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50 great, free ways to improve your software

Make your software do more... for free

We rounded up more than 50 of our favourite tools and tips for unlocking extra value from popular browsers, productivity applications and multimedia tools.

Multimedia muscle builders

From music players to image editors, add-ons abound in the world of multimedia. To upgrade your audio or make your photos and videos pop, check out our favourite plug-ins for iTunes, Windows Media Player, Photoshop, and other popular programs.

Make music friends, get worthwhile recommendations: iLike is a plug-in for Apple iTunes that expands your music listening options. A standard (and popular) social-networking component turns you on to people with musical tastes similar to yours, but the "related music" system seals the deal.

Choose a song in your library, and iLike offers other music you might like (with instant previews you can play), along with free, similar MP3s from independent artists.


Use Variable Bit Rate encoding in iTunes: No matter what overall bit rate you rip tunes at, Variable Bit Rate (VBR) delivers the best-quality music while keeping file sizes small. Finding the option in iTunes isn't easy. To get there, click EditPreferencesAdvanced, click the Importing tab, and then click the Setting drop-down menu.

Choose Custom, and check the Use Variable Bit Rate Encoding box. A transfer rate of 192 kbps and Medium High quality for VBR yield exceptional results; aim higher if you think you can hear the difference.

MP3 encoder

Give WMP an upgrade: Windows Media Player may not be the most exciting application on its own, but the free Windows Media Bonus Pack add-on for Windows XP gives WMP considerably more oomph. Extras include additional visualizations, skins, and sound effects, plus new features such as the ability to export your playlist to Excel and a better tool for finding missing artwork and other metadata on your audio tracks.

Upload to Flickr in bulk: Sending 10, 20, 50, or more photos to the Flickr photo-sharing site can be dull and time consuming. Download the Flickr Uploader (now in version 3.0) for a quick-and-easy way to upload photos in bulk, all in a standalone application. The program also plugs into Windows Explorer.

Right-click any image (or group), and you'll get a 'Send to Flickr' menu item, which opens the Flickr Uploader application and gets your shots ready to go.

Upload to Flickr by email: Don't have web access? You can send pictures to your Flickr account by email from any PC or even by phone. First, find your custom upload email address. Use the subject line of your message for the photo's title and the body for a description. Flag any tags by prefacing them with the phrase "tags:" on their own line.

Quickly shrink those pics: It's wise to take photos at the highest resolution that your camera supports, but your friends and family members probably don't want to be custodians of an inbox full of 4MB files.

If firing up a full-blown image editor such as Photoshop seems like overkill, use Microsoft's Image Resizer PowerToy to right-click any image and open a Resize Pictures menu for easily making pics smaller.

To resize in bulk, select multiple shots.

NEXT PAGE: More multimedia muscle builders > >

  1. Make your software do more... for free
  2. Browser boosters, part I
  3. Browser boosters, part II
  4. Five essential browser add-ons
  5. Office optimisers
  6. More office optimisers
  7. Five essential office add-ons
  8. Multimedia muscle builders
  9. More multimedia muscle builders
  10. Five essential multimedia add-ons

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