These are the digital tools for Windows that I recommend based on years of use. An asterisk [*] indicates that I have been a beta tester for the product.
The Master Genealogist (TMG) 9.03*
NOTE: It was announced on August 1, 2014 that TMG will be discontinued at the end of September, 2014. At this writing (Nov 2015) I'm still in mourning, but at this time have no intention of trying to migrate my data to any other program. There is (was) no other program remotely as sophisticated or feature-rich; any migration would involve data loss, even if only hundreds of thousands of custom-written sentences. Every sentence you read in every sketch on this site was written in TMG. I got on board with 3.0 in the late 90s, and was a beta tester for 3.5 and 4.0.
Visual Chartform 2.0. Detail-intensive chart creator bundled with TMG allows control of every style and content detail imaginable, and can generate huge charts (up to 30+ feet long, depending upon system memory and fonts) from your TMG file or any GEDCOM. Email your file to the company's modestly-priced printing service with a mouse click.
Second Site. John Cardinal's web site creation program for TMG users — Second Site built every page on this site. Inexpensive ($29.95), versatile software with outstanding support from its author. Many non-genealogists and non-TMG users have also used Second Site as a CSS interface to build their own web sites.
TMG Utilities. John Cardinal's essential companion utilities for TMG. Inexpensive donorware.
Mozilla Thunderbird. Free, standards-compliant, feature-rich.
StripEm. Strip quotation marks (or any other character you specify) out of email and text files. Really old but useful and free to boot.
2xExplorer. A dual-pane file manager/Windows shell in the style of the legendary Norton Commander. Replacement for the wimpy MS Windows Explorer. Tons of powerful features hidden beneath a simple, intuitive interface. Freeware. I could not live without this. Now (Jan. 2005) legacy software, i.e., no longer supported though still available for download. The author offers a powerful upgrade replacement entitled xplorer2 in Pro and Lite (free) versions which I have not tried.
CCleaner. PC optimization and cleaning. Removes orphaned entries in the Windows Registry among many other things. The Startup tab, as a bonus, manages those ill-behaved, overly aggressive programs which insist on loading every time you open Windows. The Lite version is free. (Don't mess with the Registry if you don't know what you're doing!)
KeyNote. Tabbed notebook/outliner and personal information manager, with tree structure and strong encryption. Collect all those "sticky notes" into hierarchical trees in one place; easily search and find anything you've entered. This is the "kitchen drawer" on my computer where I store everything from recipes to fuel oil delivery history. Open source freeware.
PS Hot Launch VVL. Creates a System Tray icon which can open all your favorite programs, links and documents, send mail to a specified address, etc., from one nested popup menu. Clean, simple interface, uses few system resources. Saves countless mouse clicks as a replacement for the default Start/Programs sequence in Windows. Freeware, highly recommended.
Publication, Presentation & Graphics
Adobe Pagemaker. In the professional desktop publishing world, the Windows choices are Quark Xpress and Pagemaker. Quark costs more, is klutzier (it was created for the Macintosh, and only years later ported to Windows), and requires additional purchase of features sold as separate add-ons. Pagemaker will set you back $449, but you get what you pay for. Adobe now bundles it within their InDesign suite (which is priced so extortionately that if you have to ask, you can't afford it), but at this writing Pagemaker 7.0 can still be purchased as a standalone.
Serif PagePlus. Basic but capable $99 page layout substitute for the casual or infrequent user who can't afford or justify acquiring Pagemaker. I do not recommend Microsoft Publisher.
Serif PhotoPlus. PhotoPlus is to Adobe Photoshop as PagePlus is to Pagemaker. Adobe Photoshop remains the high-end standard, but if you can't rationalize spending $500 for Photoshop (which also has a steep learning curve as the price of its power), you can download the freeware version of PhotoPlus. Then if you like it, you can upgrade to more full-featured versions at a fraction of the cost of Photoshop. You'll get 75% of the same features, including all the essentials most people will ever need and more "extra" features than you can ever use.
IrfanView (image manager). This lightning-fast image manager is head and shoulders above the rest for speed, simplicity, flexibility, and features. In addition to basic viewing and maintenance (move, copy, rename, resize, convert, reduce colors, slide show, thumbnails, etc.), you can rotate, apply basic filters and PhotoShop plugins, and set image gamma and contrast. Reads every file format known to man, has a host of plug-ins available, is incredibly fast, and is frequently updated. "Category killer" freeware.
MetaPad. Small, fast, free plain text (ASCII) editor replacement for Windows Notepad, which adds features and handles much larger files. I've renamed my copy of Metapad to Notepad.exe, overwriting the Microsoft applet of the same name. Now when I double-click on a 150-page text file, it opens instantly in Metapad, instead of returning a "file too big" message from Notepad.
NoteTab Light. The free, "lite" version of the powerhouse NoteTab line of products. This too began life as a replacement for the wretched Windows Notepad applet, but has grown into a very powerful application for TXT and HTML formats. Superb HTML editor, with a series of included symbol and tag libraries (HTML, CSS, Smilies, etc.) which load into the left-hand screen panel.
Portable Document Format (PDF)
PDF995. PDF files can display and print the creator's fonts and formatting on any machine which has the free Adobe Acrobat Reader installed. PDF is such a useful format that NARA and the Library of Congress now distribute their Web documents in it. To create a PDF file yourself, you could spend a couple hundred bucks to buy the industrial strength version of Acrobat from Adobe - but why? Instead, "roll your own" with one of the free PDF generators available. Essentially, these install as printer drivers; you open your target file in any Windows program, click the Print button, and in the dialog box select the PDF driver as your printer. Click OK, name the new file, and you've saved it as a PDF. I found PrimoPDF flawless over two years of use, but have switched to the more extensive PDF995 family of products, which starts with a basic, free PDF creation module. The company's $19.95 Suite adds PDF creation from multiple files and/or multiple types of files (spreadsheet, graphics, MS Word, etc.) or even from multiple preexisting PDFs, and offers page numbering, links, bookmarks, watermarking, and tons of other features. This category of software has made PDF the preferred means of publishing, presenting and exchanging formatted files.
Adobe Type Manager (ATM) Light. Free applet to install and print Type 1 (PostScript) fonts.
Typograf. With something on the order of 4,000 digital fonts on hand at Chez Brooks, font management is not an inconsequential software category for me. Typograf ($35.00) is a German product which elegantly handles all my Truetype, Type 1 and system fonts. View/preview fonts (installed or not, on any type of storage media). Compare, print, load/unload, install/uninstall. Catalog all your fonts with the included database and you'll always know which DVD, CD-ROM, diskette or hard drive folder holds them. Organize fonts into font groups ("Uncle Vester's wedding menu") and then load and unload them with one mouse click. One of these days I'll find time to use Typograf's Compare feature to root out and purge all my duplicate fonts.