If you’ve been using computers for any length of time you build up an indispensable set of useful applications and tools, here is my tool list.
If you use Microsoft SQL Server Management Studio with any frequency (Its the first program I start every day) then you need the SMSS tool pack. It contains a useful collection of missing features and helpers from the IDE like Colouring server connections, SQL formatting and SQL snippets, its a must have.
Firebug is by far the best web development helper for the browser, it makes Firefox the choice for developing and testing websites.
If you need to watch http and https traffic then Fiddler is an easy to use debugging proxy for watching web traffic, an alternative is http://www.charlesproxy.com
If you work with SQL or SQL server then the Redgate tools are indispensable. As a data service / SQL developer they are the most used tools on my PC. Favourites include SQL Compare and SQL Data Compare for keeping dev / live databases in sync. They also now support SQL Azure making synchronisation between on-premise and the Azure Cloud easy.
A really simple Subversion client that has a great right click shell integration in Windows. Works as part of a Revision / Version control software along side VisualSVN. (note, if you need to remove all the .svn hidden folders from a project tree check out this useful registry hack here)
There are a couple of Notepad text editor variants on Windows, Notepad++ is what I decided on and have stuck with. The alternate, Notepad2 is also very good.
There are lots of tools out there for Windows Azure, but none as fully featured at Cerebratas Cloud Storage Studio. I’ve been using their tools for Azure since the beta stage and for working with Windows Azure Tables, Queues or Blob storage its really excellent.
They also do a very useful Azure Diagnostic manager application which makes keeping an eye on your Azure instances simple.
This isn’t really an app, more of a collection on applications. Like a shopping centre for useful applications. You select all the applications you want and ninite packages the applications into a small download. When you execute the package each application then downloads and installs individually. A very handy service when setting up and new PC.
Daemon tools had been the king of virtual CD / DVD drives for years but for Windows 7 x64 it had problems. Virtual Clone Drive is simpler than Daemon tools for my use and totally free.
After more than a decade of user Winamp is still my favourite audio player.
Xmarks used to be called Foxmarks, a pluigin for Firefox to save bookmarks online so whatever machine you used you can access your bookmarks. Its evolved since then to support a online bookmark manager and I find it most useful for synced bookmarks between different browsers on my work PC.
Until Windows 7 x64 came along our classic Cisco VPN client had worked. Once we moved to x64 at work I needed a new VPN client and Shrew VPN works well.
I don’t think I know of any other fully featured open source FTP client / server combo, everyone I know uses this.
Tineye is a service more than application but its very clever and very useful. Think of it as a backwards search engine for pictures. Instead of typing text to find something, you upload or pass a URL for a picture and Tineye will search the web for alternatives.
Regular paint in Windows has always been very basic, the gimp is an alternative image editor but I never got on with it. Paint.Net is a fully featured image and photo editor thats simple enough for a programmer to use but powerful enough to do what I need
For many years I’d been a paid member of the WinRaR fan club. I’ve now fully moved over to using 7-Zip as an alternative. Its open source, fast and lightweight.
For years it was a pain to save receipts, tenders, or CVs as .pdf but Cute PDF Writer makes it easy. Installed as a PDF printer you no longer have to mess about in Linux setting up a postscript printer to do the conversion. Select Print, choose Cute PDF Writer, save file. Fast and easy.
If you have used a mac and know about Spaces then you’ll love Dexpot. If not then imagine having 2, 4 or even 20 different desktops to work over! I use it having a development desktop, another desktop for email clients and a 3rd for testing or file management so each area is focused. Easy to switch between them as needed, de clutter your desktop.
I don’t buy many music CDs anymore preferring digital downloads or DI.fm streaming radio but if I must rip a CD to my PC Exact Audio Copy is the most accurate tool for job.
If you need to convert video files Handbrake is the perfect tool. It now supports the impressive x264 software library for H.264 / MPEG 4 video. Its also multi threaded where hardware allows so its fast.
Why Windows 7 doesn’t include a burning utility like ImgBurn already is unknown. If I had to guess its probably because ImgBurn is as good as it gets. Free and easy to use.
As a computing professional my old password management was awful. Now I’m much better, thanks in the main to KeePass. KeePass is a very good, open source password management system with some excellent community extensions. I urge you to try it and improve your password management.
TrueCrypt is another program should be built into Windows. TrueCrype is a open source disk encryption program. Very useful to fully encrypt the contents of your USB pen stick just incase. You don’t have to fully install it just run from a directory and even allows you to provide fake files if you are forced to reveal your password to an attacker!
There are many useful programs on the Internet, but you should always take care to protect yourself. SandboxIE allows you to do just that. It was originally intended to allow you to run your web browser in a safe environment where the browser could not affect the underlying operating system if attacked.
It has since been extended to allow you to run any program inside a safe sandbox environment, very useful for testing out what applications do when they install and easily removing them from your system without having to uninstall them.
I used to use Media Player Classic with several codec packs to enable the ability to play any video format out on the Internet but this was a pain and loaded a lot of filters and codec that I never used.
Media Player classic Home Cinema is based on Media Player Classic and has been extended to cope with the variety of formats on the Internet especially HD footage. I have never been a VLC fan preferring the lightweight of MPC-HC and the classic Media Player interface, they even do an x64 version.