Since the age of about zero, I have been an avid computer user. Back in the days of DOS I would navigate the command line to open up Test Drive 3. Man, those graphics were the best. Since then, I have built many PCs, installed Windows and OSX at least 100 times (I have adopted the role of IT guy at work), and learned a little bit of basic code. I'm no IT expert, but I consider myself an advanced user. I'm comfortable in Terminal and know enough to cause some damage.
With this smattering of computer experience comes a toolset of programs that I swear by. These programs aren't all terribly uncommon, but I'll share them nonetheless. Hopefully one or more of them may spark some interest for you to try out!
Google shook up the internet browsing world when it introduced Chrome. It took awhile to catch up to Firefox, Safari, and IE, but now it's my go-to browser. All the browsers are pretty similar now, but I prefer Chrome because of its user profiles. When you first install Chrome, you can log in with your Google credentials and it automatically installs all your extensions, bookmarks, auto-complete fields, and more. It even just added a feature where you can switch the entire browser to different users to make the feature even more useful for shared computers!
Somehow streaming music finally won over paid music and it's a beautiful thing. With Spotify, you can steam nearly anything (except for the Beatles...) from any device. Spotify has become the standard, with features like social music sharing, curated playlists, and offline playlists for premium users. If you want to get into the premium world without paying $11/month, check out the family plan option to get prices as low as $6 if you get four friends involved (5 users for $30 and you get to keep all your own playlists)!
Better Snap Tool (Mac Only)
This little gem mimics the window management of Windows. With it, you can snap windows to the left half, right half, top half, bottom half, full screen, thirds, and more. You can set up keyboard shortcuts or hotspots. I do a mixture of both. If I drag any window up toward the top of the screen, it will scale the window to full screen without going into OSX's obtrusive full screen mode. Highly recommended!
Daisy Disk (Scanner for Windows)
This little app is a lifesaver for your computer's longevity. So many programs store cache files or huge install files that you probably don't need chilling on your disks. This program shows you exactly where your big files are located so you can quickly nail them down and take care of them. This was especially useful when I transferred all of my life's data into the cloud using an efficient folder structure. I was able to find all my raw photos and convert them to jpgs. Same goes with long, HD video that could easily be compressed to save hundreds of gigabytes.
My recent move to the cloud has completely changed the way I think about and manage my data. Google Drive is an affordable and integrated way to store all of your files remotely. Whenever I get a new computer now, I just have to install Google Drive to have immediate access to literally every digital file I have ever created. This includes homework assignments from like, 6th grade. Embarrassing as they may be.
OmmWriter! This little program lets you write in peace. It launches in full screen and has no interface while you type. Just you and your words. But it doesn't stop there! It comes with a soundtrack of calm, melodic songs to listen to with headphones. They range from natural-sounding to a recording of a train going down tracks. But it still doesn't stop there! Every time you press a key to type, it plays a little sound. There are eight or so sound effects you can choose from. Some sound like a typewriter, others like a harp, others are just plain little ticks.
Although the interface can be a bit clunky, VLC can play any video you can throw at it. Double click the video to go full screen. Press "S" to cycle through subtitle tracks. Every user should have this installed.
Other Great Programs
Adobe Creative Cloud - $50/month for complete access to all of Adobe's products. This is a great deal compared to their old multi-thousand dollar packages. This includes Photoshop, Illustrator, After Effects, InDesign, and another dozen or so programs. Students get a huge discount, too! $20/month for the first year and $30/month after that, you just need an edu email address.
Cinema 4D - For more advanced users that are wanting to get into 3D or for experienced artists that are getting tired of the other clunky 3D packages. Cinema 4D is a modern and efficient tool for creating stunning 3D renders in no time! Seriously, there are so many time-saving features in every corner of this program.
Transmission (Mac) - This lightweight app is great for all your legal bittorrenting needs. I just love the design of it. So minimal.
Steam - If you want to waste a lot of time and money, Steam is the ultimate entertainment platform. At its core, it's just a computer game marketplace, but it gets dangerous in its delivery of insane sales. Most users of Steam wait until a game they're waiting for is at least 50% off, if not more. The holiday sale is always an impulse-buyer's dream.
The Unarchiver (Mac) - This program isn't the most exciting, but it can zip and unzip any file you throw at it. Some compressed files in OSX aren't natively decompressable, but with The Unarchiver, they're no problem.