More and more I find myself borrowing heavily from the Internet for my digital media toolset. Whenever I rebuild my home computer, I inevitably spend more time re-downloading and re-installing these little, useful tools than I ever do on the OS or retail programs. This should be an easy(ier) way to share and keep track of them.
Digital Photography Autostitch. An *amazing* software proof of concept that will take a series of images and automagically stitch them together. Makes a nearly perfect panorama with zero effort! Go ahead, throw handheld images at it that are differently exposed and at different orientations. It'll figure it all out. Highly recommended. Picasa. Google bought out this company and now offers a great freeware program for organizing and retouching your digital images. ACDSee. ACDSee covers much of the same ground as Picasa, yet it does some things better. A great Windows Explorer replacement when you're working with images. (Note: Trial version may last only 30 days.) Microsoft Powertoys. Tiny little applications that can make some tasks much easier, including: Image Resizer and Webcam Timershot.
Digital Video New! VirtualDub. It's been probably a few years since I first took a look at the open source project VirtualDub. While I still can't call its interface intuitive, I was surprised by the breadth of its functionality. Recommended for those that are already familiar with video compression and encoding. Windows Media Player 10. If you're a Windows user, it comes with your OS (but you may not have the latest version.) QuickTime Player 7. Good cross platform format, but scores lowest on filesize. No need to register to download -- also comes with iTunes. Real Player Basic. Real wrote the book on sneaky, advertisement-laden installers, but at small file sizes, the Real format has arguably the best video quality. Don't let their website sidetrack you into paying for something you don't need! Windows Media Encoder. Of the big three video architectures (Windows Media, QuickTime, and Real), Microsoft wins the "best free encoder" award. You can convert (or even stream!) practically any video source with this encoder. Highly recommended.
Digital Audio New!Audacity. Audacity is a free, easy-to-use, very robust digital audio editor. If you've ever sliced up a waveform, you'll find this program very intuitive. iTunes. A more intuitive (than the Windows Media Player) organizing/library player for your music collection. Winamp. A small, simple, infinately customizable mp3 player.
Miscellaneous Utilities PaperCDcase.com. Don't have a jewel case handy? This site will create a .pdf that you can simply print and fold to create your own paper CD cases! Winzip. My compression/decompression tool of choice. WinRar. For when Winzip doesn't cut it. SmartFTP. When it's time to upload or download files. Ad-Aware. Update and run it every so often to eliminate spy-, ad-, and malware from your computer. Highly recommended. Acrobat Reader. This should come with the OS nowadays. Really, it should. Microsoft Powertoys. Tiny little applications that can make some tasks much easier, including: Open Command Window Here. PowerPoint Viewer. You don't need Microsoft Office just to view someone's PowerPoint presentations. Not that I'm into that, or anything, but it could be useful. Firefox. Firefox is the popular alternative to Internet Explorer and Netscape for those in the know.
Plug-ins Google Toolbar. Able to be added to most browsers, the Google Toolbar blocks pop-ups, makes searches easier, and ads a ton of other very useful features, to boot. Highly recommended. Dictionary.com Toolbar. Pop in a word and instantly know it's definition. Or synonym. Or get the Word of the Day.
Digital Photography; Printing Before you jump on the inkjet bandwagon, consider carefully how much all that ink will cost if you print out all your digital photos. You may be surprised that one of the services below will give you true photographic prints at a similar price point.
Ofoto (Kodak Easyshare). The best of the bunch, in my opinion. Easy to use website, many options. Imagestation (Sony). Better for calendars and photobooks, often cheaper than Ofoto, but a frustrating web page to use. Zazzle. Best place for framed prints and full customizable T-shirts. Snapfish. Some people like Snapfish. I don't. Decide for yourself.
Utilities Google. Search with Google if you need to find anything online. Google Image Search. Google will let you find images, too. Gmail. 1GB of e-mail storage -- use it to store big files! Google Maps. In beta, but so much easier to use than Mapquest. Homestarrunner. A great, um, resource for, uh... learning Flash?
Online shopping If you're about to buy anything technology oriented, do a search for it on each of these sites first, then buy from the first store you feel comfortable with. (Remember: The store with the cheapest price isn't necessarily the best place to buy from!)
Hosting ICDSoft. I only really have experience with one pay-for-web-hosting service, and this is it. $5 a month gets you 333MB of storage, e-mail, a 5GB transfer. No command line, though -- could be a deal breaker.