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Top 10 Windows Utilities

July 23, 2011

In general, I like Windows 7, and find it easy to use. However, there are some areas where it is lacking functionality, and for which third-party tools are required. Here’s a list of my personal favourites, all freeware of one sort or another, in no particular order:

  • Everything

    Microsoft have never really produced a good file search tool for their operating systems, and even if they had it is hard to see how they could have produced something as good as Everything. Want to find all occurrences of a file? Just type its name, and Everything will list them – instantly. That’s all it does – it’s not a replacement for tools like grep, but it does it perfectly. To get the instant results, Everything maintains a database of files, somewhat like the UNIX locate program. However, unlike locate it updates its database in real-time, and so it is always up-to-date. You might worry that this would degrade performance, but it turns out not to, at least not detectably. I can’t recommend Everything strongly enough – I use it many times ever day and it always comes up with the goods.

  • VirtuaWin

    One feature that I absolutely require in a desktop operating system is multiple virtual desktops, and the ability to flip between them with a hot-key. Microsoft seem to have blown hot and cold on supplying such a thing as part of Windows, so I’ve given up and now use VirtuaWin, which is FOSS software. It does everything you could possibly want, including controlling how programs get flipped to different desktops, so you can make (say) WinAmp appear on all desktops. Does what it says on the tin and does it very reliably.

  • Classic Shell

    I’m not a great fan of the Start menu, and the default one that comes with Windows 7 seems to be no great improvement on the XP version – rather the reverse. For those of you that want a simpler Start menu, yet one that is full customisable, I recommend Classic Shell. Not only does it make the Start menu more usable, but it also makes Explorer look more its old self. And if you want your Windows 7 start menu back again, a simple shift-click gives it you.

  • RocketDock

    I like a nice clear desktop, with no icons, but I want to access commonly used programs quickly. The solution is RocketDock, which adds a Mac-style dock to your desktop. It’s got a raft-load of options concerning appearance, position etc, and it supports docklets, which are things like clocks and performance meters. I have had very occasional problems where it didn’t want to load at system startup, but restarting it always seems to fix them, and they seem to have (touch wood) gone away now. And despite what the RocketDock download page says, it works perfectly with Windows 7 64-bit, for me at least.

  • Console 2.0

    I use command line tools a lot, and have become frustrated with the standard Windows console window – can’t resize, copy & paste is difficult, limited fonts etc. Console 2.0 is a replacement for the Windows console, which lets you use the command line interpreter of your choice (I use bash, but you could also use cmd.exe or whatever takes your fancy) in an almost completely resizeable window, with tabs (if you like tabs). There are still some rough edges with this FOSS project, but it’s definitely worth a look (and it is surely past time that Microsoft put some effort into updating their own console software?)

  • AutoHotkey

    This is not a program I use much, but I do use it it to add one hotkey – I use the bash command prompt a lot, but it is often hidden behind other Windows. So I have an AHK script which looks like this:

    #b::
    SetTitleMatchMode 2
    IfWinExist, Bash
    {
    	WinActivateBottom, Bash
    }
    else
    {
    	Run,C:\bin\Console2\Console.exe
    }
    

    This lets me type Win-B and have a new bash session started if none exists, otherwise it brings an existing bash session to the front. A lifesaver, for me at least.

  • Vista Shorcut Manager

    Another tool I don’t do much with, but it does one essential (for me) thing – it turns off the shortcut arrows on icons. I installed this and then forgot about it, which is as it should be.

  • Process Explorer

    I suppose this is everyone’s favourite free Windows tool, but you may have missed that it has just been updated to Version 15.0, adding some nice new stuff to the System Information view (but changing the graph colours – why?). And if you haven’t used it before – go get it immediately.

  • Autoruns

    Another tool from the same stable as Process Explorer is Autoruns, which shows you exactly what programs will execute on system startup, and user login etc, plus all the running services. You can turn things off and an at will. I use this after I’ve installed other software to check it hasn’t set up some pointless process or other. Note that the other Sysinternals tools besides Process Explorer and Autoruns are also well worth investigating.

  • Rapid Environment Editor

    I do a lot of messing about with the Windows PATH and other environment variables, and have always been infuriated with the tiny dialog the Microsoft provide to change these things. Rapid Environment Editor provides a nice GUI, and does helpful things like checking that PATH entries actually exist. For non-interactive PATH munging, I’ve actually written my own tool – Pathed, which you can get at http://code.google.com/p/pathed.

And that about wraps it up – all the tools here will enhance your Windows experience, and I have had no major problems or glitches with any of them, but of course YMMV – I’m guaranteeing nothing!

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From → freeware, top 10, windows

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