Freeware currently used (2018)
A lot of people are using apps now, be it on your phone or on the web. The phone apps I use can be found on the Android tab, here are some WebApps.
|I have blogged about how I have moved to trello for ToDo lists and use multiple Trello boards to organise ToDos now.
Apps aside, windows software is still invaluable, here are my essential ones.
|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 to 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. Now I use this on my phone too and share the one password file via inbuilt sync to Google drive.
|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, to get started with it:
My use cases:
|I have found the pomodoro technique to be a brilliantly simple focusing approach. Tomighty is a superb desktop timer for working with pomos. I use Trello to organise my ToDo lists and Pomello works magically with Trello to allow one to pick a task and work on it for a pomo, etc. Prior to moving to Trello I used Xortime for Pomodoro tracking\timing, it now requires an annual license.
|I was 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. Dexpot worked great for years before they went commercial.
Finestra works superbly well if you don’t have Windows 10 which has virtual desktops built-in. You can setup rules to have certain programs sticky on all desktops. I setup the following hotkeys and don’t use the other options:
I have seen an issue when hovering over the taskbar with the cursor changing & the active program closing, the solution was in Finestra options | Interface | Mouse edge switching (uncheck).
|A clipboard caching utility is vital for productivity, that it’s not a default in the OS in even Windows 10 makes no sense to me. Update: In Windows 10 October 2018 update (version 1809) a cloud-powered clipboard was added.
I used Yankee Clipper for years before discovering 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.
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. At that time I had increased my XP taskbar to 3 levels to include my most common programs in the quick launcher icons and it was getting ridiculous finding things. Launchy eliminates clutter as well as using the mouse less – all good.
|Invaluable for tracking your account and monthly outgoings. You can download an older 2004 version of Quicken for free which works 100%, it’s linked on the Convert Data From an Earlier Version of Quicken page.
|This is invaluable software. Its slideshow capability is unmatched. Convert images to different formats. Crop images. The list goes on.
|Superb for taking partial screen-grabs and adding markers/text to the resultant 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 its license is more restrictive.
|As an alternative to Greenshot with Windows 10 I am experimenting with using Microsoft’s built-in Sniping Tool Snip & Stetch to annotate grabs. To get the text off the grabs with OCR, Capture2Text works really well. The default shortcut is WinKey+Q.
|“f.lux makes your computer screen look like the room you’re in, all the time. When the sun sets, it makes your computer look like your indoor lights. In the morning, it makes things look like sunlight again.”
|Indispensable. I think back to all the folders of text files I used to keep (I still have some on backup drives) and shudder! Now all my notes are accessible in Evernote, the free version only supports 3 devices if you use the phone or windows app but you can access from the WebApp regardless.
|VLC Media player
|Most of us stream these days – I use Deezer and pay every month for it, as a music fan the access for the price is mind-boggling. But I still do buy some music on Bandcamp and download in FLAC. I’ve used VLC for years as a lighter player than Windows media player and I still turn to it for audio & video.
|Sumatra PDF reader
|Tabbed PDF reading is a must! I used to use Foxit PDF reader but Sumatra is nice and clean and is my current choice. It also works well for reading epub books. However, to enable find for epub from the menu you have to select Settings > Advanced Options which opens the settings text file. Go to EbookUI and set UseFixedPageUI to true to enable find.
|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 organise icons into fences by file type
|Who needs an unregistered copy of WinZip when 7-zip does such a great job.
|Mindmaps are most definitely worth your time when trying to get your head around a lot of info on a subject and how to organise it. The free version of XMind is still very useful.
|If you ever have need of a ftp program then this is the one.
|Cleans up a lot of stuff, good to run this before a defrag.
|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 off-site backup on a schedule; it does all this in the background. I also try and burn every few months to DVD.
|Sometimes you really need to keep an eye on the time, adding a clock to the desktop can be done with desktop gadgets in some versions of Windows but gadgets were removed in Windows 10. Lovely & simple software.
|Finally, Windows 10 allows you to scroll, with a mouse wheel, any window without it needing focus, like on a Mac. If you use dual monitors, in particular, this is very handy. In other versions of Windows, I have used TaekWindow for many years to achieve this. Prior to TaekWindow I used KatMouse.
Move a window by grabbing it anywhere while holding the Alt key, and then dragging with the left mouse button; resize a window by grabbing it anywhere while holding the Alt key, and then dragging with the right mouse button; move a maximised window between monitors by Alt-dragging; push a window to the background by middle-clicking on its title bar.
If you only want the scrolling functionality of TaekWindow use AlwaysMouseWheel.
Freeware – Windows Shell enhancements
Shell enhancements are add-ons to the OS that are always available. Prior to Windows 7 adding favourites to the Open/Save dialog box I used some shell enhancements, Direct Folders allowed favourite folders by double-clicking white space in those dialogs & DM2 added a toolbar icon for bookmarked folders.
There are some still some useful ones.
|Google Drive Shell Extension
|I moved to Google Drive when my Dropbox filled up and have never looked back. Having Google drive integrated into explorer is so convenient!
Tips to maximise your google drive space:
|Windows Explorer should have tabs just like a browser, with Clover it does seamlessly. I used to use QTTabBar but it was a bit cumbersome having a QT Versatile bar above the file menu and having to drag folders up there to open a new tab.
|7+ Taskbar Tweaker
|I used to use Microsoft’s 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. This software 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 through the open windows with the mouse scroll when hovered over the taskbar. 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 taskbar, e.g. you can set this to the new Windows Logo + tab option to cycle through open windows.
On Windows 10 I have again installed it principally to get the volume control.
|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 highlighted 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 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.
|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.
|As a software developer sometimes one needs to change file dates, this is the business.
Handy windows freeware utilities for your toolbox
File ListerSometimes I just want to have an HTML index of the files in a folder; it does sub-folders too.
|I was having a nightmare uninstalling SQL server express 2008 when I found this little beauty. I have often come back to it
|Everyone empties their recycle bin sometimes and curses, this might restore your file.
|Send To Toys Control Panel
|You can set up your right-click send option yourself but this control panel addition gives nice control.
|The add/remove programs can take a good while to open, this alternative does not load images and is very fast. As a bonus, it does a nice HTML file save of your installed apps, a simple version of the Belarc Advisor output if you like.
|RegEditX / RegAlyzer
|If you ever edit the registry editor you will like this extra functionality of either of these.
|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.
|Have you ever wanted to download a complete website, eg. all the lyrics of a particular artist, this tool does exactly that.
|Encrypt any file. Great if you need to email sensitive material, both parties will need a passphrase which you can reuse continuously.
|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).
|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. It also coverts between .wav and .mp3.
|When you need to free up some space on your hard drive and want to find out what folder is hogging all the space.
|I got my own domain in the naughties. This is a very good way to keep a permanent email address as any good ISP will host a domain and they cost about $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 spam. This program gets the email from your isp, and filters out the spam for you. It worked very well for me until I started using spam assassin which comes with my isp‘s Cpanel. Update 2018: My spam levels were so bad in 2016-2017 that I should have looked at returning to this, they seem to have settled down again now, though I have a classification problem.
|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. Even when I am developing on my own I use source control now, file comparison is an absolutely essential tool.
|If you need to record anything; here’s my blog post on recording from internet radio to mp3.
|Superb copy/move replacement.
|Excellent for getting a full rundown of what hardware & OS spec you have.
|Provided by Microsoft’s sysinternals, this will give you full access to all your startup programs as well as other things like showing all the Explorer shell extensions. I used to use Startup Control Panel (still accessible re the wayback machine), which is great, but this is more comprehensive. Of course, the built-in msconfig (Winkey + r & type msconfig) has a startup tab and remains useful. In Windows 10 there is now a startup tab in TaskManager.
|More readable than the Autoruns view of your shell enhancements.
|Provided by Microsoft’s sysinternals, more powerful than the built-in task manager if you need to figure out what’s happening.
|“The Belarc Advisor builds a detailed profile of your installed software and hardware, network inventory, any missing Microsoft hotfixes, anti-virus status, security benchmarks, and displays the results in your Web browser.”
|This utility can be useful if your ‘Open With’ window displays too many applications, and you want to remove the applications that you don’t use frequently.
|Auslogics disk defrag
|I used to use PowerDefragmenter which wraps Microsofts contig utility; arguably a better defrag than the inbuilt one. In Windows 10 defragging is automatic now.
|Right-click the minimize button to minimise any window to the tray to keep out of your way. Superb.
|Cut out the noise and just concentrate on one thing. Winkey+J to dim non-active windows.
|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.
|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.
|I have found this a very useful search tool, great for searching google drive powerpoints.
|Compress any executable before you release it.
Windows Paid software
|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.
|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. Notepad+ is an excellent free alternative. It has a spellchecker plugin which requires Aspell to be installed.
|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.
|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 its 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.
|Having been the victim of 2 hard drive failures in early 2008 (including my personal backup external drive) and having to go through 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/favourites. 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.
|If you use eBay you really need snipping software. I used Auction Sentry for years, but in the naughties, the original developer sold up a few years and does not vouch for the new version “Auction Sniper”, he did recommend Auction Magic and it’s solid.