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The Software I Use

It’s a long list that changes often.

Person standing by a computer.
(Image: canva.com)
I get lots of questions about what the best software for various situations may be. I can't answer them all, particularly as it often depends on your own situation, but I can tell you what I'm using.

I’m trying to do [something] — what software do you recommend?

What’s the best [random category of software] program?

What [software] should I buy?

Those are just a few variations of a question I get often. People frequently look to me for recommendations before spending the money or time to install a particular piece of software.

Looking for recommendations and the experiences of others is a smart thing to do.

In fact, I have an entire class of article categorized as Recommendations. But because I take making recommendations fairly seriously, I don’t do them as often as I’d like.

So how about I just tell you what I have installed on my machine?

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TL;DR:

What's on my machine

I have dozens, if not hundreds, of different software packages installed for a variety of uses. I also experiment with others over time and change what I use when something better comes along. This is a list of some of the tools I use that you might find helpful.

Recommended products

These are various tools that I not only use, but for which I’ve written formal recommendations.

Because there’s really no useful order to this — there’s no sense of importance or priority, for example — I’ll just list them alphabetically by product name.

  • 7-zip is what I use to manage .zip archives as well as its own more highly compressed .7z archives.
  • AutoHotkey lets me define powerful keyboard macros that save me a lot of time when typing. It’s complex to program, but it’s very powerful.
  • BoxCryptor encrypts the contents of some of my Dropbox folders, keeping them secure from prying eyes even when stored online.
  • CCleaner I use not just for general cleanup, but to uninstall some of the pre-installed Windows apps I don’t want or need.
  • Dropbox is how I keep a large amount of data synchronized between multiple devices, including my Windows, Mac, and Linux machines.
  • LastPass securely keeps track of all my passwords across all my computers and mobile devices.
  • Macrium Reflect backs up my primary desktop machine, performing a full backup once a month and an incremental backup every night.
  • Process Explorer is how I keep track of what’s running on my machine, and is most often used to answer the question, “OK, what’s slowing it down this time?”
  • Recuva is a tool you never want to use — not because of the tool, but because of the situation you find yourself in when you need it. I don’t find myself there often, thankfully, but when I do, I turn to Recuva to recover deleted or other recoverable files.
  • SnagIt would be near the top of this list were it prioritized. I use SnagIt to create the screenshots you see here on Ask Leo!.
  • Thunderbird is how I back up my email.

Also used & honorable mentions

This list of software includes some of the other tools I use. While they don’t have formal recommendations, being listed here does mean I use them and think well of them.

Once again, the order here doesn’t imply anything other than my ability to alphabetize.

  • Audacity is a free, open-source audio recording and editing software.
  • Calibre is an ebook creation, conversion, and viewing application.
  • Canva is an online/desktop graphic and image editor I use for many Ask Leo! illustrations, images, and video thumbnails.
  • Chrome, from Google, is the web browser I use the most these days.
  • Camtasia Studio allows me to record videos of my screen and the activity thereon, and is what I use to record many of the videos that you see here on Ask Leo! and that accompany my books.
  • CyberDuck is a graphical FTP/SFTP program. When I want to fire up something that’s a little more Windows Explorer-like, this is what I’ll use.
  • DaVinci Resolve is a powerful video editing tool I’ve started playing with. The free version is surprisingly capable.
  • Firefox is no longer my primary browser, but I do keep it installed. It’s exceptionally convenient to refer to when answering questions or when a website is giving me difficulty.
  • GNU Privacy Guard, or GPG, is the open source and free equivalent to PGP (Pretty Good Privacy) used for high-quality public key encryption.
  • HP16C is an emulator of the calculator long loved by techie types such as myself. Its biggest draw for the computer geek is that it can do everything in hex, octal, or even binary if you’re so inclined.
  • Hyper-V While technically not a separate tool, as it’s an optional feature in Windows itself, this is what I’ve been using to manage virtual machines.
  • ImageMagick is a powerful set of command-line tools for editing and manipulating images.
  • Notepad++ is my go-to text editor of late. I still use GVim (or vi) on many machines as well.
  • Microsoft Office is something I use regularly, mainly for Word and Excel, and even PowerPoint on occasion. I have Outlook installed and used it for many years, but I now refer to it primarily to answer questions.
  • OBS or Open Broadcaster Software is a powerful video stream management tool I use to record most videos these days, and to produce any livestreams.
  • Obsidian is my note-taking app.
  • Photoshop is what I use for advanced image editing and photo manipulation.
  • PocketCasts is the podcast player I use.
  • PuTTY is a remote command line terminal program that I use frequently to get command-line access to my Linux servers.
  • VLC is my primary media player. It can play just about anything.
  • xnViewMP is the tool I use for browsing and viewing photos and other images.
  • xplorer2 is a dual-pane replacement for Windows Explorer. I prefer its more detailed user interface and the dual-pane approach. It has many more features I know I’m overlooking.

I’m certain I’m missing some, but it’s a start.

As you can see, I’ve amassed quite the collection of tools and utilities that I rely on. Some I use daily or even hourly, and some only occasionally, but all are useful.

Do this

Your computer’s potential is really limited only by the software you choose to use. Consider what you use, and what you could use, your technology for. Perhaps some of my examples above will help.

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33 comments on “The Software I Use”

  1. Now that you’re no longer a manager at Microsoft, do you really need Visio?

    And ImageMagick… It may be the most powerful image processing suite in the world, but it’s also the hardest to learn. Would you really recommend it to any non-techie?

    Reply
  2. I’ve always admired your advice so I tried installing all the software in your list. I started with XP Pro and went from there. Didn’t take very long until I got an error message. My computer has an 8GB HHD, P1, 64MB RAM. Do you think this might have something to do with the errors? :-)

    But seriously, if someone wanted to copy your list, what would be your recommendation for minimum machine specs? Or do you have a network set up with certain tasks assigned to certain computers? Just curious because that seems like a lot for one machine to handle reliably.

    Reply
  3. Actually that list was comprised from walking the start menu on my “Primary” machine, so it just represents one of my several boxes. I expect that I’ll add a few items as I check out a couple of other machines as well.

    My primary is a Dell 3Ghz machine with 2GB of RAM with an 80GB hard disk. These days I typically recommend 1.5Ghz and 1GB as a minimum for most machines, and that should handle the list as well. It’s actually hard to get hard disks that are too small, but I’ll stake out 60GB as a minimum in that arena as well.

    Reply
  4. This is exactly what I wanted to see. A list of what the pros use. For what I do, I have had good luck with a lot of “stuff” you use. Paying heed to good recommendations from reliable sources sure makes choosing a lot easier.
    I wonder if you have played with AdvancedWindows Care from IOBit Software yet. I took part in the Beta testing and now run the free final version regularly. I was curious as to your thoughts on this software. It really seems to do good for me and my amateurish fumblings.
    Many thanks for your great advice in so many areas.

    Bob

    Reply
  5. I want to design a little gadget (like a calculator) with buttons, a display and numerical inputs. Ive got some experience of using microsoft infopath but thats forms and doesnt really lend itself to a gadget (although the logic design set up is really nice to use) i’ve also programmed in pascal but i dont really want to start from there. I havent got a clue how a gui would be designed from scratch either!

    Reply
  6. Hello Leo:

    Just one question if possible:
    Are IObit Softwares safe to use and why does Internet Explorer keep blocking the downloads and so does Kaspersky Internet Security 2008.

    Your assistance is highly appreciated and keep up your good work and regretfully more Microsoft Users should learn to know you.

    I am using XP PRO at this time and next year will plan to go to Vista.

    Thank you much,

    MK35XR

    Reply
  7. As you stated in your final line, you can not alphabetize, last time I checked Firefox comes before Microsoft in the alphabet.

    Now, chain yanking aside, this article has be very helpful, and except from some stuff that I just can’t justify paying for no matter how little it is (trillian, WoW on the not so little side), I’m going to use this list as a base for all my new systems from this point on, which considering I already use things like Google Chrome and CCleaner (rarely), should not be to much of a transition.

    One piece of software you might consider looking at is BelArc Advisor, it’s a free full system report. Now, it won’t tell you whats wrong with your computer, but it will give you a list of any and everything installed on your computer, and any serial #s/product keys to go along with them.

    I do recommend it, though I don’t install it on all my machines: Belarc Advisor – Detailed information about your computer’s hardware and software.

    Leo
    30-Aug-2012
    Reply
  8. Of course my saying this will ensure that there will be a glaring error that proves that I cannot, in fact, alphabetize.

    Yup. “Calibre / Chrome / Camtasia Studio”. :-)

    That said, it’s always nice to find out what other “experts” are using. I’ve downloaded the free version of WinPatrol, based solely on your “recommendation”, to kick the tires. There’s a lot of information to absorb in its listings.

    Reply
  9. One program you use at least once a week is the program that sends out this newsletter. I was hoping to see what you used since your weekly newsletter has inspired me to write a similar format for my area of interest. So what do you you for your newletter and what do you use for your blog?

    Neither of those are programs installed on my computer (which is what this list is about). To send my newsletter I use a service called AWeber, and my site is built using MovableType.

    Leo
    31-Aug-2012
    Reply
  10. I wanted to like Quicken. I installed version 2010 and the first bank statement I received, I went into the ledger, clicked the Date column to sort my ledger and the items were in the reverse order of my bank statement. So, I clicked the Date column again to reverse the order and it wouldn’t do it. It only sorts by date in ONE DIRECTION….GRRR. I contacted their customer support by phone, complained that GUI interfaces have been able to sort by ascending and descending order since the beginning and why doesn’t 2010 do this? They had no answer so I asked when they’ll be fixing this and they said they wouldn’t. I uninstalled it and refuse to use it ever again.

    Reply
  11. What (inexpensive) database programme would you suggest for a multi-user system to handle 60 competitors needing to choose between 100+ destinations, and assign transport to take them there (and back). I need user-designed report-generation.
    We have an Access 2002 system at the moment, but it’s not very user friendly – and what we have was put together a LONG time ago by someone who is no longer available!

    Reply
  12. Great article…I have all of the ‘free’ stuff :D

    You’ll be gratified, I’m sure, to know that (unlike some people :D) I did NOT check your alphabetizing abilities.

    Reply
  13. Hi Leo

    Interesting that you do not use Money for your personal accounting. Money 97 has been our program of choice since it came out. We tried a couple of the updates, but reverted because we liked 97 better. Have also tried Quicken but still like Money 97 better. Thanks for the article. Use many of the programs and appreciate the recommendations!

    I used Money for many years. Remember, I was on the development team for version 3. When Microsoft discontinued Money I needed to move on to something that was being at least somewhat supported.

    Leo
    31-Aug-2012
    Reply
  14. the original question asked about buying programs and as the list shows most of what one will use are available as legitimate freeware. Because Revo does not handle 64 bit programs and because Advanced Uninstaller Pro 11 (freeware) does, is faster and has other useful attributes I find it preferrable. I like to use the W7 built in defragger for my data drive as the programs and o/s drive is SSD which does not need defragging. C Cleaner is very good for cleaning junk, checking and either enabling or disabling startups. Logs of startups and uninstal (installed programs) can be created and the Admins in PC Tech in Paltalk use these all the time when assisting users trying to do computer repairs. Malwarebytes is good to have and there are a number of others.

    Reply
  15. Amazing how much software we have in common – coudl it be because I have been suscribed to Ask Leo for (could it be?) fifteen years. Thanks for a good read and for peaking my curiosity about two programs that I don’t use.

    9 Years. And the newsletter’s been around for 7. Some days it feels like much longer, though. Smile

    Leo
    31-Aug-2012
    Reply
  16. Interesting about DVDFab. I used it for awhile, maybe 3-4 years ago, but it did a poor job of keeping up with the everchanging encryptions. Finally, I went with AnyDVD, and in all this time, it’s not let me down at all. Just my take on the topic.

    Reply
  17. Thanks for the great list, Leo. Like others, I’ve been following your recommendations for a while. For keeping applications current, I also use Secunia to monitor vulnerabilities and patches. Maybe a topic for the future…

    Reply
  18. The programs you use are excellent. However, the question comes to my mind: So many programs in your machine, won’t they be using huge memory of your machine?

    I don’t run them all at the same time. When not being run they don’t take up memory, just a little hard disk space.

    Leo
    01-Sep-2012
    Reply
  19. Malwarebytes Anti-Malware is noticeably absent from your lists. I still use it and have snagged things with it that MSE missed. If I am not mistaken, you did recommend it at one time?

    I do have it, but I don’t install it unless or until I have a problem that I think needs it.

    Leo
    01-Sep-2012
    Reply
  20. Thank you for this list, I have been reading your advice for many years and I usually check out the software when you write about them. I now have many of the software programs you recommended on this list on my computers. I have saved this article in my ‘Important List’ Folder for future reference. What a help and relief they are when you run into trouble or need a certain type of program to solve a problem. I do have a few that you didn’t recommend, two that I find irreplaceable are Malwarebytes Anti-Malware and Keyboard Leds.

    Reply
  21. You mention Microsoft Security Essentials but I read that it is not included in Windows 8. Will it still be supported for WIN 7 operators?

    Reply
  22. @AJ Smith
    Windows 8 comes with it own antimalware package included. Microsoft in their infinite lack of wisdom called it Windows Defender. It will be more like MS Security essentials than the old Defender. This is bound to confuse a lot of people.

    Reply
  23. The many on your list that I do have I agree with. I am vaguely surprised at the omission of the Irfanview image viewer as Irfan has done such a heroic job of keeping it updated and expanding its capabilities, and I know it is immensely popular.

    IrfanView’s a fine program but I find its user interface too clunky. You’ll find Faststone Image Viewer in my list instead.

    Leo
    03-Sep-2012
    Reply
  24. I have tried CutePDF but switched to PrimoPDF because it gives me the option to select output size (screen=small, ebook, print, prepress=huge) and this is handy when I make a newsletter to be emailed.
    AFAIK these programs all have ghostscript under the hood anyway.

    Reply
  25. I’ve been using anti-spyware SUPERAntiSpyware and Malwarebytes for some time, and they nailed a goodly number of “bad actors” at virtually every run. One day I ran Ccleaner first and the two anti-spywares right afterward. Result: zero hits for the latter. Later I ran the anti-spywares first again, getting a large number of hits. Immediately thereafter, without prior AS cleanout, I ran Ccleaner, and then the two AS programs again. Result: zero hits for both AS programs. My guess is that Ccleaner’s removal of Internet temp files kills all (or at least most) of the nasty spyware, making subsequent AS runs unnecessary. I would like to see comments from other readers with their experiences.

    More often than not it’s cookies. CCleaner explicitly clears cookies, and many anti-spyware programs report cookies to varying degrees of alarm – most cookies are benign.

    Leo
    12-Sep-2012
    Reply
  26. For someone who is not a real geek, this article, as with almost everything I read from Leo, guides me towards some of the more practical SW that is available and helps me understand what it does.
    in any case, I just like his modest style.

    Reply
  27. There is one app that is best classified as a utility, that I think should come pre-installed on every computer but is not. It is called Core Temp (https://www.alcpu.com/CoreTemp/), and it’s a free download. It can be configured to display the temperature of each core (or alternatively the core with the highest temperature) of your CPU in the system tray (Microsoft’s ‘corner’ area) and optionally other CPU information. It can also be configured to start with Windows, start minimized, close to the system tray, hide the taskbar icon, and more than I can recall off the top of my head. It seems that I have used this app forever because I can’t remember a time when I didn’t use it.

    It literally saved my previous production desktop machine when its CPU fan began to fail. Because I had Core temp running in the system tray, I saw that the CPU began to run hotter than normal, so I shut down my system and opened the box to blow out any dust bunnies. That did not fix the issue, so I opened the display window, and saw that the CPU fan speed was erratic, running slow, then more like normal speed, then slow again as well as intermittently making weird little noises that were only audible with the case open and the system running. I shut down the machine, then ordered a new CPU fan using my laptop. It arrived in a few days, and after I got it installed (I keep CPU paste on hand), my troubles were solved. That system is still working today and will soon become my home file server for my LAN. If you do not already know about Core Temp, I suggest you check it out.

    Disclaimer: The alcpu website can be found in both google and bing search engines (just search ‘core tenp’ to find the site), and the CoreTemp app can be downloaded at no cost. Neither the website nor the app mentions any limitation to who can download and use it or if there is a ‘pro’ version for sale, so as far as I know, it is simply free to use.

    Ernie

    Reply

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