NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article, August 2008
My Favorite FREE PC Utilities Part 1 - IrfanView
By Ira Wilsker, APCUG Director;
Columnist, The Examiner, Beaumont, TX; Radio & TV Show Host

(click to email author)


We are all faced with the increasing prices of fuel and food, and the negative impact those higher expenses are having on our household budgets. While there are some items of elastic demand where we can cut back to save some money, there are other inelastic items where our demand is somewhat fixed, and we must bear that expense. Fortunately there is at least one place where we can reduce our expenses dramatically, while maintaining a reasonable quality of life and productivity, and that is to use some of the many free software utilities available rather than their sometimes pricy commercial counterparts. From a strictly personal viewpoint, I can emphatically state here and now that I use a lot of free software on my computer, and I do not feel that I am missing any significant functionality compared to some of the commercial software available.

I have recently monitored my software usage, and have found that there are several free utility programs that I use, often to the exclusion of their commercial competitors, many of which I also own. The free utility that I use most frequently is the very popular IrfanView (http://www.irfanview.com), an integrated digital image editor and multi-format media player. According to the author, Irfan Skiljan, over a million copies have been downloaded each month since 2003. IrfanView has frequently been listed as the most popular download on many of the canonical software download services, corroborating its popularity.

What makes IrfanView such a popular program is its features and power. IrfanView can read and edit almost every known digital still image format, and if necessary convert images to any other formats. Although my digital camera came with a commercial photo editor, by my free choice I use IrfanView almost exclusively to edit my digital photos. I also have the program set up as my Windows default to display still images for every format listed. IrfanView allows for very easy image resizing, cropping, rotation, color management and adjustment, red-eye reduction, special effects, and a variety of other editing functions. This program also has the ability to create self-executing slide shows, where images can be selected, background music or other audio may be optionally inserted, and the combined images converted into an .exe executable file that can be copied, emailed, or played on any PC without the installation of any other software. I tried this feature using my daughters wedding pictures, and in less than three minutes I had produced a sequential slide show of the wedding.

Special effects can be added to any image by clicking on IMAGE EFFECTS on the toolbar. Individual special effects can be selected (with an EDIT UNDO available), or different effects can be previewed using an integral special effects browser (shortcut ctrl-E) where the original image is shown on the left, and the special effects displayed on the right.

Many of the effects are user selectable variable, where the user can control the degree of the effects by using a slider on the screen. I also use IrfanView with my scanner; it is TWAIN compliant, and can operate almost all scanners, importing the images directly into the software for editing. Another feature I frequently use, including for the authoring of this column, is the screen capture function, found at OPTIONS CAPTURE/SCREENSHOT (shortcut c). I use the F-11 key to capture the screen image directly into the program, where it can be edited, and then saved into any desired format. Almost all of the images included with my weekly columns were captured using IrfanView. Images can be converted directly into desktop wallpaper by clicking on OPTIONS SET AS WALLPAPER, with the choice of using the image as centered (my personal choice), tiled, or stretched to fit the screen. Using IrfanView, I have helped countless users post grandchild, pet, and other desired images as wallpaper.

IrfanView is not just a powerful image viewer and editor, but with its companion PlugIns installed, this utility can play almost every contemporary audio and video format. First, the user must download and install the main IrfanView program; the PlugIns file can then be downloaded and installed. Once installed, IrfanView can be optionally selected as the default viewer for videos and audio. I use IrfanView, with the plugins installed, almost exclusively to view videos sent to me, and to play any audio that I may have. While the standard plugins file is quite comprehensive, there are still some optional codecs that can be installed to add even greater functionality to IrfanView.

IrfanView can be freely installed on Windows 95, 98, ME, NT, 2000, XP, and Vista. As a matter of personal practice, I install IrfanView on every computer that I have, both at home and at work. I strongly recommend IrfanView to all Windows users, as it is fast, free, and capable of doing the vast majority of image editing tasks. It is also a very capable media player that is fast and efficient, loading faster than most of its competitors, including Windows own Media Player. While there are some advanced features available with its commercial counterparts, I would doubt that most users would use those commercial features, and that IrfanView is more than adequate for almost all image editing and media playing needs.

In upcoming columns, I will continue with my personal recommendations for free software that can hold its own against expensive commercial products. In these tough economic times, we must stretch our finite supply of scarce dollars; one way of accomplishing this task is to use some of the free software that developers have created for us, and use our dollars for higher priority needs.

Click here to return to top