Below is a list of applications I use on a regular basis. I was actually inspired to write this post because I wanted a way to share my excitement for the free tools Virtual CloneDrive and visionapp Remote Desktop. After starting the post, however, I realized that there’s actually a lot of really cool applications that I use almost daily.
I didn’t realize how many media tools I use until I created this list. It must be the blogging and rampant virtual OS installs..
- Virtual CloneDrive
The website for this free software states Virtual CloneDrive works and behaves just like a physical CD/DVD drive, however it exists only virtually. Just double-click any .iso file and it’s immediately mounted as a drive. The virtual drive works great on VMware and even more impressive to me, it doesn’t just work for CD sized ISOs but DVD sized ISOs as well. You can even mount ISOs located on networked drives.
- dbPowerAmp Music Converter (dMC)
Great free media converter. Works on tons of formats: mp3, wmv, m4a, flac, you name it. It’s a lightweight, fast media converter that can be accessed by right clicking on the media file and selecting “Convert to…”
- VLC Media Player
VLC media player is a highly portable multimedia player (Windows, Mac OS, Linux, BeOS, etc) for various audio and video formats (MPEG-1, MPEG-2, MPEG-4, DivX, mp3, ogg, …) as well as DVDs, VCDs, and numerous streaming protocols. It can also be used as a server to stream in unicast or multicast in IPv4 or IPv6 on a high-bandwidth network.
- ISO Recorder
ISO Recorder is a small, fast application for the few times that you actually need to burn an ISO. Just right click and “Burn ISO..”
ImageResizer, a Windows Power Toy, is the easiest way to resize images; just right-click and “Resize Image..” The only downside is that sometimes the quality sucks for the web.
Paint.NET is a great free tool for image manipulation. Lightweight users (such as myself) claim it’s a good enough replacement for Photoshop.
- Quicktime Alternative
Quicktime from Apple is so damn invasive; from having to search for an iTunes-less install version to adding Quicktime and Quicktime Updater to startup, I can’t stand Apple gettin all up in my grill. Quicktime Alternative is a free, lightweight, unintrusive replacement for Quicktime. This software is from the makers of Real Alternative and Media Player Classic.
Networking & Security
- visionapp Remote Desktop
Any administrator who uses Remote Desktop often will absolutely love this free tool. I plan to make this application the topic of my next post (or my next-next post).
I stopped using the over-bloated SSH software SecureCRT the day I found putty. I just save putty.exe to my C:\windows directory and run it from any location. Later on when I stopped using password authentication, putty’s pageant software was there to help me login automatically.
- Sam Spade
I’ve been using Sam Spade since about 1998. I don’t think it’s being actively developed any longer but it’s a small tool that helps me to find out a ton of stuff from any IP address and it’s an easy way to check out HTTP headers. There’s probably something better out there; if you know of a small (GUI) tool that can give me things like the owner of an IP block, please let me know!
Packetyzer is like Ethereal++, recommended to me by a friend at Microsoft. Packetyzer, like Ethereal, is a good tool for sniffing packets. I used it recently when my hosting service’s Cacti pages showed that my traffic suddenly tripled. I figured either the new router I was on was misconfigured or someone was hacking me because none of my server logs showed any significant increase in traffic. I sniffed out everything for a few hours and found nothing amiss.
- TrueCrypt Disk Encryption Software
I found this while searching for a replacement for Microsoft’s EFS file encryption (which sucks..at least in 2k3). It’s incredible software: fast, easy-to-use and super secure. You can protect your disk with a password or a keyfile. I use it mostly for encrypting USB thumb drives; if you use this on a USB drive, look into the “Traveller Disk Setup.”
- Foxit Reader
I hate Adobe Reader! Talk about a dumb, intrusive and bloated (27MB) product. Last I installed it, Reader installs itself as well as an IE plugin. When there is a new update, a window will appear BEHIND the active Reader window which makes Reader (and thus IE) appear to freeze. When you finally do see the Update and tell it to never check for updates again, it never listens. There’s a checkbox there but no “OK” button so you can only choose “Cancel.” Enter Foxit Reader. Foxit is very lightweight (1.5 MB), fast opening (<1 sec on my Macbook), dependable product which never crashes. Definitely one of my favorite finds in the past few years.
- notepad++ and crimson editor
While UltraEdit is probably the defacto standard of what a text-editor should be, it also comes at a small price. Notepad++ is a free text-editor that has many of the features that UltraEdit provides. I’ve even found in many cases that it’s more powerful, especially with its support for plugins. Crimson Editor is another great text editor for coding or searching/replacing.
- Excel Viewer 2003, PowerPoint Viewer 2003, Visio Viewer 2003, Word Viewer 2003
If you don’t have the money to buy the full versions of these Microsoft Office products, you can still view Office files created by others.
Many of the other oft-used applications can fit under this wide-open category but this is how it’s organized in my brain so this is how I’ve organized it in this post ;)
w.bloggar is what I use to post to each of my WordPress blogs. It supports about 50 different blogging engines and it’s very straightforward and easy to use — it also doesn’t strip your code like some web-based editors do.
- Firefox + ietab
In addition to my daily DBAing tasks, I also do program some web applications for our intranet. Since IE is pretty much mandatory on our network, I couldn’t seemlessly use my favorite browser, Firefox, to build and test my web apps until the ieView plugin came around. ieView allows you to set entire websites to always be viewed in an IE tab within Firefox (totally seamless). This feature is not only helpful for intranet web development but also for visiting sites that require IE like some parts of Microsoft.com and MSNBC.com. Btw, if you need to enable NTLM authentication in Firefox, you can do so by adding your servers (comma seperated) to network.automatic-ntlm-auth.trusted-uris. AdBlock + Filterset.g is another favorite Firefox extension.
eMule is one of the best P2P applications available. Most downloads are spyware free but they take forever. However, if you have a machine that is on 24/7 you can just set it and forget it.
FileZilla is available for download as both an FTP client and an FTP server. I haven’t tried the server software but the client is solid and easy-to-use. Just Say No to CuteFTP.
Although I rarey IRC these days, HydraIRC is a nice looking and simple IRC client when I do.
- VMWare Server and Player
VMWware now offers their “GSX” server (now called VMWare Server) for free. For those of you who prefer something toned down, they also offer a free VMWare player which will play pre-built VMWare images. VMware also offers a few hundred “virtual appliances” which are downloadable out-of-the-box solutions for things like SSL VPNs, firewalls, Subversion and all sorts of other stuff. I used all of this to create a virtual lab to play on. And for the record, VMWware Server blows Microsoft’s Virtual Server out of the water. Perhaps I was missing something but Microsoft’s Virtual Server solution felt super ghetto. Forget being able to use Wizards to select the necessary paths on your server.. you have to type it in yourself! And the console application looks like it was built when Windows 3.1 was in style. If possible, explore what VMware Server has to offer and pass on Microsoft’s free Virtual Server until it matures.
Adminpak is a must-have for Windows Administrators who use XP as their workstation.
Powershell is probably the awesomest shell ever created. It’s an object-oriented command line shell created by a bunch of Unix-centric developers at Microsoft. This is #1 at the top of my must-learn list.
- Windows Services for Unix
WSU contains all of the unix commands I use often… cat, tail, grep, etc. Actually, GNUWIN32 has the same files as well. The only thing that sucks though is that you have to download each exe you’d like one by one. Ohhh and UnxUtils (mirror on my site) is another great package. That’s actually the one I use most.
Sysinternals, now owned by Microsoft, has tons of useful applications such as file and disk utilities, networking utilities, processes and threads utilities, security utilities and other stuff.
- SQL Server Express with SQL Server 2005 Management Studio Express Edition and Visual Web Developer.
Not for the faint of heart but has to be mentioned. SQL Server Express is built on the same engine as the Standard and Enterprise versions so it’s extremely reliable yet the cost is free. Bill Vaughn, an MVP and talented speaker has taught me a thing or two about just how much SQL Server Express is capable of.. Visual Web Developer is the tool to use for ASP.NET web development. VWD is surprisingly complete in its functionality.. perhaps there are things missing but I haven’t noticed them yet.
Windows Command Line
- pushd, popd
pushd and popd are incredibly useful for dos-based shell scripting. While these commands are most often used to navigate the local filesystem, they can also be used to help batch files navigate UNC paths as demonstrated below:
- mstsc /console
Behind UltraEdit and Firefox, this is probably my third-used most app when I’m not using visionapp Remote Desktop. If you are having issues that appear to be terminal services related, use /console to connect to the console..sometimes it helps with weird bugs.
- shutdown -i
This pops up a super helpful GUI which allows you to shutdown or reboot remote computers on a domain.
- tasklist, taskkill
cmd.exe tends to come up faster than Task Manager when a runaway app is using 100% of your CPU. Use tasklist to find the process and taskkill kill it.
type is the Windows equivalent of unix’s cat
I sometimes use subst as a ghetto replacement for a unix directory symbolic link.
findstr is somewhat similar to unix’s grep
- nbtstat /R, ipconfig /flushdns
These two commands are useful when troubleshooting hostname issues. nbtstat /R purges the netbios cache and ipconfig /flushdns flushes the DNS cache.
Affordable Pay Utils That Are Totally Worth It.
UltraEdit is at the top of this list for a great reason… just using it’s features for one day can save you $40 worth of your time.
- UltraEdit (US$40)
It seems that anytime a text/code editor is reviewed, it’s compared to this awesome tool. I’d say, aside from Firefox, this is my most used application. The find & replace is my favorite and has saved me, and I ain’t lyin, hundreds of hours of work. The macros are awesome too. Ultra-Edit can be added to your right-click during installation, has a tabbed interface, can easily handle gigantic files and opens in less than a second.
- WinRAR (US$21)
I use this exceptional archiver and extracter on a daily basis. I love that it’s built into my right-click. Just right click on a file or group of files to instantly zip (or rar) or right click on archive files (ISOs and even some EXEs) and extract. WinRAR supports 14 different types of compression including tar, gunzip, bz2 and ace.
- Anapod (US$20-US$30 depending on your iPod)
I can’t stand iTunes; it does too much of what I don’t want and too little of what I actually do want. It certainly wasn’t written with a Windows user in mind and that’s why I’m thankful for Anapod; the best iTunes alternative out there. It’s got so many features, you really gotta check out the website to see it. Anapod acts exactly how Windows-based iPod software should function. The “Explorer” view and built in streaming web server are cool but my favorite functionality is probably the ability to right click on an MP3 and Send To my iPod.
- Penton MasterCD (US$60)
The Penton Press Master CD is a must have for any Windows administrator. It is a CHM file which contains every article from Windows IT Pro, SQL Server Magazine, Exchange & Outlook Adminisrator, Windows Scripting Solutions, Windows IT Security and Windows Web Solutions dating back as far back as September 1995. As of December 2005, the file was a massive 404MB. That’s a ton of data but the chm format makes it easily searchable.
- Active Partition Recovery (US$30 DOS version, US$36 Windows Version)
This program saved my ass late one night when I accidently deleted the partition information on my 300GB backup drive. Totally worth the measly 30 bucks.
- eTrust (US$30)
eTrust is the least invasive anti-virus software I’ve ever used and it’s also Microsoft’s preferred anti-virus program.
- NewsReactor (US$15)
Newsreactor coupled with easynews.com makes for an awesome combination. I downloaded some binaries at an incredible 800KB/s. Most binary newsreaders suck but Newsreactor is pretty nice.
Meebo is THE BEST web application for the times you want to chat on AIM, Yahoo, or MSN but can’t install client-side software. Everyone that has used this website has been impressed.
last.fm, “the social music revolution”, is a great place to discover new music. Media player (such as Winamp, WMP, iTunes, etc) plug-ins keep track of what you listen to and recommend new music, based on the combined tastes of others who listen to similar music.
- mozy and xdrive
Mozy.com offers 2GB of free space and 30GB for $4.95 a month. I like them because they are a small start-up with an emphasis on encryption; only you can decrypt your data. Xdrive offers 5GB of free space but doesn’t seem to offer indivudal encryption, they are also owned by AOL. Oh, also.. businesses big and small can use mozypro.com. The pricing is still very fair — $3.95/mo per account + $0.50/GB.
If you need to test your websites on MacOSX browsers this is the perfect place for you. Supports a ton of different browsers.
“Web forms made chillingly simple” As a web developer, this is a helpful tool for making pretty CSS based forms. Oh, CSS Tab Designer is a desktop application but it’s also awesome for auto-generating CSS.
And finally, this isn’t an application but it’s a super useful tip. I learned about during one of my SQL Server 2005 classes and passed it on to my co-workers..of all the scripts I’ve written to automate stuff for them, THIS is what they’re the most thankful for! It’s simple but if you haven’t encountered it..be prepared to use it 50 times daily!
When a Windows Explorer/MMC/etc column is too small and partially hides long values, you can manually drag the column splitter to see the values or you can simply double click on the splitter’s edge and it will automatically expand it to the necessary length. Confused? Check out the animated gif below: