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Lightweight applications provide alternatives for enterprise desktops

IT may say which apps must be on enterprise desktops, but consider worker demands, available resources and open-source options. Use these examples to burn discs and manage files.

IT departments are typically responsible for specifying, installing and configuring the applications workers need. But employees often request or install additional applications on their desktops. In addition, the applications an organization purchases can sometimes be replaced with open-source or free apps that work as well as -- or even better than -- the expensive, licensed applications.

For example, offers a software suite similar to Microsoft Office. Open Office can read and write data files that are fully compatible with Office 2003 and Office 2007. Users who are familiar with the user interface in older versions of Office rather than with Office 2007 may require little or no training.

Below are a few of my favorite desktop applications. While not all of them will be appropriate for every employee, they'll probably earn a place on your own desktop.

This application is designed for a simple purpose -- to create DVDs or CDs from ISO images, or to burn CDs or DVDs from files or folders that are dragged onto its burn list. In addition, ImgBurn can also create image files from a disc or from files and folders selected over a network or a local computer. This app has worked successfully for me and lacks the bloat and multiple steps that are inherent in Nero, Roxio and other disc-creation applications. Best of all, it's free (PayPal donations are happily accepted).

Although this probably shouldn't be on most workstations, Burrn is a nifty app for creating audio CDs. It supports MP3, FLAC and other digital sound formats. Open the application, select audio files, and Burrn will create a CD, inserting breaks between the files, adjusting the audio levels and burning the audio disk. It doesn't get much easier, and Burrn can handle a mix of file formats on the same disk. Like ImgBurn, Burrn doesn't have code bloat or need multiple menus to get a simple task done. And, like ImgBurn, there's no charge for this application other than a voluntary donation to its publisher. You may not want employees to create audio CDs at their desks, but consider the fact that it's probably preferable for them to do it in just a few minutes using a free app than for them to take considerably longer using a program that somebody (possibly your company) has to pay for. Even if people locate a CD-creation utility on their Windows desktops, Burrn makes it easy and potentially, faster.

VLC media player
This is another application that may not always have a place on the desktop, but because Windows Media Player is already available as part of the operating system, the VLC media player should be considered as an alternative. I prefer VLC to Windows Media Player because it doesn't get bogged down by licensing issues, it's easy to select and play video and audio, and it supports a wide variety of video and audio formats. Plus, VLC has a small memory footprint that doesn't bog down system performance, and the app's interface is clean and easy to use. VLC doesn't have the snappy bells and whistles of Media Player -- no graphics fill the screen when an audio is playing, and there's no long playlist on screen. In other words, it's clean, small and easy to use. It supports most audio and video formats, and it's open source. Desktop users should like it -- and if they use it, they will probably use considerably less system resources than Windows Media Player. VLC is also available in versions for Mac OS X and various Linux distributions.

PowerDesk Pro
I came up in the old school, working with products like Norton Commander that made certain file management tasks easier than using plain DOS commands. PowerDesk Pro is a file management package for Windows that does much more. I've been using it for practically as long as it has been available, and it's my file manager of choice. Like Windows Explorer, PowerDesk Pro lets me view files and folders in a variety of ways. It also allows me to split windows, so I can view two different drives or directories on the same screen. Drag-and-drop copying is supported. A view window lets you view the contents of a file without opening the file.

PowerDesk Pro is feature-rich -- if I want to move a file or a folder from one drive to another, or to another place on my system, it makes the copy, then deletes the original. This is better than the cut and paste of Windows Explorer because a move can be made in one step. If you're like me and want to create a subdirectory -- yes, an old DOS term that I still like better than "folder" -- a DOS command window can be opened to do this.

Unfortunately, Avanquest Software, which publishes PowerDesk Pro, currently doesn't fully support Windows 7. I've encountered some problems working with that OS -- the screen doesn't always refresh quickly, and the program sometimes freezes, but my actual files have remained safe. In some cases, I've even resorted to using Windows Explorer. However, the convenience and power that PowerDesk Pro offers IT managers may make it a good companion for your desktop, in spite of some issues it has with Windows 7. (I haven't tested it in Windows Server 2008.) PowerDesk is commercially available as a download or as a packaged product at some retailers.

While these are some of my favorite desktop tools, I would not necessarily encourage you to put all of them on corporate desktops. For example, if you're concerned about employees leaving with company secrets recorded onto a DVD, ImgBurn may not be the best choice.

Regardless, Open Office can save a company thousands of dollars that would otherwise go to Microsoft. And, short of moving to Linux, adding these applications to workstations may help manage your company's expenses, reduce the time your workers spend for things such as disk burning and CD creation, and make file management more effective. They work for me -- you may like them, too.


Mark Brownstein is editor-in-chief of Storage Week and publisher of Brownstein Communications. A trained Microsoft Systems Certified Administrator, Brownstein also worked as technology editor at Network World (IDG) and executive editor at Computer Technology Review.

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