Useful Tools

I'm somewhat of a tools guy when it comes to my computing environment. I like apps that make my life easier and extend my operating environment beyond what was originally intended. In my previous job, I was one of the guys writing little scripts to automate annoying tasks. It's "my thing". The first time I read Scott Hanselman's Tools page, I think I may have salivated just a little. I immediately downloaded about 60% of the list just to see what they each did in greater detail. His list for 2007 included "The Big Ten Life and Work-Changing Utlities", of which with I mostly agree.

I spent a few minutes the other day going through my c:tools directory to see what was actually there. Over the last few years I've just dumped every standalone app that looks interesting into this one directory, added it to my SVN repository so that I can easily populate it onto any workstation, and ignored just how ginormous it was becoming. As a result, I ended up deleting more than half of the apps, a great deal of which I hadn't used since they were downloaded. In the end, I kept only the tools that I use on a regular basis:

  • Deep Burner
  • DarkRoom - DarkRoom is fantastic for distraction-free writing, but it's not much of an editor, so I tend to only use it in network-free meetings or when I need to have a little mind-dump onto the keyboard.
  • Notepad++ - Almost took over as my go-to text editor for a while. It's a pretty powerful little thing!
  • Notepad2 - Used mostly when I need a quick editor that's better than Notepad.exe.
  • ntouch/dtouch, which I'd link to if I could find their original site. They're GUI file timestamp modifiers
  • All of the SysInternals Tools (I use about 50% of them on a weekly basis, especially ZoomIt)
  • Various NirSoft Tools
  • Random Tools by GP Williams, mostly Kill.exe
  • ResHacker
  • Some ISO creation utilities from Terabyte Unlimited
  • jHead
  • Microsoft's Virtual CD Control Panel (this is a direct exe link.. it has no homepage!)
  • Various Other cmd-line apps (unrar.exe, par2.exe, diskuse.exe, vnc viewer, etc.)

Of note, I don't actually use Notepad++ or Notepad2 all that often. I've tried many text editors, (perhaps they deserve their own post), and I only keep either of the enhanced notepads and DarkRoom around as once-in-a-while editors. I fell in love with UltraEdit32 about eight versions ago, and have used it ever since as my primary text editor. I like TextMate on my Mac, so I thought I'd enjoy E-TextEditor about as much. For some reason it didn't quite stick, but I may have to give it another shot at some point.

Beyond that, however, I do have some other non-standalone applications that have made my me more productive or equally easy in the past year or so:

  • Automatic Wallpaper Changer - Yeah, I just like pretty backgrounds. What can I say. And, like on my mac, they should cycle constantly. Carry on.
  • Cygwin - We use this at work on our production systems, so I thought it was worth a shot. I've honestly given up using cmd.exe since I really don't need it anymore. Running tcsh on my Dell WinXP laptop feels dirty, but so good.
  • FireBug - I have to agree with Scott, it is arguably the most powerful in-broswer IDE available. I've abandoned every other web debug extension for Firefox... there's simply no need.
  • Foxit Reader - I uninstall Acrobat reader on any machine I can and install Foxit. It's so fast it makes me seriously question what Adobe is thinking making a bloated PDF reader. I'm trying to get the systems folks at work to adopt it as the default PDF reader for new hire machines.
  • FeedDemon - Still my favorite feed reader. I use NewsGator's Online reader from home.
  • PDFCreator - Useful not only for creating PDFs but also for being a poor man's PDF slicer and dicer.
  • SpeedFiler - I save bunches of time every day using SpeedFiler to quickly move email from my Inbox to a more appropriate location. Version 2 learns from your habits and quickly suggests destinations. Love. It. (It's one of only two !free applications on this list, and it's worth every penny.)
  • TeraCopy - It's overkill as a default copy/move handler, but for big moves to external drives or other machines, it's perfect and fast. It's also very fast.
  • Unlocker - How many times has that silly "It is being used by another person or program" message come up? Too many. Unlocker handles this like a hot knife through.. well, something that doesn't actually require a hot knife, but is even more easily cut with said knife.
  • VLC Media Player - It's the one media player I can always count on to work. How can you go wrong? I pimp this to friends and family on a regular basis.
  • WinSnap - It takes screenshots. Very well.

I wouldn't say any of these (except maybe FireBug or SpeedFiler) are actually life changing applications. They each get a fair amount of use, however, and I'd either be doing something by hand or using a less-functional application in each of their respective places should they not exist.