The Programs and Tools in my Toolbox

Useful and Essential Programs for Everyday Computing

Some random program

 

 

Introduction

emoticon:computer Everyone who uses computers for a period of years finds a number of programs they can't do without. As computers have crept ever further into every niche of our lives [1], the number of essential programs has grown and grown.

This list is the set of tools that I find invaluable in my daily computing. It includes development tools for programming, housekeeping utilties to make computing more pleasant, and some programs that are just for entertainment.

Most of these tools are shareware or freeware, but there are one or two commercial programs I use regularly. I obviously choose free and open source code wherever possible.

These programs are all best of breed in their field. I have settled on these after much trial and error, frustration and experimentation. Having said that, there is still room for improvement, so if you have any suggestions feel free to let me know. Smile

This list includes a few web services and some programs I use on my server. It doesn't include operating systems or programming languages [2].

As the list of programs I use (and am dependent on) grows, it becomes harder to maintain them and remember to keep them all up to date. Doing a fresh install of Windows has become more of a nightmare than it ever was before.

This list serves two purposes. First I hope it is either useful, interesting or provocative. Second, it is a place for me to keep a list of all the programs I use.

I haven't included the tools I use on my PDA: which is a small set of tools, but less interesting to most people.

Games

I don't really play games. Life leaves me precious enough spare time as it is. Laughing At university I developed a taste for Doom. That game has now become part of computer history, but I occassionally play a few of its descendants.

  • Quake 4

    Quake is the direct descendant of Doom. It's a dark game but great fun. Not quite the same shoot-em-up mayhem as Doom, but stunning visuals.

  • Rogue Trooper

    I've always been a fan of Rogue, and this game is faithful enough to the original and fun.

  • Counter Strike: Source

    This is an online run around and shoot-em game I play with a Friend.

    The game is great, good maps and very atmospheric. I mainly play deathmatch because I'm not very good. Smile

  • GameShadow

    I got this free with Rogue Trooper, but it's available for free download. It's not actually a game, but a tool for gamers. It checks your system for installed games, and can download and install any updates.

  • GameSpy Arcade

    I use this to find servers for Counter Strike. The free version works fine.

System Administration

This little group of programs are all to do with keeping my computer as pleasant to use as possible, as well as virus, spyware and adware free. Some of these tools enable me to be productive on another computer, as well as my main one at home.

  • DirWatcher - The offline directory sync tool.

    This tool allows me to sync directories (including whole directory trees) on different computers by just transporting a single zip file backwards and forwards. Smile

  • Movable Python - The Portable Python Distribution

    On at least one of the machines I work on, I can't install program. Movable Python allows me to carry on using all my favourite Python tools. It also allows me to carry my development environment round with me on a USB memory stick.

  • Microsoft Powertoys - A few tools for use with Windows XP

    The Powertoys are a set of small utilitied provided by Microsoft for Windows XP.

    The ones that I find useful are :

    • Alt-Tab Replacement

      This one really is a toy, but it's nice. When you switch between programs with Alt-Tab, in addition to seeing the icon of the application window you are switching to, you will also see a preview of the page.

    • Power Calculator

      A much better calculator than the standard windows one.

    • Open Command Window Here

      This is the most useful one. This PowerToy adds an "Open Command Window Here" context menu option on file system folders, giving you a quick way to open a command window (cmd.exe) pointing at the selected folder.

  • Freeundelete - a freeware undelete tool

    On occasions this can be a life saver.

  • Adaware

    One of the best adware detection and removal programs. It provides protection from known data-mining, aggressive advertising, Trojans, dialers, malware, browser hijackers, and tracking components.

    Even better, it's free to download for personal use. Smile

  • AVG - The grisoft anti-virus program

    No need to spend money on virus protection. AVG is a great program, and very easy to use.

  • Easycleaner - Registry cleaner

    Everyone needs a registry cleaner. Smile

    To download the free version, you may need to visit this site.

  • Winrar - Compression tool.

    A commerical (shareware) program. This is still the best of the ones I've tried. It does almost everything I want, quickly and with a nice UI and good shell integration.

    I think the only compressed files I come across that it can't open are .Z ones. WinZip does open these, but doesn't have as nice a UI.

    It also has a few nicer features than the popular (and free-er) 7-Zip.

  • Process Explorer

    Task Manager on steroids. Smile

    Its most useful feature is its ability to tell you which process has a handle on a file and allowing you to kill it. This makes it possible for you to rename or delete the file.

  • Belarc Advisor

    This little program does a PC audit, and gives you full information on hardware, users and installed software on your Windows PC.

  • Memtest+

    A full memory workout and test for your PC. Create a boot CD and will run extensive tests on your system memory. Very useful for new PCs.

Programming Tools

I program in Python at home and at work.

  • SPE - The Python IDE.

    After a long search I have eventually settled on SPE. It has syntax highlighting, code completion and call tips and has recently added some very cool features - like real time error highlighting. It will also work off a flash drive with Movable Python.

    I've also been known to use WingIDE, since the guys at Wingware were kind enough to provide me with a free license for my Open Source work. It's very good.

  • Ultraedit - For text editing.

    This is one of the few commercial tools I use. It's the nicest text editor I've ever used and includes the ability to jump backwards and forwards in your text, and a spell checker. It is also integrated with Tidy for (X)HTML validation.

  • Subversion - SVN the source code control system.

    This is the only source code control system I've used, and I'm very happy with it.

  • Tortoise SVN

    A windows client for SVN. This has great shell integration and makes using SVN trivially simple in most cases.

  • WinMerge - An Open Source compare and diff tool

    A very useful visual merge tool. This has saved my neck on at least a couple of occasions.

  • VMWare - A virtual machine player

    I use this for building Movable Python for python 2.3 & 2.2, and also for testing with Windows 98.

  • Releaseforge

    This program provides a user friendly interface to the Sourceforge release program.

  • MinGW

    Minimalist GNU for Windows. Not only does this provide the familiar Linux shell for windows, with all the normal commands, but it is also easy to configure distutils so that you can build Python Extensions from Source: python setup.py build --compiler=mingw32.

Utilities & Applications

  • WordWeb - A simple dictionary tool.

    A little dictionary / thesaurus. It also shows relationships between words and lets you browse between them. Very useful when writing, easy to use, and a fun way to waste time when you have better things to do.

  • IrfanView - An Image Viewer.

    A nice little tool for viewing images. It will also do basic transformations like resizing and rotating, which is about as sophisticated as I get with images.

    It also makes taking screenshots, for reviews and writing documentation, a doddle.

  • Outlook - Calender and PIM

    Sorry about this. Laughing

    I use outlook because it synchronizes with the calender on my XDA (handheld computer). I mainly use outlook to backup the data from my PDA, and use the calender on that rather than on the desktop. It's quite good though.

    I never use outlook as an email client.

  • Abbyy Finereader - OCR Program

    I got this free on a magazine coverdisk. It's a great OCR program (not that I've tried many). You can scan documents and it will accurately recreate a Word document, whilst maintaining the visual structure of the original.

  • Epson PhotoQuicker - Image printing program

    This one came free with the printer. It isn't a brilliantly designed program, but does a decent job of printing images including multiple images on a page.

Film & DVD Tools

The computer becomes multimedia home theater. Smile

Unfortunately the great variety in formats used to distribute multimedia files means that it can be confusing knowing which programs and tools are needed simply to play some files. Burning video to DVD to play on a normal home player is another challenge as well. This section lists the tools I've had to use to in order to play and burn films using my PC.

  • CDBurnerXP Pro

    This is an excellent freeware CD and DVD burning tool.

  • Cyberlink PowerDVD - DVD Player

    This program has come free with just about every computer or DVD drive I have bought in the last few years. It seems perfectly adequate.

  • Xvid Codec

    I use Windows Mediaplayer [3] to watch films. The Xvid codec is an open source codec for compressing and decompressing films. It creates and plays .avi files.

  • DivX

    DivX is an alternative codec for avi files. It is a commercial program, but there is also a free version. I installed this because it wil play div3 files which Xvid can't.

  • AC3 Audio Codec

    A lot of compressed movies use the AC3 audio codec for the sound. If you can play a movie file but there is no sound, it's probably because the audio is compressed with a codec you don't have. AC3 is one of the most common ones.

  • Morgan Stream Switcher

    Morgan stream switcher is a plugin that allows you to play avi files with multiple audio streams. (When audio in multiple languages is encoded into a DivX file, it is sometimes known as a BivX for some bizarre reason.)

    Mmswitcher allows you to switch between the different languages,a facility that is not built into Windows Media player by default.

  • Gui4ffmpeg - Creating DVD compliant mpeg files

    The first step in converting an AVI to a DVD (tutorial) is to create a DVD compatible mpeg file.

  • Gui4dvdauthor - mpeg files to DVD files

    The next step is to turn the mpeg into DVD files (HOWTO). Gui4dvdauthor is a very full featured DVD creator, it allows you to create chapters and menus (all optional) and then creates the files for writing straight onto DVD.

    Having done this, the last step is to burn the DVD.

  • Matroska Open Standards Audio/Video Container

    This codec is used for mkv and mka files.

  • Real Alternative

    Windows Media Player sometimes struggles to play video files. (I`ve especially found this to be true with mkv files above.) The Real Alternative allows you to play RealMedia files without having to install RealPlayer or RealOne Player. It also includes Media Player Classic. This is a multimedia direct show player.

    Media Player Classic seems to co-operate with some codecs better than Windows Media Player, and so be able to play video files that WMP struggles with. I've used it to play .mp4 (encoded for the iPod or PSP) and .ogm [4] files that I couldn't watch with WMP. It seems to suffer from lag a little bit more than WMP though.

    Another reason to use Media Player Classic over Windows Media Player, is that it includes an audio normaliser and booster. This allows you to turn up the volume for films that are too quiet even when played at full volume.

Online Tools

This set of programs are ones related to the internet in some way. Some of them are web-applications, others run on the desktop. Missing from this section is Firefox the Web Browser, which has a section all to itself.

  • WinSCP

    A nice tool for transferring files across an SSH connection. Now that I use a proper server, it has basically replaced FTP for maintaining my website.

  • Putty - An SSH tool.

    The Windows SSH client. This provides dynamic port forwarding for accessing the internet via a SOCKS proxy.

    More importantly it provides an encrypted login for maintaining and administering my server.

  • FileZilla - FTP Client

    Having tried a few, and then found Filezilla, I'll never use another. Razz

  • Thunderbird - The email client.

    It's a nice email client. Somehow Gmail manages to search much faster. I use gmail for archiving, for storing information so I can access it anywhere, and for better searching. I use Thunderbird as my main email client.

  • Google Talk

    My IM client of choice.

  • Del.icio.us

    Online bookmarks service. Doubly useful for accessing your bookmarks from multiple locations, and for sharing with others.

  • Planet - RSS Feed Aggregator

    This program is very easy to install and setup on a server. It aggregates RSS feeds. I use it for reading the blogs I'm interested in.

  • Forte Agent - Usenet Newsgroup Reader

    This is a good client for accessing newsgroups, both for downloading files and making posts.

    The free version has a few limitations and I'd be interested in finding a good all-round freeware windows program.

    Note

    Forte have recently dropped free agent, and it has too many quirks for me to pay for it.

    I'm evaluating Pan which seems to be a good, free usenet client.

  • mirc - IRC client

    One of the most popular IRC clients known. I don't use IRC very often, but it seems fine.

  • Azureus - BitTorrent Client

    BitTorrent is an excellent way of downloading files like large programs and Linux distributions. Wink

    This Java client is the best of the several I've tried, and amazingly for a Java program is very good looking. As an added bonus it doesn't completely block my internet connection when running, like some of the ones I've tried.

    It supports encryption, which can help overcome bandwidth throttling that some ISPs use to restrict p2p programs.

  • Peer Guardian 2

    If you're using p2p software, then you need Peer Guardian. It protects your computer from unwanted connections by large organisations like the MPAA who snoop on legitimate users of peer-to-peer software.

  • Voipcheap - VoIP Service

    This is the cheapest internet telephone service I've found. Quality seems reasonable, and they offer free calls to European and American landlines.

    The rest of their charges are lower than Skype.

  • Amazon S3 - Online Backup

    There is lots that can be done with the Amazon S3 web services. I use it as an online backup service. It is considerably cheaper [5] than other backup services, but I haven't foudn it to be the quickest at data transfer. Smile

    In order to access it I use the following two programs.

  • Jungle Disk

    Jungle Disk sets up a WebDAV server on your PC which allows you to access files (upload and download) using the Amazon S3 web service.

    It has nice features like encrypting files and uploading and downloading in the background.

  • NetDrive

    NetDrive maps a WebDAV server to a local drive name. This allows you to treat your online storage repository as a local drive (albeit a touch slower).

Website Related Tools

  • Firedrop2 - The Python Blog Client.

    This is a great blog tool that runs client side. This means you can maintain your blog on your desktop PC and migrate it to a new server with the minimum of fuss. It has some useful plugins like an emailer and spell checker.

  • rest2web - The website builder.

    This tool automatically builds project documentation, and part of my website, from ReST source documents. It allows me to easily change the template my site is based on, as well as automatically handling things like breadcrumbs.

  • CGIHTTPServerWithSSI - A simple test web server.

    This is a very simple webserver based on the Python CGIHTTPServer. Because it's written in Python I can easily adapt it to meet my specific needs - for example it serves files from two directories. I keep edited files in a single directory for keeping track of changes, whilst the body of my site is kept in another folder.

  • Lighttpd Webserver

    The fast and light webserver with the hard to pronounce name. Razz

    This server serves Voidspace and a few other domains, and uses a lot less resources than Apache. I've had very few problems with this server and I am very pleased with it.

  • awstats - Website Statistics

    This little program is a server log analyser that provides website usage statistics. I like it.

  • Pingoat

    Pingoat is a service to inform various blog directories that your blog has updated. It pings lots of places and is easy to use.

  • Haloscan - Blog comment service

    This online service is easy to integrate with any blog system (like Firedrop2).

    I get very few spam comments through this service, and it has good management features. The upgraded service is well worth the extra, but like any online service it has it's limitations. (For example it includes comments through javascript, and the comments live on their server rather than your own.)

Missing Tools

Most of these programs I'm very happy with. There are still a few tools missing from my toolbx.

  • A better command shell for windows

    (And no I don't mean monad.) I miss decent command line history and tab completion from the Linux shell.

    I do use MinGW, and I'm going to evaluate Console.

  • A windows explorer replacement

    Pretty straightforward. The standard explorer isn't bad, but I'm sure better exists.

    At some point I will try out the (unfortunately not free) Directory Opus.

    Another good alternative looks like Xplorer2.

Firefox the Web Browser

emoticon:firefox One of the programs I use the most is Firefox the web browser. Needless to say it's a great browser. Unfortunately I still have to use IE for compatibility testing.

The best features of Firefox are tabbed browsing and the many different extensions available.

Like many people, when I first installed Firefox I played around with an enormous number of different extensions. After a while I settled on a few that I used regularly. The number that I used was surprisingly high though.

Here is list of all the Firefox extensions I'm using currently.

  • The Qute Theme

    Ok, so this isn't an extension really. It's a new set of icons for Firefox that are much cuddlier and stylish than the default ones.

  • Google Toolbar

    Of course. Smile I use the pagerank display and various other features.

  • Google Firefox Browser Sync

    Using Firefox from three locations this is a very useful extension.

  • Del.icio.us Extension

    Very useful, at least if you use Del.icio.us.

  • Fission

    A very simple extension that makes your address bar double as a progress bar.

  • DownThemAll

    A free download manager for Firefox. It allows you to pause and resume downloads, very handy.

  • Web Developer

    Adds a menu and a toolbar with various web developer tools.

  • Firebug

    Souped up web developer tools...

    It includes a CSS/DOM viewer and editor and a very powerful Javascript debugger.

  • PDF Download

    Allows to choose if you want to view a PDF file inside the browser (as PDF or HTML), if you want to view it outside Firefox with your default or custom PDF reader, or if you want to download it!

    I almost never want to view a PDF file in the browser.

  • Download Status Bar

    View and manage downloads from a tidy statusbar - without the download window getting in the way of your web browsing.

  • Gmail Notifier

    A notifier for Gmail accounts.

  • Update Notifier

    Notifies you when updates are available for your extensions and themes. Allows quick access to your extensions and themes and the ability to check both types for any updates. Easily configurable for automatically installing updates when available and checking for updates when Firefox starts.

  • SwitchProxy Tool

    SwitchProxy lets you manage and switch between multiple proxy configurations quickly and easily. You can also use it as an anonymizer to protect your computer from prying eyes.

    I sometimes run several localhost servers as proxy servers. This lets me easily switch between them.

  • TabFX

    This extension adds the following features to tab browsing in Firefox :

    • Close button on each tab. Different styles available.
    • Focus last selected tab when closing tabs. Also have the option to give preference to non-visited tabs.
    • Recently Closed Tabs list on the tab bar context menu. Remembers browsing history for each tab.
    • Context menu option to open selected text in a new tab.
    • All of the features can be enabled/disabled separately using the Options dialog.

    The most useful of these is adding a close button to each tab.

  • CSSViewer

    This extensions lets you see which CSS rules are in effect on a particular element of a web page. Very useful when debugging HTML.

  • IE Tab

    This extension embeds an Internet Explorer page into a Firefox tab. Great for checking pages with both Firefox and IE.


Footnotes

[1]Or at least my life. Smile
[2]I use Windoze on my desktop, and Debian on my server. I mainly program with Python, but have recently been making forays into C# for my work.
[3]I've recently downloaded the new beta version of windows media player 11. It is very good looking, and seems to behave fine in practise.
[4]Unsurprisingly, Ogm (Ogg Media Format) is related to the Ogg compression format, and can include Ogg compressed audio streams.
[5]I'm storing a few hundred megabytes, and the bill for my first month was $0.14

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Last edited Sun Oct 01 20:10:00 2006.

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