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 that 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 others experiences is a smart thing to
And, in fact, you’ll see I have an entire class of article categorized as
because I take actual 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?
Become a Patron of Ask Leo! and go ad-free!
Snapshots in time
My original goal with this list was that it would be somewhat “incomplete”
from the beginning and that I would come back and update it from time to
That was six years ago and the article hasn’t been touched since.
Whoops. So much for good intentions.
So consider this more of a “snapshot” of the tools that I use today.
These are various tools that I not only use, but for which I’ve written
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
what I almost exclusively to manage .zip archives, as well as its own more
highly compressed .7z archives.
AutoHotkey lets you define powerful keyboard macros, macros that save me a
lot of time when typing. It’s a bit complex to program, but as I said,
is what I use to encrypt the contents of some of my folders in DropBox, keeping
them secure from prying eyes even when stored online.
CCleaner I don’t
use often, but it’s a tool that eventually gets installed on all my Windows
machines for those scenarios when something’s not quite right and some
cleaning is required. When I’m going to run a registry cleaner (which is
extremely rare), CCleaner’s is now the one I use first.
“installed”, per se, but Darik’s Boot And Nuke is something I run always prior to decommissioning an otherwise working hard drive or entire machine.
FastStone Image Viewer is my image viewer of choice and I use it frequently
to view not only my large collection of photographs, but also the
surprisingly large collection of images used on Ask Leo!
Reader is what I use instead of Adobe Reader to view PDFs.
LastPass keeps track of all my passwords, securely, across all my computers
and mobile devices.
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
Recuva is one of those tools that you never want to use; not because of
the tool, but because of the situation that 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 first.
Uninstaller is another tool whose use implies that something isn’t working
properly. When something won’t uninstall or uninstall properly, I use Revo to
clean it up.
would be near the top of this list were it prioritized. I use SnagIt to create
the screenshots you see here on Ask Leo!.
a remote access solution that does the moral equivalent of Remote Desktop, only
it’s simpler to set up and works well across the internet.
Thunderbird is my email client of choice. It’s so robust and powerful that it
meets the needs of both light and power users. I use it all day every day.
TrueCrypt is how I keep my data, including my most sensitive personal data
Also used & honorable mentions
This list of software includes some of the other tools that I use, perhaps
daily, but that haven’t written up a formal recommendation. Typically, the only
reason for that is time and it in no way reflects negatively on the specific
utility. While I don’t consider my use of a particular piece of software an
actual recommendation, being listed here does mean that I use and think well of
Once again, the order here doesn’t imply anything other than my ability to
Ranking tracks search engine ranking over time
Google, is the web browser that I use the most these days.
Cygwin is a
collection of Unix/Linux command-line tools for Windows.
what I use when I want to explicitly defrag my hard disk. Most of the time, I’ll
let Windows do it automatically, but when I want to see what’s happening,
Defraggler does a better job of displaying what’s going on.
best thought of as a database into which you place notes. Notes can have
attachments like PDF files and the like, but thinking of it as a database of
notes that are automatically synchronized across multiple machines is perhaps
the easiest way to visualize it. Evernote is a key component of my going as
paperless as possible.
HP16C is an
emulator of the calculator long loved by techie types such as myself. It’s
biggest draw for the computer geek is that it can do everything in hex, octal,
or even binary if you’re so inclined.
is a powerful set of command-line tools for editing and manipulating
Microsoft Office is sometime 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
Microsoft Visio is what I use to generate conceptional network and PC
diagrams. I’m running Visio 2000 which, thankfully, works under Windows 7, 64-bit.
Firefox is no
longer my primary browser, but I do keep it installed as it’s exceptionally
convenient to refer to when answering questions or when a website is giving me
is the Virtual Machine technology that I use. I use it both on Windows, where I run
additional copies of Windows7, Windows Vista, Windows XP, and Ubuntu Linux in
virtual machines, but it’s also the technology that I use to run Windows 7 on my
what I use for advanced image editing and photo manipulation.
PuTTY is a remote
command line terminal program that I use frequently to get command-line access
to my Linux servers.
is for my business books.
Quicken is for my
personal accounting. (This is particularly painful because it was my primary competitor
when I worked on Microsoft Money, now discontinued.)
Skype isn’t used
often, but it’s typically running as a way for trusted contacts to get in touch
with me via voice or video.
Sony Vegas Movie
Studio is a more powerful video editing package than that which comes with
Camtasia, above, and I use it for assorted video work. It’s slowly being
replaced with FinalCut Pro on my Mac.
TeraCopy is a
copy accelerator for Windows when using Windows Explorer. Besides speeding up
copy operations somewhat, it also does a better job of displaying progress and
providing options when conflicts occur.
Trillian is my
Instant Messaging program of choice. I have Windows Live, Yahoo IM, Google
Chat, and AOL IM accounts and this allows me to interact with all of them in a
single interface. (It would also handle the text-only portion of Skype and
Facebook chat if I bothered to use that.)
Vim is a text
editor. It’s older than dirt, dating back to the origins of Unix itself. It’s
wonderfully arcane and powerful, and available on every platform that I care to
edit text on. I write my articles and books using Vim.
VLC is my primary
media player. It can play just about anything.
WinMerge is a
program that allows you to compare two text files and highlights their
World Of Warcraft.
Yes, I admit it, I play WoW and have for several years now. It’s great for
stress reduction. My timing’s erratic, but the BronzeBeard server is my
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 that I know I’m
I’m certain that I’m missing some items from the list, but it’s a start.
As you can see, I’ve amassed quite the collection of tools and
utilities that I rely on over time. Some I use daily (hourly even) and some only
occasionally, but all are useful.
At least they’re useful in some way to me.
(This is an update to an article originally published
November 13, 2006.)