfanview

If there is one piece of software that we use everyday, it would have to be Irfanview. We’ve written about this amazing program many times. If you don’t have it on your computer yet, get it. You will never regret it.

Here’s the link to the site. You need two downloads to get the most out of the program. Download the software itself then download the plugins. Install the program first, then the plugins.

The Irfanview Website.  Read about it on the main page then click the download button. Make sure you download Irfanview from the Tucows site, NOT any of the other sites? Why? Some of the others make you download some other software, helpers that don’t help you at all. Stick with Tucows, you can’t go wrong. Here is the link to Tucows: Tucows Irfanview download site

By the way, when you see something like this, don’t click on it. Many sites have these ‘helpful’ links, even Tucows, but don’t download any of this software.


Photo of Irfanview 1
The two links on the bottom are safe, the one at the top isn’t.


What can Irfanview do? Here’s a list:

1. Once you’ve installed it, Irfanview becomes your default photo viewer. Run through a folder of photos simply by double-clicking one photo then pressing the spacebar to show the next. Hit the backspace key to go backwards. Hit the Enter key to show the photos full-screen.

2. Screen captures. We use Irfanview for most of the screen caps that you see on our site. Here’s how you do it: Multiple Screen Captures

3. If you want to use Irfanview to play videos or music, it will do both. We use VLC for videos and iTunes or Windows Media Center for music but Irfanview works just fine for these.

4. Crop, adjust size, create negative images, rotate, resize….Irfanview does all of these and more. For basic image editing, this is all you need. For more complicated work, download and install GIMP. GIMP is equally as powerful as Photoshop, in our opinion. We’ve written many posts about GIMP (Gnu Image Manipulation Program) so search for it in the search box on any page on Computers Made Simple.

5. Create PDFs from photos and documents. There is no need for any professional software for this. Irfanview can save any photo or document as a PDF plus it can create multi-page pdfs quickly and easily.

6. Batch conversion. If you have a whole folder of photos that need to be cropped, resized, renamed, converted to negative, rotated, etc., Irfanview can do it.

7. Adding text to a photo. GIMP does a better job but for simple text, as in the photo above, Irfanview works well.

8. Highlighting parts of a photo or drawing a shape to emphasize something in a photo. Again, GIMP will do a smoother job but Irfanview is quick and easy, plus it loads much fast then GIMP, just because it’s a more basic program.

There are many more things that Irfanview can do but you’ve got the general idea by now. Together with our how-to guides, you’ll be using Irfanview every day, just as we do. If you have questions about it, use the comment space below. We’ll get back to you very quickly.

Thanks for reading!

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Setting Up a New Computer – Part Three

We’re down to optional software now, things you might find handy in some situations but not every day. The longer you use your new computer, the more these programs will  make sense.

1. GIMP (Gnu Image Manipulation Program) is a powerful and FREE image editor, easily as good as Photoshop or any of the editing software that came with your digital camera. You can work on RAW files, too.

2. Cathy is a free tool that lets you keep track of your backup CDs and DVDS. First you burn the CD/DVD with all of your data on it, then you have Cathy scan it. Once you do that, you can search Cathy’s database for the exact file you want and know immediately what disc it is on. You don’t install Cathy. It runs from a your desktop or from your Dropbox folder. The files it creates, in other words the databases for each CD or DVD, are stored with the program and you can move the whole Cathy folder around with you, moving it from computer to computer.

3. WinDirStat does one thing and it does it very well. It creates a map of any drive that you have attached to your computer. As hard drives get larger and larger, keeping track of your files gets very difficult. WinDirStat creates an image of a drive, showing you graphically what files are where. Large files are shown as large squares, color-coded depending on the type of tile they are. As you download videos or edit large digital photos, your hard drive can get pretty crowded. Use WinDirStat to find and archive your precious videos and images. Here’s a screenshot:

Photo of WinDirStat window.
Names at the top, images of files on the bottom.


4. LibreOffice is a full-fledged office suite, the equal of Microsoft Office but with one big difference. It’s free. LibreOffice will interact with Microsoft Office perfectly so there is no need to feel that you won’t be able to send documents around to your friends or co-workers. Here’s a screenshot of the various parts of LibreOffice:

Photo of LibreOffice
Six apps within one suite.


5. Calibre takes care of all of your digital books, keeping track of them on your computer and converting virtually any Ebook format to any other Ebook format. It’s fast and free and works perfectly.


These are five free programs that are available. Sure, there are more but the selection that we’ve described in our last two or three posts will get you on your way. If you have favorites, please let us know.


Thanks for reading!

Setting Up a New Computer – Part Two

Once you’ve got an email account set up and your anti-virus software working, it’s time to start setting up Windows. You did some of that the first time you turned it on but now it’s time to take a look at Windows Update.

As you probably know all too well, Windows needs to update itself almost daily. Millions of hackers around the world are trying to find ways to get into your computer and Microsoft spends time and money trying to keep you safe. Windows Update is a part of Windows that automatically sends you the latest changes. Here are the settings available to you:

Photo of Windows Update menu.
We’ve chosen to take a look at the updates first, then choose which ones to download and install.


We would suggest the second choice (third from the top) if you are new to computing. That way, you can choose the time to install the updates as opposed to Windows doing it for you. Why? Because Windows doesn’t care if you are in the middle of something when it is updating your computer. If you let it, Windows will restart your computer when it needs to as opposed to you choosing to do it when you want to. We know what we’re doing, most of the time anyway, so we like to see what Windows is installing before it is installed. We don’t expect you to do that.  For the most part, you’re safe using the ‘Download updates but let me choose whether to install them.”

TIP: Don’t forget to check for updates at least once a month, every two weeks is better. There will be a little icon on the lower right of your taskbar that will indicate an update is available:

Photo of Windows Update Icon
Windows Update Icon


Next comes the fun part, at least for us. Every computer we set up has a set of standard software that we download and install after we’ve got the security features enabled. NOTE: All of the following programs are completely free. Yes, FREE!

Here’s the list:

1. Although Microsoft pretends that Internet Explorer is totally safe and vital to the future of the free world, we immediately download and install Google Chrome. Then we stop using Internet Explorer completely. No matter what Microsoft says, Internet Explorer is NOT safe. It’s also molasses slow. Don’t use it. Use Chrome.

2. Once Chrome is installed, we feel safe and start to download the other software that we need. First up is the Video Lan Player. Windows 8 doesn’t come with a DVD player, believe it or not. No matter, VLC will play any video file or DVD that you throw at it. Download it, install it and relax.

Photo of VLC Icon
The VLC icon. You’ll get used to this one, we think.


3. Next up is Irfanview. We’ve written about this superb free program before, many times. You can view all of your photos with Irfanview plus it has a few tools to help you work with your digital pictures. Download it and install it and make sure you download the plugins too. The plugins will open up virtually any type of RAW file there is. No need to use the software that came with your digital camera unless you really want to. Irfanview does it all. Check out our past posts on this brilliant program (go to the main page and search for irfanview). It’s simply the best there is.

4. Burnaware  , the free version, is necessary to backup your data (photos, videos, documents) to CDs or DVDs. Use blank DVD -R, they’re cheaper than CDS and have a much greater capacity. Once Burnaware is installed, all you have to do it pop in a blank DVD, choose your burn options, drag and drop files into the window and that’s it. Click the burn button and you’re done.

5. Most of us use Skype to communicate with friends and relatives. Microsoft has purchased Skype so now you can sign in with your hotmail or live account. You can chat with video, video and mic or just by typing in the chat window. Skype to Skype calls are always free and while you could investigate making telephone calls using it, we think there are better alternatives. There are many ways to make free phone calls, depending on where you live. If you’re in North America, free telephony is as easy as opening a Gmail account. We use WeChat and Yahoo Messenger as well as QQ for our international video conferencing but we do use Skype with relatives in our own country.

These are the programs that we can’t live without when we get a new computer. There are others, of course, that we like to add. Tomorrow, we’ll outline some of them. Remember that every piece of hardware that you add to your computer, things such as printers, scanners, webcams, external hard drives, etc, will want to add their own programs. Some of these programs do double-duty, too. This means that they work with the hardware that they came with but they also do other things. It’s worthwhile to check what else some of these bits of software will do that might be helpful.

We’ll run through some optional programs in our next post. These would be programs that we find useful but, depending on your computer use, might not interest you. Stay tuned for that.

Thanks for reading!




Miro – a better way to use Youtube

Miro, available here: http://www.getmiro.com/ , is one of those little apps that grows on you. It seems a bit odd, at the start anyway, but when you get used to it, it makes a whole lot of sense.

Download the program and install it. Miro is what we call ‘open source’ software. It’s free, completely and totally free. You will get the chance to donate during the installation and when the program starts up but that’s up to you. The software is not shareware, it’s not hampered in any way but the makers do ask you to send them a few bucks. That’s fair, isn’t it? Once you see how cool this software is, you might actually send them a shekel or two.

Once Miro is installed, it will ask if you want the program to search for videos. We said no to that but you can certainly say yes, if you want. It will also prompt you to download something called Bonjour which supposedly makes sharing your stuff with other Miro users much easier. Again, we declined.

Here is Miro when it first opens:

Photo of Miro   1
Viewing window in the middle, sources on the left and history on the right.


On the left side of the menu you’ll see the various sources of media that Miro can connect with. You can even add your own sources, DailyMotion for instance, to the list. To do that, click on the word Sources then type in the URL of the source you want in the slot provided. Like this:

Photo of Miro  2
Type in the url and Miro will add that site to its source list.

For any of the sources listed, it’s always better if you have an account there, right? These are all free sites and signing up for an account is easy and free, too. Once you’re signed up, for Youtube for instance, Miro will tell you what videos you’ve seen, what subscriptions you’ve added and, this is the best part, it will let you save the video to your computer. Click up on the top where it says ‘Download this video’ and, zap, the video is now in your library. See on the left side, up near the tops where it says ‘Videos’? Click that word and you’ll see a list of videos that you’ve saved.

Photo of Miro  3
Downloading videos is fast and easy, just click the button.


We should mention that you can only save Youtube videos. So far, this feature does not work on DailyMotion. (We’ve got another way to save DM videos that we’ll explain in another post.)

Once you get used to using Miro, you’ll probably use it exclusively for Youtube and accessing your videos and music. If you click on Music, up on the top left, your iTunes media appears. Down near the bottom are some sample podcasts and a sample playlist. Miro allows you to create your own playlist, of course.

There seems to be a torrent link too but at the time of this writing, it wasn’t working. All it said was that ‘an updated YouTorrent is coming soon’. We’ll wait and see what happens with that. If you’re in the U.S., or if you’re using a VPN, you can watch full episodes of current TV shows on Hulu. You can always upgrade to Hulu Plus, as well. Full-screen viewing is possible here or with any video source you use.

This has been a short rundown of Miro’s uses. We’ve put Miro on all of our computers and, believe us, you’ll get hooked on finding everything in one place. Miro has a small footprint, too. It doesn’t use a whole of of your memory (RAM), leaving lots for your other applications. Right now, it’s our favorite all-in-one solution. Let us know how it works out for you.

Thanks for reading!