Budget Computing

Back in 2006, we passed on a computer system to a friend of ours who had none at home. Since then, she has gotten interested in digital photography and wants to produce some designs for CafePress, as well as the usual email, browsing, and writing. This is complicated by the fact that she and her husband don’t really care to spend the bucks for broadband.

Yesterday, she was shopping and ran across a sale on a Compaq Presario F750US laptop computer, at $450. She ended up buying it after consulting with Diane and I. She is planning on using some of the free WiFi hotspots in her vicinity, such as the local branch of the public library, in order to use the Internet.

We talked a bit later, and I mentioned that in keeping with the budget she’d like (spend as little as possible), that there were a number of open source or free applications and utilities that she should look into. I’ll append what I wrote to her. Please add other suggestions or disagreements on my suggestions to the comments.

Web browser:

Get Mozilla Firefox. You’ll still need to use Internet Explorer for visiting the Microsoft Windows Update site, but for everything else you probably ought to be using Firefox. Firefox is extendible by “plugins”, of which there are now hundreds to do just about anything you can think of to aid your browsing experience.

Photo editing:
GIMP : http://gimp-win.sourceforge.net/stable.html

It appears that GIMShop is not quite Vista-compatible yet, so I’d recommend plain GIMP until GIMPShop works out some issues.

The documentation is a separate download. See

It looks like QImage has gone to a time-limited “demo” mode for their software. I’d suggest trying a demo download anyway.

ImageMagick is a package that provides several command-line tools for image manipulation. This is a very useful package to have on hand, and is needed for JPEG autorotation software.

Main site: http://www.imagemagick.org/script/index.php
Windows installer download: http://www.imagemagick.org/script/binary-releases.php#windows
“If you are not sure which version is appropriate, choose ImageMagick-6.3.8-0-Q16-windows-dll.exe.”

JPEG Autorotate
If your camera has a built-in orientation sensor, this may be useful for you. It adds a right-click context menu offering an option of automatically applying a lossless rotation of JPEG image files in a directory. It makes my life easier.

jpegoptim is a small command-line utility that lets you set a quality level for JPEG images. This is very useful for making versions to put on web pages. jpegoptim can also strip out all EXIF information from JPEG files, further reducing size. Note that you should never apply jpegoptim or any manipulation that results in re-saving your original JPEG file back to itself; you will lose information present in the original JPEG. All your editing should work from the original file and be saved to a new version.

Vector graphics:

Inkscape provides functionality similar to CorelDraw or Adobe Illustrator and is open source. Use this for making text overlays. You can “import” a bitmap file or photo and incorporate that into designs. There is no image cropping like in Coreldraw in Inkscape that I see, so you will want to crop images using GIMP or QImage before importing them into this program.

Office functionality:

The Open Office suite provides the usual applications: writing, presentation, spreadsheet, drawing, and database.


PDFCreator is a utility that sets up a virtual printer driver that ends up with a PDF file of the printed output. This allows you to save, for instance, web pages from the browser as PDF files. (You should set page orientation to “landscape” when printing to PDF from a web browser. I’m not sure why, but “portrait” orientation often truncates the right-hand side of pages.)

CD/DVD burning:

Infrarecorder is a free application for CD/DVD burning and copying, and also rips CD audio disks to MP3 and other compressed formats.


ImgBurn is a free application that creates and burns CD/DVD images.


CD Ripping:

FreeRip Basic does the job.

Video encoding:

SUPER is a free application that encapsulates a number of free video transcoding libraries and puts a graphical user interface on them. If you want to translate a video file to use on a portable media player, you’ll probably want to look at this.


MP3 Player Alternate Firmware:

Rockbox is an alternate firmware for a variety of MP3 players. I’m using it on my Sansa E280 player.



You’ll want the ActivePerl package, which makes it possible to use Perl scripts on your computer.
Start at http://www.activestate.com/Products/activeperl/
Pick “Download”, which is free.
Download the “MSI” link under “Windows”. If you are unsure of your CPU type, get the “Windows(x86)” version.

Phone utility:

BitPIM lets you get and put information to your cell phone, if your cell phone has a USB interface. This means that you can add entries to your contact list on the computer and upload it to your phone, or download photos from your phone.

Wesley R. Elsberry

Falconer. Interdisciplinary researcher: biology and computer science. Data scientist in real estate and econometrics. Blogger. Speaker. Photographer. Husband. Christian. Activist.

5 thoughts on “Budget Computing

  • 2008/01/22 at 9:07 pm

    I’ve always liked Irfan View for viewing, and doing some resizing and such. It does batches, and also has a plugin jpeg lossless rotation.


  • 2008/01/24 at 2:16 pm

    Happy (Belated Birthday) from me too. Mine was a couple days before yours, so still working off the hangover. :)

  • 2008/01/24 at 9:45 pm

    Irfan is well-known and nice, but I like the newer FastStone image viewer better. Due to the way it caches images, it “feels” faster than any other viewer I’ve used, including commercial viewers – a big help with today’s 10MP+ images. The images look great, and it has many viewing and editing functions. And it’s free.

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