Best Of The Best: Tools And Apps, Third Quarter 2009

The third quarter of 2009 was filled with all sorts of useful communication tools, time saving applications and software to help you get things done. Here's a look back at the winners in each of the categories.

Best Free System Restore Tool: Clonezilla

Clonezilla is a powerful open-source disk imaging tool easy enough for new users to jump into. The deep-down features, though, may keep users around as their needs grow. The server edition allows for network-based bulk disk imaging, and Clonezilla itself supports over a half-dozen file systems covering Windows, Linux and Mac-based machines. Even if you're using an obscure file system that isn't supported, you can still use Clonezilla, but you'll need to do a sector-to-sector copy instead of taking advantage of the efficiency and compression it applies when backing up a supported file system. The personal version of Clonezilla is a Live CD and customisable by the end user to meet a variety of needs in a variety of situations, with more than adequate documentation on the Clonezilla site to help you do so.

Best Online Image Editor: Aviary Phoenix

Aviary Phoenix is an image editor that is part of the Aviary Suite of online editing tools, which—on top of image editing—boasts a vector and filter editor, among other tools. Aviary Phoenix has an advanced interface and plenty of options to help you edit your images, like layers, blending and magic wand selection. You can use Aviary without signing up for an account, but with an account you can save your creations, collaborate with other users and participate in the Aviary community. The Aviary Phoenix Firefox extension, called Talon, adds in an assortment of functionality like screen capture, quick editing of images you find online and support for pressure-sensitive input devices. The premium version of Aviary Phoenix is available for $US25 a year and unlocks advanced features and the ability to save your work to your Aviary account without adding it to the public area of the Aviary community. Photo by tinyfroglet.

Best Content Filtering Tool: OpenDNS

OpenDNS is a perfect solution for people who either lack the time or expertise to set up and administer a full-out content-filtering server. OpenDNS replaces your current DNS server and allows you to filter every connection coming out of your house if you change the DNS settings at the router level. No matter if someone is on your main desktop or connecting into your wireless via laptop, everything will be filtered by OpenDNS. You can set custom filters to whitelist and blacklist specific sites and customise the range of filters they provide for you. If you're considering using OpenDNS as your household filter, check out our previous article on the topic.

Best Instant Messenger: Trillian Astra

Trillian seemed to all but disappear from the instant messaging scene for a while there, but it's come back in full force with the beta-release of Trillian Astra (which most were suspecting may have been vaporware). Trillian Astra has an extensive feature list, although some of the juicier features are disabled after 30 days if you don't upgrade to the Pro edition. Trillian supports the regular customers like AIM, Google Talk, ICQ and MSN Messenger, as well as Facebook, MySpace, Skype, IRC and Twitter. While video and audio support are notably lacking, Trillian circumvents the problem of trying to play nice with 3rd party protocols by sporting its own video and chat service that is run through the Astra network.

Best PDF Reader: PDF-XChange

PDF-XChange is an Adobe Reader-alternative that boasts snappy load times and basic functionality that outpaces the basic functionality of Adobe Reader. With PDF-XChange you can open and browse PDF documents, perform simple page annotations with drawings and text and type outside of preset form boxes by using the PDF-XChange typewriter tool to place text wherever you want. Advanced features like reorganising pages and text extraction are only available with the Pro upgrade. PDF-Xchange is available as a portable application.

Best Video Player: VLC

VLC is a media player with far-reaching appeal. It is available for over 10 operating systems including systems as obscure as BeOS. Built with open-source code and fuelled by free decoding and encoding libraries, it has a history of innovation and performance; it was, for example, the first player that could play back encrypted DVDs on Linux. VLC allows you to play incomplete or damaged videos, so you can decide if it is worth finishing a download or repairing a video file. VLC can also play a variety of formats not commonly supported by media players, such as a raw DVD ISO file or AVCHD — a format currently used by many HD camcorders. VLC is available as a portable application.

Best Video-Sharing Site: YouTube

YouTube has reached a level of ubiquity in the video-sharing market that for millions of internet users, YouTube is not only how they were introduced to video sharing — it's also the only video sharing site they're even aware of. Videos uploaded to YouTube have to be smaller than 2GB, and they must be 10 minutes or shorter in length if you're using a basic account. YouTube places no restriction on the number of videos you can upload as long as they follow the 2GB/10min rule. You can't edit your videos once you've uploaded them to YouTube, but you can annotate them with additional information and links. YouTube lets you embed and customise the player, again, for free.

Best Disk Defragmenter:Defraggler

Defraggler, from the same company that produces popular applications CCleaner and Recuva, is a portable defragmentation tool. It can scan multiple disks, individual disks, folders or individual files for some quick, specific defragging. When Defraggler scans a disk, it shows you all the fragmented files and lets you either select sets to be defragmented or batch defragment all of them.

Best Virtual-Desktop Manager:Compiz

If you like your virtual-desktop managers to come with some flair and eye candy, Compiz is definitely worth a look. Linux users who just want simple workspace switching might be better served by Gnome Workspaces, but if you're on a rig with a nice graphics card—and you want to live it up with fancy graphic-intensive transitions between virtual desktops—Compiz's more advanced effects are pretty nifty. Compiz comes with a core of plug-ins that cover all sorts of 3D effects which can be further supplemented by using Compiz Fusion, a version of Compiz that sports additional plug-ins and enhanced graphics.

Best Time-Tracking Application: Klok

Built with Adobe AIR, Klok is a lightweight and cross-platform tracking solution. You can create a hierarchy of projects and sub-projects in the task-management sidebar and then track the time spent on each by dragging and dropping them into the workflow for the day. While you can delve into the details of each block of time, simple adjustments like expanding the amount of time you've worked on a project is as easy as grabbing the edge of the block with your mouse and tugging it down.


    CLONEZILLA?! Seriously?! What about Paragon Free and Macrium? Both are much more suited to noobs than Clonezilla, which is far less straightforward.



    "Create a device to save to (for example HDA)"

    - yeah, awesome for anyone who doesnt understand Linux device naming conventions

    "use gzip... bzip... lha... no compression"
    - well thats straightforward for anyone who has no idea about the different formats

    Yep. Great interface for n00bs....(!?)

    You /can/ say its great free disk imaging software. Its just WRONG to say its "easy enough for new users to jump into"

    Most of the people I repair computers for would have no idea what to do with this interface. Amazing that you would put it up as being something suitable for 'anyone' to use

    I'm missing zooming presentations tools like and on the list. But thanks for tipping off so many other cool apps

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