There are certain free apps I have come to rely upon when setting up any new installation of Windows. Some of these aid in my work, some of them just aid in a providing better Windows experience. I thought I’d create a list of my top 5 favorites. To qualify for this list, applications must be lightweight on system resources when running, preferrably open source, and free.
If you have any suggestions for apps which fit that description and make your life easier, post them in the comments.
If you find any of these tools useful, please make a donation to the author!
1. DColor is a great tool for saving space on your desktop by tweaking your icons. It allows you to resize them, and even display them in ‘list view’, as you would see a list of files in Windows Explorer. DColor will also let you recolor the icon text and background. It’s a tiny app which takes up very little system resources.
2. Color Cop is an eyedropper color picker which can sit in the foreground of all open windows. This comes in really handy when you are swapping back and forth between Photoshop and Dreamweaver, or are trying to pick colors from photographs. It allows for easy copy/paste to and from using your choice of RGB or several flavors of hex values. No installation — just launch it and use it.
3. ImgBurn is my favorite disc burning tool. You can run it from a command line or from the graphical interface, and it supports CD, DVD, HD DVD, and Blue Ray discs. ImgBurn is lightweight and sports a ton of tools and options. I have yet to run across a disc drive which it didn’t support out of the box.
4. Filezilla – I never leave home without this one. Not only is it free for Windows, but Filezilla supports Mac, Linux, BSD, and more. Providing a great interface for FTP and SFTP file transfers, it’s easy to use, lightweight, and full of options. My favorite combo of traits!
I am always on the hunt for applications which either improve my workflow, provide me with a free alternative to something I would otherwise have to pay for, or generally improve my geek stature. So without further ado, here is a short list of some of the apps I have found recently:
.htaccess Editor – This web-based tool allows you to quickly generate .htaccess files for your web site, without having to remember your way through vi or having to look up the sytnax when trying to do some basic user authentication.
InstallPad lets you create a list of applications you often find yourself installing when setting up someone’s Windows-based PC. Any application which can be directly downloaded from the Internet can be added to InstallPad. All you have to do is run the self-contained InstallPad executable file, and it will go grab all the apps from the Internet and install them for you. It’s a pretty slick way to set up Firefox, Thunderbird, and more, all with one double click for free.
Google Analytics Reporting Suite – A free Adobe Air-based application which runs from your desktop and allows you to quickly monitor all of your Analytics accounts through a very smooth interface, optimized to be less sucky than the clunky interface provided by Google. Requires Adobe Air, also a free app.
MailStore Home – I have written about this free tool before, and it still blows my mind so much that it deserves to be mentioned again. MailStore allows you to back up and archive your email accounts, whether they be in Outlook, Thunderbird, or GMail (or others). This tool saved my neck when my email accounts got too big for MozBackup to handle without crashing. Now, I can use MailStore and archive stuff to keep my inboxes streamlined, then backup the archived email with my favorite paid backup tool, Carbonite.
Tweet Deck – If you are a Twitter user, this is THE tool for keeping up with everything, posting, and more. Another free Adobe Air application, Tweet Deck runs from your desktop and has more bells and whistles than a elementary school band class.
I have about a dozen email accounts I try to manage locally with Thunderbird. By and large, things run pretty smoothly until I need to move it all, as I did recently when upgrading from XP to Vista.
I have been a big fan of MozBackup in the past, but as my email accounts grew and I had more and more email stored in folders, MozBackup started taking a long time to process it all. After my move to Vista, I realized I had over 2GB of mail backed up, and restoring it from Mozbackup didn’t work. It recreated all my accounts and folders, but all the folders were empty.
After the initial panic faded, I found some forum threads discussing the manual opening of MozBackup archives and restoration of email. I finally got it all back, but it wasn’t without more than a few sweat bullets hitting the keyboard.
Since this episode, I have been looking for something to put my mind at ease in regards to email storage, backup, and even reduction. I don’t know why I had never heard of it, but I stumbled across MailStore, which offers a free home version called, get this, MailStore Home.
MailStore Home will back up and archive email from many different clients, including Outlook, Thunderbird, Exchange, GMail, Yahoo mail, and others. At first I thought it was too good to be true, but after installing it I was quickly impressed with the simplicity and ease of use.
I had soon archived my two biggest email accounts, and even burned them to DVD through the MailStore application itself. Knowing DVD’s aren’t indestructible, I also backed up the archive using Carbonite (another of my favorite apps).
Going back into a MailStore archive is very easy, and it lets you read email, open, and even search mail and contents of attachments.
Once I was convinced that I had succesfully archived and backed up all my email, I was able to go through my Inboxes and delete over 1GB of email. Hopefully, this will allow MozBackup to run more smoothly, if I ever really need it again in the first place.
If you find yourself with an unweildy inbox and a nagging feeling that you haven’t done anything to back it up, go grab MailStore Home now.
The other day I showed you how to configure the look and feel of Putty for improved usability and performance. As I was doing some digging, I discovered two tools which extend the awesomeness of Putty.
Not sure about you, but I use Putty perhaps more than any other application on my Windows PC’s. Putty is a powerful, fast, free application which can be used to connect you quickly and securely to your Linux/Unix environment.
A person named “dag” from the Field Commander Wieers blog has provided an excellent article on configuring Putty for optimal usability and performance called “Improving Putty Settings on Windows“. After walking through the steps listed in the article, I fired up Putty and was amazed by the improved text rendering, colors, and more.
A brief summary of settings gleaned from the article:
Category: Session Connection type: SSH
Category: Window Lines of scrollback: 20000
Category: Window > Appearance Font: Lucida Console, 9-point Font quality: ClearType Gap between text and window edge: 3
Category: Window > Translation Character set: UTF-8 Handling of line drawing characters: Unicode
Category: Window > Selection Action of mouse buttons: xterm (Right extends, Middle pastes) Paste to clipboard in RTF as well as plain text: enabled