Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Essential Windows software for power users

Do you feel efficient enough when using Windows?
Here are some pieces of software that I use and have saved me years.

Total Commander

I've been using this for more than 10 years, think of it as Midnight Commander (mc) on steroids, for Windows. Screenshots of main features here: http://www.ghisler.com/screenshots/en/
It's practically the first thing I install when I need to work on a machine.

Scenarios:

  • copy stuff around from one drive/ftp/share to another, queuing (F2) operations along the way
  • view any files (F3) in ascii/unicode/hex, edit them (F4)
  • search in current folder (Alt+F7), much faster than using an IDE for source files
  • archive old files (Alt+F5, Alt+o) and unpack multiple archives (insert, Alt+F9), in background
  • compare directories (Shift+F2), including by content (Alt+c, y) like different GIT repositories
  • diff selected files, including binary/hex (Alt+f, y)
  • virtual folder support for FTP/Samba/nfs shares, adb, ext2fs, deleted files ...
  • virtual folder support for most archive types - I use mostly use zip with maximum compression
  • see how much each folder takes up (Alt+Shift+Enter)
  • open a quick DOS prompt at the current location (Alt+c, d) with the same elevation
There's an active community for add-ons and it's mature enough to be almost bug-free.
License: Winzip-like (forever shareware), 40 CHF (plus VAT!) otherwise.

IrfanView

Including the plugin pack this is my go-to image viewer and basic editor. It integrates nicely with the above (F3 on an image / video file to view it).

Scenarios:
  • open up a picture, press T to go to the thumbnails view and batch-organize files
  • select an area, press Ctrl+Y to crop to that area, press Ctrl+R to resize [the long side] to a size of your choice (I choose mostly 2048 px for the blog), Ctrl+S to save, space/PgDn to go to the next picture, DEL to remove the file
  • Shift+G to do basic gamma/contrast enhancement
  • L,R to rotate 90 deg, Ctrl+U to rotate arbitrarily (misaligned pictures)
  • B to run a batch conversion: change file names, resolution, format, EXIF
There's a lot of stuff that can be done, including support for old-style Photoshop plugins.

SysInternals

This one almost does not need an introduction. If it does, I suggest you take a look at 'A case of the unexplained' video presentations and blog posts.
I use Process Monitor a lot, especially to figure out why installers fail and what secret files some programs might access. For example a firmware update utility might write the raw firmware file to some other folder than Temp. Other programs check for a registry key + a hidden file to see when the trial expires.

PowerShell, WinDBG, BootICE, Unlocker and other utilities also fall under the same category, but they are too generic/specific/slow to use in comparison.

mobaXterm

I discovered this quite recently but it has become almost indispensable. It is like putty on steroids.
It allows managing several terminal sessions (ssh, telnet, ftp, serial!) at once, does X forwarding and saves the passwords as well. So you can have sessions for your router, Raspberry PIs, esp8266 and Arduino, all under one tabbed interface.

Also has SCP support out-of-the-box so you can browse the folders, view the files and edit them. I'm so happy whenever I don't have to use the vi retardness, especially on Solaris.

Best thing: it ports an almost complete Cygwin environment to Windows so you can run your awk/grep/cat/wc inside your DOS prompt. Close the window and it goes away.

License: free edition a bit lightweight (though sufficient), 49 EUR (+VAT) otherwise.

TightVNC

I use this to connect from my tablet or phone to the computer(s) running in the other room. Why get up from the bed if you forgot to shutdown the computer? Or if you want to stream some PC-only web stuff to Chromecast/EZCast in the other room, without dragging your laptop.

Notepad++

Another late-comer for me, I used to use RealEdit before.
I like the fact that it opens the same set of files so you can have a TODO list inside your Dropbox folder synced across computers. Unless it's a corporate workstation, that is.
But the editor in itself is really nice: lightweight, able to work with huge files, macros, syntax highlighting for a lot of languages, 
I will try to set it up for use with Arduino and light PHP work, it should support deployment scripts and autocompletion.

Classic Shell

I used to use it when Windows 8 first came out but decided to give the new Windows 10 launcher a chance. After 6 months of usage I can confidently say that Classic Shell is better. Text search works across the desktop icons as well, you can get rid of the heavy Metro sidebar and you can even disable Cortana. It's also noticeably faster in everything it does.

Honorable mentions

No offense to the Firebug team but Chrome dev tools really kick ass - live Javascript editing with two-way syncing with the workspace folder, live CSS editing, breakpoints that work 99% of the time.
Remove those 'click to like' overlays, debug why clicks are not working (hint: AdBlock).
I wish there would be one tool that does everything archive-related. TotalCmd really makes these almost obsolete. Still, there are times when they are needed.
For when someone loses files on their portable harddrive or formats the sd card from vacation.
A portable Apache / mongoDB / mySQL / PHP installation. The 'zero-installation' does not work on corporate workstations but you can make a batch file that maps a drive to a folder.
The swiss-knife of serial port debugging
You might be in for a big surprise after you calibrate your displays.
Deluge - non-classic mode
Use a Raspberry PI (or Banana PI or NAS) as your main torrent client, but manage it from any machine. The interface is similar to uTorrent, a bit buggy but very functional.
Make multi-boot USB sticks: Linux, Windows XP and Hiren - all on one stick
Plug any device into your Ethernet port and sniff the traffic.
The first one enables different settings (for example speed) on different pointing devices while the second one allows you to map your mouse buttons to do something else.
AutoHotKeyRecently started using this but there is a huge community of scripts. I like the fact that some Windows hotkeys can be disabled selectively.
Dexpot
Much better than SysInternals' Desktops.

Classic Start Menu, Snipping Tool, Task Manager, Resource Monitor (all three included in Windows), MPC-HC and VLC

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