Although these "Top 10" software lists are doomed to irrelevancy almost from the moment of their publication, I feel compelled to share with you my suite of essential programs for research and writing. These programs make my life easier. I use them every day. Perhaps you can benefit from them, too. 1. NoteTab Light (Windows). If you're using a relatively current web browser, you know how useful tabs can be. A tabbed notepad is essential for anyone who takes notes on several subjects at once. Rather than having dozens of windows open simultaneously, NoteTab allows you to keep all your notes in one place. It's also been an objective of mine to keep as much of my data in simple, cross-platform formats such as .txt unless absolutely necessary. When it's time for footnotes, tables, or other types of complex formatting, you can always migrate the document to Word. Or, as in my case... 2. OpenOffice (Windows, Mac, Linux). Microsoft Word purists might have a beef or two about this product, but in my experience, OpenOffice does pretty much everything that Word does -- and a little bit more, too. It will open and save Word, Powerpoint and Excel files, and it can also import and export from a multitude of other word processing, presentation and spreadsheet formats. This open source project is mature and, as far as I've noticed, bug-free. And it won't cost you a cent. Also, Windows XP users who long for the ability to export to Adobe .pdf will be happy to learn that this functionality is built-in to OpenOffice. 3. PDFCreator (Windows). Speaking of .pdfs, a major missing feature from the otherwise more or less solid Windows XP operating system (sacrilege!) is the ability to create Adobe .pdf files from any document. Download and install PDFCreator and you will be able to easily export any web page, text document, image file or email to .pdf. PDFCreator basically installs a new printer driver which enables you to print files to .pdf, which means that if you can print it, you can make it into a .pdf. 4. cMap Tools (Windows, Mac, Linux, Solaris, OLPC). This is by far the most exciting program on this list. cMap Tools, a DARPA research project, allows you to create interactive semantic "mind maps" that can be exported to web page or .pdf. Embed clickable links and files in your mind map and use the proposition feature to quickly construct diagrams outlining ideas or projects. And you don't need to fuss around with layout, either, as the program has an intelligent "Autolayout" feature that will help you to keep things organized. 4. The GIMP (Windows, Mac, Linux). This versatile image editor does pretty much everything that Photoshop does -- at least in terms of the everyday needs of most users. The interface takes a little getting used to, and those that are already familiar with Photoshop might want to try GIMPShop instead, which is a port of the GIMP that uses a Photoshop-like interface. 5. Pidgin/GAIM (Windows, Linux). Instant Messaging often runs counter to productivity, but it can be useful for collaborative efforts. Pidgin (formerly known as GAIM) allows you to communicate over a variety of IM protocols through a single application. 6. Google Documents (Cross-platform online application). Create, share and simultaneously edit documents with your collaborators using this simple online word-processor. The application is surprisingly robust, and imports and exports to Microsoft Word format. All your files are stored online in Googlespace, so you don't have to worry about leaving home with the wrong flash drive.