Stuff I Use Daily

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.

Media

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
    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
    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).
  • Putty+Pageant
    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
    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.”

Text

  • 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.

The Internet

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
    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
    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
    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.
  • HydraIRC
    Although I rarey IRC these days, HydraIRC is a nice looking and simple IRC client when I do.

Administration

  • 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
    Adminpak is a must-have for Windows Administrators who use XP as their workstation.
  • Powershell
    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
    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

Here, you can find a list of all natively available Windows commands. And here is where you can find more information on some surprising command-line applications for managing Terminal Services.

  • 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:

    C:\WINDOWS>pushd \roux\util\ilo
    Z:\ilo>hponcfg add_user.xml
    Script Succeeded
    Z:\ilo>popd
    C:\WINDOWS>
  • 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
    type is the Windows equivalent of unix’s cat
  • subst
    I sometimes use subst as a ghetto replacement for a unix directory symbolic link.
  • findstr
    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.

Web-based Applications

  • meebo
    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
    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.
  • browsrcamp
    If you need to test your websites on MacOSX browsers this is the perfect place for you. Supports a ton of different browsers.
  • Icebrrg
    “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:

Chrissy is a PowerShell MVP who has worked in IT for nearly 20 years, and currently serves as a Sr. Database Engineer in Belgium. Always an avid scripter, she attended the Monad session at Microsoft’s Professional Developers Conference in Los Angeles back in 2005 and has worked and played with PowerShell ever since. Chrissy is currently pursuing an MS in Systems Engineering at Regis University and helps maintain RealCajunRecipes.com in her spare time. She holds a number of certifications, including those relating to SQL Server, SuSE Linux, SharePoint and network security. She recently became co-lead of the SQL PASS PowerShell Virtual Chapter. You can follow her on Twitter at @cl.

Posted in General
14 comments on “Stuff I Use Daily
  1. Trevor Norcross says:

    Excellent post… The Penton Master CD is definitely worth it’s weight in gold. I’ve been a subscriber to their magazine and have been meaning to buy the CD and get the online access.

    Also, you mentioned using something to make a virtual CD-ROM drive from an ISO. I’ve found just installing WinRAR (similar to WinZIP), I am able to open an unarchive an ISO just like a ZIP or RAR file. I’ve used this quite a bit more than my VirtualCloneDrive once I figured out I could do it this way.

  2. Chrissy says:

    Hey Trevor!
    You actually touched on something that popped in my head on the bus this morning; I totally left off WinRAR. I use the “Add to archive..” function many times a day as well as “Extract to…” It works for all sorts of files, especially Microsoft downloads and I think even some EXEs which contain MSIs (like the Macbook driver software).

    Thanks for the comment! I’ll be adding WinRAR now.

  3. Legolas says:

    Strange things you use pushd and popd for! They are meant (at least that’s what the name suggests) so you can ‘cd’ to another dir in a batch file (eg: pushd c:\windows) and come back to were you were later on (popd). pushd pushes the current dir onto a stack and then cd’s, popd pops the stack and cd’s to whatever comes off the stack.
    I never knew you could use them to ‘cd’ to an UNC path!

    The only things I could add to this list are the cmd’s syntax for cutting up direcotry variables (%~dp0 gives you the dir your batch file is in, for example, I use it with pushd/popd to have a known location for my commands to be relative to) and if you use any sort of version control I love compareit from grigsoft to compare 2 files to see what part of the code I’ve messed up this time, euhm fixed I mean ;-)

  4. Chrissy says:

    Hey Legolas!
    I always thought pushd and popd were advanced programming commands hence my puzzlement over why Microsoft would name the command that. Upon researching, however, I think its just the word “stack” that threw me for a loop.

    I’ve updated my post, thank you :D

    I should probably use automated compare software more regularly (I saw that the creators of UltraEdit have one) but I always do compares manually. Have you ever used the XP command line “comp” ? If so, is it handy?

    I actually came across that %~dp0 the day that I found out about pushd and popd but I’m still confused as to how to use it. I ended up using VBScript to do most of the work ;)

  5. Corey says:

    Bonus column resizing tip. On a keyboard with a dedicated + key (not laptops), you can do ctrl-+ and it will auto-resize *all* the columns.

  6. UltraEdit…how I love thee. The two features of UltraEdit that I cannot live with out and use on almost a daily basis:

    1) Unix regular expression support, including text substitution, in the find and replace dialog. I once used this feature to perform 90%+ of the reformatting necessary in a GURPS supplement I was character editing, back in the days when I was doing RPG freelancing.

    2) Column mode. Being able to select a column and insert the exact same text over 6,000 lines at once, easily, is worth the price.

  7. Chrissy says:

    Devin! I’ve needed to do that in the past but didn’t know how so I loaded it up in sql and did it that way. Care to share?

    Corey,
    Hah I just tried it (couldn’t last night because I was on a laptop) and it worked perfectly. Shared it with the coworker who raised the roof over the click+splitter.

    Thanks!

  8. Rich says:

    Chrissy-

    In ultraedit, just click (from memory) Alt-C (maybe Ctrl-C -&gt; Just view the menus for Column Mode) Then Select where you want data (highlight vertically), and start typing, or highlight vertically and horizontally and click delete…

    This is the reason I prefer UltraEdit over Notepad++ or the many others!!!

    Enjoy

    -Rich

  9. James says:

    Wow, Icebrrg is a really bad rip off Wufoo. Wufoo is a lot better and they allow you to create reports and use a lot more fields. They’re made by the guys behind Particletree.

  10. lb says:

    excellent list, thanks for sharing. Glad to see powershell in there! Some great tips in there too.

  11. Greg says:

    For scripting take a look at AutoIT if you’re not familiar with it.. it’s wondertastic.

    I also prefer Newzbin.com for all my leec… uuhhh testing.

  12. Tumi says:

    There is nice shortcut for automatically expanding column width to fit the content: Ctrl + (NumPad +). You need to be on focus of the list … ♠

  13. michael says:

    As a replacement for any type of RAR, go with 7-Zip. Not only does it compress/decompress a zillion different formats (including the highly recommeded 7z), it can also create split compressed volumes (like RAR) of multiple files or directory trees. It can also open ISO’s. Highly recommeded. I’ve been using it to archive/compress my custom-built VM images &#38; split them across 650MiB volumes (to seed via bittorrent). It works on Windows (gui or “right-click” explorer integration), Unix/Linux (super easy cmd line “7z [xal] archive”) or MacOSX (cmdline (via fink) or (3rd-party) gui’s).

    (ps:… i.used ultraedit a bit, but you can’t go “windows” once you’ve done un*x… I use vim (gvim) &#38; cygwin daily (hourly) when not using Unix/Linux natively…)

    And thanks for the Virtual Clone Drive tip; I was looking for something better than magicISO (it hosed my pc last time… though, frankly, it was a M$ issue w/ SxS, but nonetheless.) Stuff like this is not only great for extracting contents of ISO’s et al., but also for mounting an ISO in a VMware “host” OS, to be available in the guest OS’s virtual CD/DVD, so that you don’t have to copy ISO files to the VM directly (if you know what I mean….)

  14. David says:

    An alternative to Sam Spade (for WHOIS information) is http://centralops.net/co/

1 Pings/Trackbacks for "Stuff I Use Daily"
  1. […] To get this party started I&#8217;m going to list off the most-used and most-valuable applications and websites I use every day&#8230;  I tend to have IT-A.D.D. so trying to remember everything, categorize it, and get it on here may be a tedious task.  Nonetheless I told Chrissy I would do this, but I tried not to copy any of her list, most of which I agree wholeheartedly with and use anyway.  So this would be &#8220;in addition to&#8221; her list&#8230; get it? Cool. […]

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