Software Comments
KeePass I used CSPassword for years but since I prefer to use software that’s “alive” (ie. still maintained), I moved onto to AnyPassword before finding KeePass. I use it so store precious bank account information as well as the myriad of web logins one collects. When my laptop was stolen after a house burglary, even though it was password protected I was very reassured I had this extra safeguard.
AutoHotKey Filling out web forms is a pain, especially for me who is not a skilled typist. Over the years I’ve used Gator, RoboForm before settling with MemoKeys for years. However, this became unsupported as well. I ended up using the macro functionality of AllChars for a while but the hotkeys were too flaky. AutoHotKey is really great, I’ve set my hotkeys to be activated by F10 + letter, so F10+e pastes my email address at the cursor, no matter what application I am in:

  • Install AutoHotkey
  • Right click in the system tray and choose Edit this script and add one line per hotkey, eg.
    F10 & e::SEND youremail@domain
  • Save this file to your startup folder ({Documents and Settings}\{User}\Start Menu\Startup)
Dexpot Prompted to retry virtual desktops because of the massive amount of applications and browser windows I needed to open at work I gave virtual desktops another try in early 2007. They have been a revelation and I use them at home now as well. Really useful if you have a lot of applications open and want to avoid clutter, make things easier to find and not be annoyed by email/im/taskbar/start menu…
CLCL A clipboard itility is vital for productivity I feel. I used Yankee Clipper for years and just discovered CLCL in 2007 and it’s perfect for my needs. Alt+c brings up a menu of the last 30+ items of text you have copied to the clipboard.
POP3Filter I got my own domain a couple of years ago. This is a very good way to keep a permanent email address as any good isp will host a domain and they cost $10 a year. Anyway the spam levels get very noticeable when you have your own domain and all of a sudden you are spending time deleting span. This program gets the email from your isp, and filters out the spam for you. It has worked very well for me.
WinMerge This is an awesome file comparison utility. File comparison is essential when programming. I do use EditPad’s file comparison but this is still really invaluable, especially with dual monitors when you can have both versions of the file on different screens.

[Developer note] I have previously used StarTeam for source control and it has an option to add a custom merge tool, for which I use WinMerge, see this page on how to set that up. BTW, even when I am developing on my own I use source control now, it’s an absolutely essential tool.
IrfanView This is invaluable software. It’s slideshow capability is unmatched. Convert images to different formats. Crop images. The list goes on.
Launchy I kept hearing about launcher programs for years and never really saw the point. Finally reading Neal Ford’s book The Productive Programmer in early 09, he talked about how it worked, alt+spacebar bringing up a box and e.g. entering fire+enter to start firefox. I had increased my task bar to 3 levels the last few years to include my most common programs in the quick launcher icons and it was getting ridiculous finding things. Now clutter is gone and I am using the mouse less – all good.
TeraCopy Superb copy/move replacement.
Greenshot Superb for taking partial screengrabs and adding markers/tezt to the resulant image. I removed the buggy supplied snipping tool from my system and Greenshot assigns itself to the PrintScrn button instead. It has a handy option to auto rotate on print if necessary. I used to use PicPick but it’s licence is more restrictive.
Winsplit Revolution Indispensible. Like Wndhop this has a handy shortcut to moved between monitors. But it also divides each minor up into areas, e.g.Quadrants and you can moved windows to those areas with handy shortcuts..
Fences If you get lazy about dumping icons on the desktop, this just organises things really well by creating shaded movable containers. Optionally it will automatically organize icons into fences by file type
7-zip Who needs an unregistered copy of winzip when 7-zip does such a great job.
FileZilla If you ever have need of a ftp program then this is the one.
I used to use PowerDefragmenter ahich wraps Microsofts contig utility; arguably a better defrag than the inbuilt one.
CCleaner Cleans up a lot of stuff, good to run this before a defrag.
Mp3Tag I noticed some mp3 tags were not showing in explorer in Windows 7. Mp3Tag showed me they were ID3v2.4, google told me Windows 7 does not support this version and Mp3Tag converted them to 2.3 so the tags showed in explorer.
Cobian Backup I’ve tried many backup products over the years and settled on this after my last laptop robbery in 2006. I have this setup to incrementally backup all necessary files and also to email and ftp some vital files for offsite backup on a schedule schedule; it does all this in the background. I also try and burn every few months to DVD.
SyncToy I have found this Microsoft freebie useful for a certain use case of mine where backups had been made to different locations over different periods and I needed to consolidate them. With SyncToy you can use the contribute option to copy from left to right and different source/destination pairs can be activated / deleted after one run.
ClocX Sometimes you really need to keep an eye on the time, adding a clock to the desktop can be done in Windows Vista\7 with desktop gadgets but this is useful if still running XP. It adds a clock to the desktop.

Freeware – Windows 7/8

Software Comments
7+ Taskbar Tweaker This windows 7 tweaker has some nice features. For me it has replaced Volumouse – one gets a mouse scroll to control the volume by hovering over the system tray. Also, you can cycle though the open windows with the mouse scroll when hovered over the tasksbar. And, it has an option to show a list of the open windows, rather than thumbnails, when hovering over an open program on the taskbar. It gives other options like being able to add an action for middle double clicking the empty space on the task bar, e.g. you can set this to the new Windows Logo + tab option to cycle though open windows.

Freeware – Windows Shell enhancements

I used to use TweakUI but now some of the options have been added to Windows – such as Start menu | Properties | Start Menu | Customize | Advanced | Control panel | Display as a menu. Here are some Shell enhancements (add ons to the OS that are always available) I find useful.

Direct Folders Double click white space in the open/save windows dialog and you get menu options, where you can easily add frequent folders. As soon as I saw this I knew it was exactly what I had been looking for and didn’t even know it. Free for home use, so I use DM2 at work.
DM2 This adds a toolbar icon to the standard open file dialog where you can add bookmarked folders. So if you use a test editor or word processor and open files in similar locations regularly, this eliminates the need to navigate for the file, similarly with email attachments, image savings, whatever.
Deskpins I used to use PowerMenu, but it does not work with Google Chrome. If you have lots of windows open, sometimes, especially in development, it would be good to have a window on top for a while, this allows you to pin any window.
Open Command Window Here Microsoft power toy; look for CmdHerePowertoySetup.exe. Invaluable if you use the command prompt, allows you to right click any folder and open a command prompt there. If you use the command line have a look at Microsoft’s PowerShell, it even supports a lot of Linux commands. Check out the highligted passage on this blog post on how to add an Open PowerShell here option.

Here’s a trick that I don’t think many people are aware of. Right-click on any folder on your Windows Vista machine while holding down the shift key. You’ll see an extra context-sensitive menu item there: Open Command Prompt here (no need for separate install). Just click on this menu and a command window will open with the current working directory set to the folder’s actual location.

PDFCreator Create PDFs from any program that is able to print. Adds to your printer list available for selection anytime you print. A nice use of this is saving emails as pdf.
TaekWindow Move and resize a window by clicking anywhere while holding down the alt key. I used this for ages before I realised that it also allows you to scroll, with a mouse wheel, any window without it needing focus. If you use dual monitors in particular, this is very handy. I formerly used KatMouse for this.
Volumouse I got so sick of opening the sound option on the control panel to get at the volume and it seems to disappear from my tray too. This just makes so much send, hold down alt and change the volume with the mouse wheel!
RBTray Ever have a browser open playing a music and don’t want it getting in the way? Right click the minimize button to minmise any window to the tray. Superb.
Jedi Concentrate Cut out the noise and just concentrate on one things. Winkey+J to dim non active windows.
QTTabBar Adds tabs to explorer. Once installed add the QT Versatile bar above the file menu and drag folders up there to open a new tab.

Freeware – Windows Shell enhancements – XP

Explorer Breadcrumbs I still have a XP Pro machine and one gets used to the explorer breadcrumbs introduced in Vista. This integrates well. The author, Minimialist, does not seem to have it available anymore for downland, but you can grab from cnet.

Handy freeware utilities for your toolbox

Restoration Everyone empties their recycle bin sometimes and curses, this might restore your file.
Startup Control Panel So many people’s computers have unnecessary stuff loaded at startup, all of these things can be controlled if you know where to look but this indispensable control panel addition brings them all to one spot.
Send To Toys Control Panel You can set up your right click send option yourself but this control panel addition gives nice control.
Safarp The add/remove programs can take a good while to open, this alternative does not load images and is very fast. As a bonus does a nice html file save of your installed apps.
Attribute Changer As a software developer sometimes one needs to change file dates, this is the business.
RegEditX / RegAlyzer If you ever edit the registry editor you will like this extra functionality of either of these.
Unlocker If you install and uninstall software you will have seen the message that a file could not be deleted because it’s in use, this is the answer.
Bulk Rename Utility If you have occasion to want to rename a lot of files, eg, a new system for your photos, this is a fantastic utility.
HTTrack Have you ever wanted to download a complete website, eg. all the lyrics of a paricular artist, this tools does exactly that.
Axcrypt Encrypt any file. Great if you need to email senstitive material, both parties will need a passphrase which you can reuse continously.
nPop If you want to have a one click checker for a pop3 mail account, there’s nothing better. Digsby has an email notifier built in but I still use nPop for when you are keeping the head down but still want to keep an occasional eye on email (say, set checking every hour).
Revo uninstaller I was having a nightmare uninstalling sql server express 2008 when I found this little beauty.
SharePod I got rid of a lot of the music on my machine due to space restrictions but then I wanted to get a copy of an album on my iPod. SharePod is perfect, it allows connecting to an iPod like you used to be able to it through explorer. You can browse and download/upload data. I did find that it did not recognise an 3rd generation iPhone whereas CopyTrans does and works well.
FormatFactory I wanted to transfer a voice recording from my Samsung S3 phone to my music server. It turns out the Samsung format is .3ga, Format Factory converts to mp3 without fuss.
windirstat When you need to free up some space on your hard drive and want to find out what folder is hogging all the space.

Developer’s Corner

UPX Compress any executable before you release it.


Software Comments
Ultramon In 2004 I finally started using a second monitor at work and now I use one at home two, there is no going back, it’s like when you change from dial up to broadband. After working with 2 screens for a while you realise Windows is not too well sorted for making them work efficiently together. I used Oscar’s Multi-Monitor taskbar for a while and then I gave UltraMon a trial. When the trial period ran out there was no option for me but to make the purchase.
EditPad Pro One of my best early lessons was to realise that for most things Word is overkill and all you need is a text editor. I used the still free classic EditPad Lite for years before finally upgrading to EditPad pro. Absolutely outstanding software.
PowerGrep As a programmer one of the most valuable books I have read in the noughties is Mastering Regular Expressions. Once you have grasped a little, the searches and replaces you can do are fantastically productive and this is the killer book for that.
Trillian Pro I used Trillian for many years as my multi-protocol instant messaging application client – not having to install all the different chat clients makes a tool like this indispensable. I finally moved to Pidgin when Trillian was not progressing and it is truly excellent. Digsby does most of what Pidgin does (aside from Skype and few other minor things) but adds a lot more with it’s social networking hook ins to Facebook & Twitter as well as Pop3/gmail notifications.

Update Dec 09: Finally the new version of Trillian (Astra) is out and it’s very good. It ties into LinkedIn as well and the Pop3/gmail checker has made nPop redundant for me. As a former Trillian pro user it was a $10 upgrade and I have now left Digsby behind and gone back to Trillian again.

Ghost Having being the victim of 2 hard drive failures in early 2008 (including my personal backup external drive) and having to go throught the horrible rebuild process; after many attempts to introduce a backup system it was time to get serious about introducing a work backup system.

In 2007 Google released a report titled Failure Trends in a Large Disk Drive Population (13-page PDF, 242-KB), which detailed their findings regarding the failure rates of hard disk drives they own. Over 100,00 hard drives were used in the study and the Google survey reported that ~2% of their drives failed during the first year of operation, and ~8% every year thereafter.

Norton Ghost 12, cost £40 which allows you to install it on 3 machines. After building up a new hard drive I took a disk image, so that with a new hard drive I could be back up in 15 minutes. The software also now allows one to backup selected files and folders, with the backup defaulting to My Documents / Desktop / favorities. Then add your Thunderbird profile / Firefox profile (default location for both is under C:\Documents and Settings\%user%\Application Data). Next one can schedule a daily backup to a server and you are fully protected.

Auction Sentry If you use ebay you really need snipping software. I have used Auction Sentry for years, the original developer sold up a few years back but the new company has honoured the lifetime licence with their version 4.