Wednesday, July 22, 2015

My Big-Ass List of Software

Last Updated: 13-June-2016

Introduction

The purpose of this entry is simply to compile a list of the Windows software I use the most. Except for the sections that cover Chrome extensions (near the bottom), everything listed here is Windows desktop software compatible with Windows 7 and higher (no Windows Store apps, no Mac stuff, etc.). I provide the name of each application along with a brief description and a link to where you might find it. I also point out whether or not it is available via Ninite, an excellent web site that allows you to download and install many applications at once. Obviously lists like this are continuously evolving, and, hence, I will make every effort to keep this list up-to-date.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention Scott Hanselman's Ultimate Developer and Power Users Tool List for Windows. It's an incredibly useful list and I highly recommend you add it to your bookmarks. You'll find that much of the software I list below also makes an appearance on his list (and, indeed, many appear here because of his excellent list).

Windows Applications

Utilities

CCleaner: Without regular maintenance, all PC's accumulate excess cookies, temp files, and all sorts of other unwanted crap. For keeping a system clean, I use CCleaner Free. For more info on how to use it, check out this article from the How-To Geek, especially if you're considering using some of CCleaner's extended features.
Where to get it: Official Site

Revo Uninstaller: Removing an application via the Windows Programs and Features menu will run that application's uninstaller, which can sometimes leave behind unwanted files, folders, and registry entries. Removing an application with Revo Uninstaller allow you to get rid of this extra junk.
Where to get it: Official Download Page or Ninite

Everything: If you need to locate files or folders on your hard drive by name ultra-fast, skip the built-in Windows search and go for Everything.
Where to get it: Official Site or Ninite

TeraCopy: Provides a faster copy-and-paste for Windows, along with a handful of advanced options.
Where to get it: Official Site or Ninite

7-Zip: A solid utility for compressing folders to (or extracting them from) archive files. It can extract most major formats, and will compress to .zip files or it's own .7z archive format.
Where to get it: Official Site or Ninite

WinDirStat: This app will analyze your drives and give you a visual representation of how much space your files and folders are using. This is super-handy when you're trying to free up hard drive space.
Where to get it: List of Download Locations or Ninite

TreeSize Free: Another tool for analyzing which folders are taking up the most space on your hard drive. I like WinDirStat's nice visual representation slightly more, but this one works great, too.
Where to get it: Official Site

Speccy: This is a handy app for when you're not too sure what a system's specifications are and you don't feel like digging through the Windows Device Manager (or taking the damn thing apart).
Where to get it: Official Site

Secunia PSI: Keeping all the software on your system up-to-date can be tedious and time-consuming, but Secunia PSI (Personal Software Inspector) makes this task much simpler. Just run a scan and it will give you a list of out-of-date applications and tell you what corrective actions to take for each one. The default behavior is to start when your machine boots and stay on all the time, but I prefer to just run it when I want to do a scan (once every few days or so). Simply uncheck the "Start on boot" option in the Settings menu and make sure to exit the application when you're finished.
Where to get it: Official Site

Virtual CloneDrive: This is a solid free choice if you find yourself needing to mount image files (such as ISOs). It sits in your system tray and is there when you need it.
Where to get it: Official Site

Classic Shell: If you're like me, you weren't too happy with Microsoft's decision to remove the classic Start menu from Windows 8. Luckily, there is a solution: just install Classic Shell!
Where to get it: Official Site or Ninite

Partition Wizard Free Edition: If you run into situations where you're resizing file partitions on your hard drive(s), the free version of this tool offers a bit more flexibility than the built-in Windows Disk Management interface (such as the ability to utilize free space located before a partition when extending it).
Where to get it: Official Site

KeePass: Most modern web browsers securely store our passwords so we don't have to remember them and type them in every time we visit a web site. But what about other passwords? Or those times when you're using someone else's computer? You could keep them all in a text file, but this is hardly secure. KeePass allows you maintain a secure database of passwords for any purpose.
Where to get it: Official Site or Ninite

Magical Jellybean Keyfinder: Whether your system is royally screwed up from malware or you're just craving a fresh start, nothing beats a total reinstall of Windows. Before you start this process, you'll want to make sure you have your Windows Product Key on hand. If you're not sure what it is, Magical Jellybean Keyfinder can extract this information from your current Windows installation.
Where to get it: Official Site. Note: When running the install, make sure you choose the Custom Install option and uncheck the box to avoid installing unwanted software.

Security

A Note on Anti-virus Software: Choosing anti-virus software is not as straightforward as one would like. Products that were good a few years ago might suck now (and vice versa), either because they're not offering up-to-date protection against the latest viruses, are too resource-intensive, have crummy interfaces, or flat-out don't work. Because of this, the so-called "best" anti-virus software is hard to identify and constantly changing. Of course, plenty of knowledgeable people on the web have their take on the matter. The Lifehacker team seems to really like Avast Avira. If you want to do a bit more homework, sites like AV Comparatives and AV-Test offer in-depth analysis of how anti-virus applications compare to one another. The challenge is to find something that is lightweight but still offers solid protection. Personally, I've been using Windows Defender (which is built-in to Windows 8 and above) and really haven't had any problems, but I'm a knowledgeable user with relatively safe browsing habits. (NOTE: Windows 7 and earlier does not offer built-in anti-virus protection, but you can download Microsoft Security Essentials for free.)

I won't go as far as telling you what anti-virus product to use, but I will offer a few general words of advice:

  1. Choose a free product. With the number of free options available, there really isn't any reason to pay for anti-virus software.
  2. Choose a product that offers real-time protection in addition to on-demand scans.
  3. Keep your anti-virus software up-to-date. Your application is really only as protective as it's most recent virus definitions update. Chances are you can configure it to automatically update during off-hours, so make sure to set that up.

Malwarebytes: Scanning with Malwarebytes will detect and remove things that your antivirus software won't look for (spyware, trojans, etc.). There is also a premium (i.e. not free) version that adds real-time protection.
Where to get it: Official Site or Ninite

Productivity

Evernote: This is just one of the many cloud-based note-taking apps out in the wild. I like Evernote because it offers a consistent experience across it's many user interfaces (browser, desktop app, and mobile app).
Where to get it: Official Site or Ninite

MarkdownPad: A solid markdown editor. I use this app for writing all of my blog entries (including this list).
Where to get it: Official Site

f.lux: f.lux will adjust the color temperature of your display at night, which helps reduce eye strain (and may improve our sleep patterns).
Where to get it: Official Site

Web Browsers

A Note on Web Browsers: Web browsers are sort of like anti-virus software or text editors: eventually, everyone picks a favorite. To a novice or casual PC user, the web browser is the Internet, so it's important to choose a good one. If you're a web developer (like me), you'll probably have to spend a little bit of time in several different browsers, but you will still spend 95% of your time using one in particular. Luckily for all of us, web browsers are free, so there's nothing keeping you from trying out a whole bunch of them. I won't discuss each one, but the major browsers are Mozilla Firefox, Opera, Microsoft Internet Explorer (soon to be replaced by Microsoft Edge), Apple Safari, and my personal favorite - Google Chrome.

Google Chrome: Of all the browsers I've used, Chrome provides the best user experience. Like most modern browsers, it offers a multi-tabbed interface. Most importantly, it is lightning fast (thanks in part to Google's awesome V8 JavaScript engine). Chrome is highly customizable via the many extensions available (I describe some of my favorites later in this entry). It is also auto-updating, so as not to bother users when a new version is available. This is sort of a blessing and a curse: 95% of the time it's great, but occasionally a feature you love or rely on will change or vanish completely with no warning. The most recent example of this is their dreadful redesign of Chrome's bookmark manager (which you can undo via the steps in this article).
Where to get it: Official Site

Media (Players, Encoders, Rippers and Burners)

VLC: The only audio/video player you'll ever need. Just download it and never worry about codecs again.
Where to get it: Official Site or Ninite

MediaHuman Audio Converter: This is an easy-to-use app for quickly converting audio files between formats (MP3, WMA, FLAC, etc.). The drag-and-drop interface couldn't be simpler.
Where to get it: Official Site

Handbrake: A video encoder app with a variety of uses. I mostly use it for ripping DVDs.
Where to get it: Official Site

DVD Flick: This app allows you to create a new DVD out of one or more disparate video files on your hard drive.
Where to get it: Official Site

ImgBurn: An invaluable tool for burning DVDs, ripping DVDs to ISOs, etc. Where to get it: Official Site or Ninite

CDBurnerXP: I don't burn too many audio CDs these days, but, when the need arises, this is my go-to app.
Where to get it: Official Site or Ninite

File Readers

Sumatra PDF: A free, relatively lightweight reader for PDFs and eBooks. It's compatible with a variety of file formats (PDF, ePub, MOBI, CBR, CBZ, etc.) and totally free. I should point out that I did have trouble printing a particular PDF and had to resort to using Adobe's official PDF viewer, but that seemed to be an isolated incident.
Where to get it: Official Site or Ninite

Adobe Reader: Adobe's free PDF viewer is slow as mud and an absolute pain in the ass to use. However, as I mentioned above, I had trouble printing a certain PDF with Sumatra and had to resort to using this one. Be mindful of crapware when running the install.
Where to get it: Official Site

Adobe Digital Editions: This is Adobe's free app for reading eBook formats (ePub and MOBI). I'm not really using this these days, as Sumatra handles these formats quite well, but I've kept it on the list for now.
Where to get it: Official Site

Developer Tools

Microsoft Visual Studio: Visual Studio is the IDE for doing .NET development, but it can be used for non-.NET development as well. It comes in a variety of flavors; check out the official site for more details.
Where to get it: Official Site

LINQPad: When you just want to write some .NET code and don't need all the bells and whistles that Visual Studio offers, LINQPad is a handy tool. It allows you to write simple programs in C#, VB, or F#. It also allows you to query SQL Server databases via SQL, LINQ to SQL, or LINQ to Entities.
Where to get it: Official Site

Microsoft PowerShellISE: A simple scripting environment for PowerShell with a command prompt in one pane and a script editor in the other.
Where to get it: It's built-in to Windows. Once you enable PowerShell, the ISE should also be available.

Microsoft SQL Server Management Studio: A full-featured environment for working with SQL Server databases.
Where to get it: It's an available option when you install SQL Server.

Query Express: From the same developers that created LINQPad comes this simple, free query analyzer for SQL Server databases.
Where to get it: Official Site

Notepad++: A simple text editor can be a developer's most vital tool. Notepad++ takes the simplicity of Notepad and adds syntax highlighting, themes, macro support, and loads more.
Where to get it: Official Site or Ninite

Atom: While I still prefer Notepad++ as a general text editor, I do enjoy using Atom from time to time. It's a tad slower than Notepad++ when first starting, but I like the look-and-feel a lot more, and it has a really nice interface for installing and uninstalling extensions (which they call "packages") and themes.
Where to get it: Official Site

WinMerge: Every developer needs a tool for comparing and merging text files. Truthfully, my favorite diff tool is the one inside Visual Studio, but, when I'm looking for something standalone, I go with WinMerge. It has a few extra bells and whistles, such as the ability to compare folder contents.
Where to get it: Official Site or Ninite

Telerik Fiddler: Fiddler is described as a "web debugging proxy". It lets you analyze and "debug" HTTP traffic in real time. It also has a Composer tab that lets you build and send HTTP requests. As someone who develops web services and applications that consume web services, I assure you that this functionality comes in handy on an almost daily basis. This is a vital tool for web developers, and, seeing as how it's free, there's no reason not to grab a copy.
Where to get it: Official Site

Telerik JustDecompile: There are a number of tools on the market for decompiling .NET assemblies. I've stuck with this one because it's fast, easy to use, and, best of all, free.
Where to get it: Official Site

NimbleText: Here's a scenario: I have to write a line or two of code for each item in a list. Does this sound familiar? Doing this sort of copy-paste-edit over and over until your fingers are sore can be a real pain in the neck. That's where NimbleText comes in. Paste your list into the top panel, type your template into the middle panel, and voila - out comes your code! This is such a simple concept, but I've run into uses for it more times than I can count.
Where to get it: Official Site

NimbleSet: If you thought the last one was stupid-simple, wait until you see this one! Have you ever had two lists that you needed to merge (get the union) or find common entries (get the intersection)? In the past, I've always had to do this in Excel, and hated trying to remember where to find all its filtering options (don't even get me started on that damn ribbon!). But with NimbleSet this easily becomes a 30-second-or-under task: You just copy-and-paste your lists into the two panes provided, click a button, and you're done!
Where to get it: Official Site

Chrome Extensions

General

Reddit Enhancement Suite: I spend a LOT of time on Reddit, and RES adds a load of features that make my Reddit browsing much more productive (or unproductive, depending on your perspective). I think it's worth it for the dark theme alone.
Where to get it: Chrome Web Store

Google Mail Checker: It tells you how many unread messages are waiting in your Gmail inbox. Couldn't be simpler.
Where to get it: Chrome Web Store

Full Page Screen Capture: This handy little extension allows you to take "scrolling" screenshots of web pages that are too big to fit on your screen.
Where to get it: Chrome Web Store

Privacy and Security

AdBlock: This is probably Chrome's most ubiquitous ad-blocking extension. It has a few advanced options, such as allowing you to whitelist specific domains or pages.
Where to get it: Chrome Web Store

Ghostery: Protects your online privacy by blocking tracking cookies and related junk.
Where to get it: Chrome Web Store

Media

Google Cast: Google Chromecast is one of the cheapest and easiest ways to watch stream content like Netflix or HBO Go on a computer or mobile device and display it on a television. All you need is the Chromecast, a TV with an HDMI jack, and this extension.
Where to get it: Chrome Web Store

Videostream for Google Chromecast: Allows you to stream downloaded video files (as opposed to streaming content) to your TV via your Chromecast. Where to get it: Chrome Web Store

Developer Tools

Postman REST Client: Postman is a simple tool for constructing and sending HTTP requests, which comes in handy when you're working with RESTful web services. If this sounds a lot like the Composer tab in Fiddler, that's because it is. I like both tools: Fiddler is a bit more flexible, but Postman has a slightly cleaner interface. I can't pick a winner... you decide!
Where to get it: Chrome Web Store

Telerik Kendo UI Chrome Inspector: I use Telerik's Kendo UI suite of HTML5 widgets all the time. This extension will add a "Kendo UI" tab to Chrome's DevTools, which will give you some great details on the widgets being used on the current page.
Where to get it: Chrome Web Store

Dimensions: This is another simple-but-powerful tool. Turn it on and you've instantly got a ruler for measuring the pixels between elements on the current page.
Where to get it: Chrome Web Store

Fontface Ninja: This extension offers a quick and easy way to determine a specific font's face and size: Just turn it on and hove your mouse over the text, and a tooltip will pop up with the details.
Where to get it: Chrome Web Store

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