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My Favorite Smallware

I use a lot of little programs to make my day-to-day life easier. Here are a few of them. Most of these programs are small, under a megabyte and don't require an install. I use some of them every day, and others I use only occasionally. Almost all of them are free. I'll be adding to this list as time goes on. I'm sure there are little programs I use that I forgot about, and there are some that are no longer available that I may make available if the license permits me to.

Update December 6, 2011: Wow did I really say under a megabyte? I first wrote this article nearly a decade ago... maybe in 2002 or 2003- nowadays anything under 10mb is considered small. This list sure has grown in that time, but the basic philosophy remains the same - small, portable where possible, and does odd/quirky things that you don't necessarily find elsewhere. People ask me why I'm still on PC and not Mac/Linux - this list is a big part of why - and yes I get the irony of the first section of the list being antivirus & antispyware.

Updated: October 7, 2013

Table of Contents


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Antivirus & Antispyware

Your computer is physically in front of you, but is it really under your control?
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Cleaning up a Windows PC

This excellent post on Ask Metafilter gives you step-by-step instructions for cleaning a Windows PC, even one that you don't think has been infected that you just want to speed up. Some of the steps seem a little extreme (disabling all non-Microsoft services & removing all unsigned drivers) and may break things - but if you've got your install media around, they shouldn't break things to a point where you can't fix them (for example, disabling the Adobe licening service may make Photoshop unhappy about running). The end result is a faster and virus/malware free computer. I do somethng like this every once in a while just to make sure there are no viruses lurking that I don't know about and to generally speed things up, but it's nice to have something step-by-step and thorough like this. I was too chicken to remove all of the "hidden/detached" devices from my computer - though I'm sure they'd just reinstall themselves next time I ran the computer.



Date Added: December 23, 2011

I use this program: Once a year

Ad Aware

Want to keep your computer spyware free? Use Ad-Aware.

License: Freeware
Installation: Install
Date Added: December 12, 2005

I use this program: Once a decade (emergencies)

AVG Antivirus

You have to be careful to always select the free option when downloading, but AVG has been free for years & it works great.

Update December 23, 2011: AVG has a lot of annoying nag screens, and the antivirus database takes up a lot of room. Lenovo, in their infinite wisdom, allocated 30 gigabytes to the C:\ partition. Keeping windows under 30mb is a constant struggle - I've already moved my temp drive to my D:\ partition and install everything I can there. Uninstalling a few programs that auto-update, including AVG, which updates the virus database regularly, cleared up a lot of space. I've uninstalled AVG and I'm not going to look back.

License: Freeware
Installation: Install
Date Added: November 10, 2006

I use this program: Daily

AVG Rescue CD

My coworker's computer was crawling with viruses. In the past, it's taken me hours of work trying to outsmart a virus, but no more. Thanks to the AVG Rescue CD I just pop this disc in, let it run overnight, and in the morning - clean computer. I still run SpyBot (because viruses and spyware are different) just in case, but I know the AVG Rescue CD will take care of any viruses.

The program runs off of the CD (or your thumb drive) so it completely bypasses Windows, allowing it to access even the deepest parts of Windows and scrubs it clean of viruses, and preventing itself from getting corrupted. If it can connect to the internet, it downloads the latest virus database and loads it into memory so you're always up to date. (This isn't guaranteed to work with all wireless connections due to some wireless card manufacturer's restrictive licensing schemes.)

License: Freeware
Installation: Portable
Date Added: May 22, 2010

I use this program: Once a decade (emergencies)

FileMon

Another Sysinternals product (now owned by Microsoft), FileMon reports on every time a program accesses your hard drive. The information given is overwhelming, but a bit eye opening too, and could be important in tracking down a piece of malware.

License: Freeware
Installation: Install
Date Added: January 14, 2006

I use this program: Once a decade (emergencies)

HijackThis

HijackThis scans your computer for anything that may have been changed by malware (viruses & spyware) and reports on them. It makes no judgment calls & doesn't try to fix anything, but it does let you go to the internet & get answers to how to fix things when they go horribly, horribly wrong.

License: Freeware
Installation: Install
Date Added: December 12, 2005
Updated: March 21, 2009
I use this program: Once a decade (emergencies)

PrevX

After reading a review of PrevX [1] I decied to give it a try. It's lean, installs quickly, and scans your system quickly. Rather than keeping a database of virus signatures, it looks for programs that can do suspicious things, and if it finds one, it sends the signature of that program to its "cloud" database and finds out whether or not it's known to be good. If it is, fine, if not, then it issues a warning that this program may be dangerous. In spite of many people warning against using two antivirus programs (because they would interfere with each other) PrevX is so light weight that I use it in addition to AVG and s far it's been smooth sailing. I now install this combination on any computers whose owners I think are the type to open email attachments from spammers.

Update December 23, 2011: I'm still using PrevX and it's great - small, light weight. When I launch a program it's never seen before, I can see it scanning away in the background. There is one significant difference between PrevX and AVG though - AVG will stop a potentially malicious program cold & PrevX will let it run before reporting that it's malicious.

License: Freeware
Installation: Install
Date Added: May 22, 2010
Updated: December 23, 2011
I use this program: Daily

ShieldsUP!

Gibson Research Corporation's website that will test you computer to see which ports are open. Thanks to my firewalls, I get a perfect "Stealth" rating. What kind of rating do you get?

License: Freeware
Installation: Browser Based
Date Added: December 12, 2005

I use this program: Once a year

Spybot Search & Destroy

Another excellent tool to help get rid of and prevent spyware from infesting your computer. This one caught some spyware on my friend's computer that Ad-Aware missed.

License: Freeware
Installation: Install
Date Added: December 12, 2005

I use this program: Once a decade (emergencies)

TrustNoEXE

TrustNoEXE solves the problem of "how do I lock down the computer so I can hand it over to someone & expect to get it back in the same condition I gave it to them in?" It prevents any program not in its list of trusted programs from running & the list is only accessible from the Control Panel. For a power user that regularly runs new programs this may be annoying, but for a system administrator, or someone giving a computer to mom (who may open "funnyCatPicures.exe") it's a godsend. It can also be set to allow any program in a certan directory run (such as c:\windows or c:\users\mark\desktop\smallware).

License: Freeware
Installation: Install
Date Added: January 14, 2006
Updated: March 21, 2009
I use this program: Once a decade (emergencies)

Winpooch

Winpooch is a cool, and only sleightly annoying (compared to Trust No EXE below) anti-spyware & anti-trojan tool that monitors your computer for internet connections, file accesses, etc. and reports them to you, allowing you to approve or deny them. Advanced users only.

License: Open Source
Installation: Install
Date Added: March 12, 2006

I use this program: Once a decade (emergencies)

Audio, Video & Music

Tools for displaying, editing, and creating audio and video, as well as tools for learning music, etc.
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Audacity

Free, open source multi-track recorder & editor. Audacity has become my go-to program for simple edits. I have a few gripes (the built in EQ sucks), but it accepts plugins, so maybe I'll find something...

License: Open Source
Installation: Install & Portable
Date Added: January 7, 2006

I use this program: Once a month

CDex

CDex is a fairly simple to use MP3 ripper. For problem discs, try Exact Audio Copy.

License: Open Source
Installation: Install & Portable
Date Added: March 21, 2009

I use this program: Once a year

GNU Solfege

GNU Solfege is an ear training program. It has a number of exercises of increasing difficulty. This program really kicks my ass. If I stuck with it more, I'd have better ears than I do.

License: Open Source
Installation: Install & Portable
Date Added: March 21, 2009

I use this program: Once a month

ID3KILL

Pretty simple - this software lets you remove ID3 tags from your mp3 files. Useful if you listen to alot of audio books (like I do) and want the files to simply play in alphabetical order by file name & not based on their ID3 tags.


Installation: Portable
Date Added: October 31, 2011

I use this program: Once a year

Jalmus

Works with a USB piano keyboard and teaches you how to read music - notes values & durations are drilled. Great tool for anyone looking to learn piano or learn to read music.

License: Open Source
Installation: Install
Date Added: March 21, 2009

I use this program: Once a year

Media Player Classic

Based on an old version of Windows Media Player, Media Player Classic is a great, compact media player that handles some things a bit better than VLC. Unlike VLC, MPC depends on the codecs installed on your computer. Combine it with a media codec pack such as K-Lite & Quictime Alternative, and you should be able to play just about anything.

License: Open Source
Installation: Install & Portable
Date Added: March 21, 2009

I use this program: Daily

mencoder.exe

It seemed to me that the ever more popular MKV format and the previously ubiqutious AVI format were both container formats, so it shouldn't be too difficult to convert between the two. My phone plays AVI files natively (with hardware decoding) and fares less well with MKV files (software decoding). A quick google for MKV to AVI converters turned up these instructions for mencoder.exe. It's a command line tool that will convert the bits that need to be converted (such as audio) and leave intact the bits that don't (such as video). This will cut down what may have been 40 minute worth of converting to around 5 minutes. Create a .BAT file with a few commands and you can convert a number of videos in one go.

License: Open Source
Installation: Portable
Date Added: January 16, 2012

I use this program: Once a month

MP3 Merger

Combines multiple MP3s into a single file - good for combining multiple audio-book files into a single file.

License: Freeware
Installation: Portable
Date Added: March 21, 2009

I use this program: Once a month

MP3DirectCut

This is pretty neat software. It allows you to edit your MP3s directly (without importing them into another audio player & converting them to an uncompressed format). You can use it to split, merge, change the volume of, fade in/fade out etc. your mp3s with minimal loss of quality because you're not re-encoding them a second time for each edit. I use it now instead of MP3 Merger.

License: Freeware
Installation: Install & Portable
Date Added: November 29, 2011

I use this program: Once a year

MP3Gain

You know how our MP3s all play at different volumes? MP3Gain analyzes your MP3s and determines which ones are louder/quieter and sets a hidden bit in the MP3 that tells your player how much volume to add or lower. Once you run MP3Gain on your MP3s, each one will sound just as loud/soft as the previous one and you can get back to doing what you were doing instead of constantly adjusting the volume.

For you audio geeks out there, it simply adds an entry to the ID3v2 tag that tells it "play at -6.5 db" so it doesn't compress, clip, or otherwise alter the audio data in any way.

Update March 2009: I still use MP3 gain on my MP3s, but I don't trust it on all of them (I'm not sure how to reversethe process). There are some MP3s where it seemed to set the volume to 0, but this was a very rare edge case & I've never seen it behave like that before, and some MP3s where it didn't get an accurate read of the volume, and those remain much louder than others. Also, there seems to be a bug on the iPod where for the split second after you hit "next" it plays the song at full volume - somewhat annoying but less annoying than constantly changing the volume as each song comes on. There are programs available for Linux & OSX as well based on the same algorithm.

Update October 2011: I still use MP3 gain & haven't run into the 0 volume bug again, it must have been an issue with those specific MP3s. I never run it on original files, just the ones that I've imported into iTunes (before they get synced to the iPod).

License: Open Source
Installation: Install & Portable
Date Added: November 15, 2006
Updated: March 21, 2009
I use this program: Once a month

Streaming Download Project

Use this to capture streaming video and audio off the net.

License: Freeware
Installation: Install
Date Added: January 7, 2006

I use this program: Once a year

VLC

VLC is one of the most popular video players in the world. Compact & supports a wide variety of files, VLC is my default video/audio player.

License: Open Source
Installation: Install & Portable
Date Added: March 21, 2009

I use this program: Daily

Weird Metronome

A very simple & versaile metronome/drum machine that lets you enter in patterns with the keyboard by referencing the number of the track you want to play. Useful for practicing odd times.



Date Added: March 21, 2009

I use this program: Once a year

WinABX

ABX is a tool for testing your ears & comparing two audio files. It plays an "A" file, a "B" file and an "X" file and you hav to decide if the X file is A or B. Audiophlies use it to determine if there really is a difference between two sound samples. WinABX seems to be the last of this dying breed of programs.

License: Freeware

Date Added: March 21, 2009

I use this program: Once a year

Backup

Backing up your data is essential to being able to keep working after something goe wrong.
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12 Ghosts Backup

I've been using 12 Backup on & off for years, depending on my needs at the time. 12 Backup behaves like Time Machine on a Mac (but did it first). The Hyperbackup stores a copy of your file every second for a minute, every minute for an hour, every hour for a day, every day for a week, every week for a month, and every month forever. This way you can retrieve a version from a few moments ago, a few days ago, or a few months ago, or anywhere in between. Good for rapidly changing files.

License: Shareware
Installation: Install
Date Added: March 21, 2009

I use this program: Daily

SyncBack

I searched high and low for a program that will not only copy my files to another drive or computer on the network for safekeeping, but FTP them to another location entirely. SyncBack does this. Now if the worst happens - a total hard drive failure - my most important documents will be waiting for me on my server (in another city thousands of miles away). Not bad for freeware!

Update March 2009: I've been depending on this software for over 4 years now, and it has performed beautifully. My laptop died last year & I didn't lose any important information. A shared-network drive at work died and I didn't lose any important information. Truly amazing. I've updated to the shareware version & recently went back to look at the freeware version & it was pretty simplistic, but still got the job done. One of the great features of the shareware version is that will keep versions of our file, so that if the file gets corrupted, you don't have to worry about the corrupted version overwriting your good backup, since you can have (for example) 10 versions going back 30 days.

Other Similar Tools: Karen's Replicator is a freeware tool that will copy your fils from one drive to another, but lacks versioning & FTP. Second Copy (shareware) is also consistently highly recommended as an excellent backup utility.

I've written an article called Automated Hands-Free Backups for my search for the ultimate backup tool. I also wrote another article called Recovering from Catastrophic Failure about how SyncBack let me keep working, even though my computer died.

Update January 26, 2012: I don't have admin rights on my machine at my new job (though I'm sure the tech guys would be cool with me installing something like SyncBack) but I took this as an opportunity to see just how portable I could get and I discovered that the last freeware version of Syncback has a no-install version. Sweet! I tried several portable backup/synchronization packages but they're either needlessly complex, overly simplistic, lacking in documentation, or otherwise not quite right, and I trust Syncback. I'm using it to back up my working documents to a shared drive and to synchronize files between my thumb drive and my work desktop. Get it here.

Update March 12, 2013: The Freeware versin of Syncback no longer has a portable version. :(

License: Freeware and Shareware
Installation: Install & Portable
Date Added: December 12, 2005
Updated: March 12, 2013
I use this program: Daily

Datamining

Anyone that knows me knows that I'm obsessed with datamining- finding the hidden patterns behind things. Here are some of the tools I use to do this. See also TextSTAT below.
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Eureqa

So let's say you're looking at a bunch of data in excel. You can run the standard statistical analysis on the data- correlation, standard deviation, confidence interval, but that doesn't tell you much about the relationships between the data. Eureqa will take that data & try to come up with an algorithm that solves reliably for "x". Let it run for a while and it'll come up with a number of formulas that try to balance simplicity vs. accuracy in predicting the data. It's a rather niche product, but I'm totally addicted to it.

Update December 16, 2011: Eureqa 2 is out. It's a rewrite that does a few things. 1. It now has native Linux/OSX versions and the UI has been updated. 2. They now offer a paid cloud computing service. It's inexpensive. 3. They remove the client/server model that would allow you to use several computers on your internal network to speed up results. 4. Eureqa is now portable - no install needed. There are a number of other changes, but these are the big ones. If you want the old version that allows you to network a number of computers together - get the most recent 1.x version (0.84b). Otherwise Eureqa 2 is great and for a small fee you get cloud computing to crunch your numbers. Update Ocotber 7, 2013: Eureqa 2 is now crippleware - it will not let you process any data set with more than 100 rows.

License: Open Source
Installation: Install & Portable
Date Added: March 8, 2011
Updated: October 7, 2013
I use this program: Once a month

TextSTAT

Textstat analyzes word frequencies in text documents. Useful for keyword analysis, or my favorite use, inferring pseudo-pop-psychology/linguistic concepts from word usage.
Textanz and Concordance are both shareware tools that do this too, each with their own strengths and weaknesses (I own & have used all three).

Update January 20, 2012: TextSTAT is limited to single words, whereas Textanz and Concordance can do multiple-word phrases. Calculating the frequncy of phrases is far more computationally expensive than the frequency of words, so these programs are also slower and may run out of memory if you're parsing large documents. Of the three, Concodance is the most sophisticated (and most difficult to configure).

License: Freeware
Installation: Install
Date Added: March 21, 2009

I use this program: Once a year

Education & Studying

Need to learn a lot of stuff fast? Check out these programs. Just reading isn't enough to make information "stick" in your brain- you need to test yourself continuously and flash cards with spaced repetition are the way to do it. A simple offline method that can be practiced with real flash cards is the Leitner Box system. These are based on a somewhat more complex algorithm.
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SuperMemo

This is a very quirky program, but very effective. There's a free version, which is great for every day use and a premium version (which I gladly paid for when I had a lot of studying to do. There are some odd bugs that I don't know if they've fixed (like if I copy/paste a flashcard & edit the pasted flashcard, the original gets edited as well- it doesn't just copy the text out, it copies the card itself). Still, the supermemo algorithm is great and the review tools are the absolute best when it comes to memorizing data. If you absolutely, positively must learn vast quantities of information, this is the program to use. It's also loaded with statistics about your study habits and how well you know the data, which allows you to track your progress as you study.

Update November 2011: The current latest free version (SuperMemo 2004) is the version that I paid for back in 2005. SuperMemo 2011 has even more advanced features and finally full Unicode support. What SuperMemo has over Mnenosyne is lots & lots of reporting & statistics on your progress, which I find to be highly addictive - it's more like a game where you track your progress this way. Mnenosyne has a rather bland reporting screen & none of the advanced statistics. Supermemo also has some features I'm not too familiar with like incremental reading, (and in the new 2011 version) to-do lists, a tool for organizing & optimizing your workday, and even sleep schedules so you can see how lack of sleep influences your memory. Use Menosyne if you just want a quick flashcard program that works. Use SuperMemo if you want to track your progress in every detail with lots of fun graphs while you learn.

Update December 16 2011: I've started using the latest freeware version (Supermemo 2004) and the "if you copy/paste the text of a card, you actually copy the whole card (and therefore any edits made to one are made to both)" bug came back with a vengeance. It seems to be due to a quirk of Supermemo that each card is stored as an HTML file & copy/pasting the text of a card just tells Supermemo to point to the original file location for both cards now - you copy/past the location of the card. I ended up exporting all my cards from Supermemo and importing them into Mnemosyne. Hopefully Mnemoyne -- which seems to have a saner database structure - will be more stable.

License: Freeware and Shareware
Installation: Install
Date Added: March 7, 2011
Updated: December 16, 2011
I use this program: Once a year

Mnemosyne

Mnenosyne is based on an early version of the SuperMemo algorithm [SM-2] and is much easier to use and works cross platform.

There is one quirk that I reported to them as a bug [ref]. If you don't know something (rate it zero) then it will be shown to you again fairly quickly. This is testing short term memory rather than long-term recall. The workaround is to go into Settings -> Config and chage "Number of 0 grade cards to hold in your hand" to something greater than 5 (I put up to the max - 99). Otherwise you'll be shown the same 5 cards over & over in rapid succesion.

It's much easier to use than Supermemo, but lacks all the fun advanced reporting features that make Supermemo so addictive. It also supports images, sound, LaTeX formating and three sided cards. (Supermemo supports images, sounds, advanced formatting & multiple card options). There's also an Android version called Mnemododo and an export plugin. I don't believe that learning schedules are transferred with the data.

Update December 16 2011: Check out my update for Supermemo about some bug I ran into there. I'm hoping Mnemosyne is more stable. In any event, I do find that Mnemosyne's formatting is a bit lacking - every card (front & back) is centered, making scanning bulleted lists (e.g. "the five senses" / "sight, smell, touch, taste, hearing") more difficult. Otherwise it seems ok. I know Mnemosyne accepts LaTex input, but I'd rather simple richtext support & the ability to left align text. I'd accept plaintext input if they'd left align the text. A quick check of their feature list say that this and a number of ther improvements are on the horizon for their 2.0 release.

License: Open Source

Date Added: March 7, 2011
Updated: December 16, 2011
I use this program: Once a year
PortableApps.com Version Available? yes

Anki

Anki, like Mnemosyne is based on the SM2 SuperMemo algorithm. It uses LaTeX for formatting, allowing you to enter complex mathematical & scientific equations. Anki has a clever twist - it allows you to create what it calls "notes" - a group of cards with similar structures, allowing you to add a lot of data quickly & easily. If you want to create a number of cards that all follow the same structure (state capitals / atomic elements, etc.) it's easy to create them in Anki. Anki is also cross platform so you can use it on your Android or our PC or your Mac or on Linux.

License: Open Source
Installation: Install
Date Added: March 17, 2013

I use this program: Never

Leitner Box Flash Card Systems

The Leitner Box algorithm is pretty straightforward. You have a number of piles of flash cards (boxes). All of the cards start in box 1, which you review daily. If you know the answer, you put the card in box 2. If you don't know it, it gets shuffled back into box 1. Box 2 gets reviewed every other day - if you know the answer, it moves on to box 3 which you review once every 4 days (each time doubles). If you don't know the answer, it goes back into box 1. From box 3 (every other day) to box 4 (every 4 days) and so on. Box 5 you review once every 8 days. This way you review the stuff you don't remember constantly, and the stuff you do remember you review only occasionally to make sure you still remember it.

  • Pauker - A Java based (multi-platform) GPL flash card system based on Leitner Box, but which includes "Ultra Short Term Memory" (measured in seconds), "Short Term Memory" (measured in minutes) and "Long Term Memory" (measured in days). The upshot of this is that this is one of the few flash card programs to address intervals of less than a day in memorization, leading to greater recall in the few days following your first session with material. Additionally, you can tell the program whether to review new material first, and where to shuffle unmemorized cards back into the deck basically allowing you to study for a quiz on new material or comprehensive final exam. The word "Pauker" basically translates as "Cram school teacher." Using this program feels more high-pressure and rapid-fire than other programs, which is pretty cool & keeps the learning exciting. Tip: Go into the Config section & turn on word wrapping.
  • Anki - Anki is technically a SuperMemo based (SM-2) flashcard system like Mnemosyne and SuperMemo so it doesn't belong in this section, but I don't use it so I'm not comfortable giving it a full writteup either. It does, however, have a number of great features. It's cross platform (including Android & iPhone) and has a server so you can upload cards & review anywhere you have a web browser. It has robust multimedia support and can (with some difficulty) be installed on a USB drive.
  • Memory Lifter - A rather robust program that has an optional network/client model that allows educators to keep a server to give inforation to each student and track their progress.
  • JMemorize - A fairly straightforward Java (multi-platform) Leitner Box flash card system with a few advanced configuration options
  • CueCard - A windows only flash card program with its own unique algorithm based on a weighted card difficulty.



Installation: Install & Portable
Date Added: December 17, 2011


Finance

I really liked my old copy of Microoft Money but I lost the disc- so how do I manage my finances now?
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GNUCash

GNUCash is sort of complex to get set up & I still don't fully understand it (split transactions? still can't get them right), but is easy enough to use once you get it going. You need to read through the getting started documentation, but once you do it's pretty straightforward for most basic tasks. I'm using it for small business accounting, so it's important to have all sorts of different categories for expenses, and this GNUCash handles well.

License: Open Source
Installation: Install & Portable
Date Added: March 8, 2011

I use this program: Once a week
PortableApps.com Version Available? yes

Money Manager Ex

In trying to find a simpler replacement for GNU Cash I tried Mone Manager Ex, but it's too simple for my needs- it's more for personal accounting - based on account & not on categories of expenses. Sure categories are there, but they're not a priority.

License: Open Source
Installation: Install & Portable
Date Added: March 8, 2011

I use this program: Never
PortableApps.com Version Available? yes

Graphic & Web Design & Photos

Small utilities to to make your world a bit more colorful.
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ArtRage

My favorite drawing program & the reason (besides Photoshop) I want a tablet. It simulates drawing on paper, painting on a canvas, etc.

License: Freeware and Shareware
Installation: Install
Date Added: December 12, 2005
Updated: March 21, 2009
I use this program: Once a month

Color Schemer

A simple program that does something unique. You can choose any color and it will tell you what other colors compliment it. The algorithm it uses to do this is fairly straightfoward, but being able to see them all in the same place has it's advantages. It also has an eyedropper for grabbing colors, a sample webpage where you can see how the color schemes you selected will look, and an archive of your favorite colors.

Incidentally, my favorite method for finding color schemes is shrinking photographs to 10 pixels wide using bicubic algorithms & expanding them out using nearest-neighbor.

Try the Online Version

Updated December 10, 2011: Also check out Color Scheme Designer, a free web app to help you pick colors.

License: Freeware and Shareware
Installation: Install
Date Added: December 12, 2005

I use this program: Once a month

Dup Detector

Dup Detector will compare a group of image files & try to find duplicates, even if they'e been resized, cropped, flipped, etc. You can set rules for how similar two images can be before it decides they're duplicates, and rules for which one to delete (file size, dimensions, etc.). The interface is great- it'll show you the two image files & you can decide to delete one, the other or neither. It will produce some false positives (like photos that were taken seconds apart & are almost identical), but the interface allows you to review the images before you delete them. I'm pretty organized, but sometimes I get large amounts of images from someone disorganized, or get photos in bits and pieces and need to sort through them - Dup Detector is my go-to tool in these cases.

To use as a portable app, extract the files from the .EXE installer and run the program from the app folder. Edit Sept 27, 2012: This isn't true, it must be installed. I don't know if perhaps it was true for an earlier version, but it's not true for the currently available version.

License: Freeware
Installation: Install
Date Added: March 11, 2011
Updated: September 27, 2012
I use this program: Once a year

ExifTool

This is a command-line program that lets you view the full EXIF data present in JPG and RAW camera images. I used it recently on photos from my Nikon camera to determine how many shutter actuations the camera had performed during its lifetime - some data that even some of the more heavy-weight image programs wouldn't tell me but is stored in each JPG image that comes out of the camera.

License: Freeware
Installation: Portable
Date Added: October 31, 2011

I use this program: Once a decade (emergencies)

JAlbum

JAlbum is a great tool for making photo galleries. I've used JAlbum on & off for years and the recent versions are even better than ever. For a while I was concerned that their online tools integration meant they were going in a bad direction (more of an integrated online/offline flickr type tool and less of an offline gallery maker) but the newest versions are great, and the new Turtle skins are stunning. The developer community is friendly and helpful too.

Update October 7, 2013: I find the more recent versions (version 10+) to be crippled in a number of ways, I continue to use version 9.5 & advise you to download this version if it's still available.

License: Freeware
Installation: Install
Date Added: March 7, 2011

I use this program: Once a month

JPGVideo

JPGVideo creates time lapse videos of a sequence of JPG files. I recommend not using the default settings, but rather one of the codecs from the drop down menu.

License: Freeware
Installation: Install
Date Added: November 23, 2012

I use this program: Once a year
PortableApps.com Version Available? no

LR/Mogrify

Mogrify is an open source image manipulation program that powers a lot of websites. LR/Mogrify allows you to use some of those powerful features in Lightroom, such as for adding watermarks to dozens of photos as you export them. Very useful & easy to use. Donationware. Requires Adobe Lightroom.

License: Shareware
Installation: Install
Date Added: October 31, 2011

I use this program: Once a year

PureJPEG

Dennis Forbes wrote this tiny tool to strip EXIF data from your .jpg images. This is typically stuff like what camera took the picture, what sorts of conditions it took it under, and so forth, but can include large amounts of data, such as thumbnails of the picture. This tool strips all that out. See also jhead, another utility that can edit that data as well as delete it. (Via the Joel on Software forum.)

Admittedly less useful in today's broadband & mega hard drive world, in fact this is the kind of information you often want to keep in your photos (for photo nerds like me), but may be useful to you.

Update Decemer 17, 2011: I use this program from time to time - if I'm sending someone full-resolution images and don't want them to peek at the EXIF data (don't ask why). I have a shortcut to it in my quickstart bar - just drag & drop. When the file size/date modified changes, it's done.

License: Freeware
Installation: Portable
Date Added: December 12, 2005
Updated: March 21, 2009
I use this program: Never

Recolored

In ca 2004 there was an academic paper about a method for easily colorizing images. The samples, especially the video samples caused a minor stir on the internet at the time - at least I noticed them and was blown away. Inveitibly, a piece of software was released that took advantage of this algorithm and Recolored is it. I've been using Recolored since ca 2006.

Recolored will colorize (or recolor) your still images quickly & easily - you simply scribble an outline around an area that should be colored and it will do the rest. Quite a remarkable piece of technology really, I don't know why this software hasn't been in my Smallware list longer.

License: Shareware
Installation: Install
Date Added: December 22, 2011

I use this program: Once a year

Screen Calipers

A unique tool that measures the number of pixels between two points on your screen. Can also be used as an onscreen ruler for keeping things straight. They also make a Screen Protractor, which does what you would expect it to do. I've been using Calipers for years. I admt I use the (no longer available) freeware version, but if I didn't have it, I'd gladly purchase the shareware version. I use it all the time - creating a new graph for my blog, but I don't know the width of my article column? Calipers.

License: Shareware

Date Added: December 12, 2005

I use this program: Once a month

Seamonkey Composer / Kompozer / Nvu

Netscape has always had an excellent, small, lightweight HTML editor. I first learned HTML using it back in the mid 90's. The tradition continue with Seamonkey. When my coworker needed a simple HTML editor that acted like Word but could generate decent HTML, we tried a few different ones and Seamonkey is the one that we agreed was the best.

This is a suite of browser, email, news reader, HTML editor (Composer) & chat (IRC) in a small (10 mb) package. Of the various simple HTML editors out there, this one is the easiest to use. For those of you looking for a portable version KompoZer is a branch of Seamonkey Composer that will eventually get re-integrated back into Seamonkey [reference]. Nvu is another branch of Seamonkey. Both KompoZer and Nvu are available as portable apps.

License: Open Source
Installation: Install
Date Added: February 22, 2010
Updated: December 22, 2011
I use this program: Once a month
PortableApps.com Version Available? yes

Sqirlz Morph

This is a really fun program. It lets you take two or more photos & morph them together like that Michael Jackson video.

License: Freeware
Installation: Install
Date Added: March 7, 2011

I use this program: Once a year

Games

Abandoned tinygames. See also A Complete Waste of Time for all sorts of time wasters.
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GenePool

This game has been my obsession for the past couple of days since I discovered it. When you launch this program you're greeted with a little petri dish of squiggly lines. Some of the lines are better at eating the little green food dots & mating other squiggly lines than others. You have relatively little control over the game - you can change the dynamics of how food works, what the sexual selection criteria is & fling, copy, move, edit, mutate the little squiggly creatures. Creatures will die from old age & lack of food (and mating saps energy so they need to eat). Within a few tens of thousands of generations (around 20-30 minute of game time - depending on the speed of your cmputer) typically one genetic line/creature type will become dominant in your gene pool.

The game settings (food availability etc.) have a major effect on which types of creatures can become dominant - a creature that works well in a food rich environment will end up eating all the food & then dying off in a food-poor environment. (My initial experiment was to create a food rich environment & then a food poor environment hoping to create a diversity of creatures & then kill them off through natural selection- but it didn't work that well.) It seems simplistic, but for some reason I find it mesmerising & I'll let it run all day while I'm asleep or at work (or both - first asleep and then at work) and see what sorts of mutations have happened when I get back. I'm sure I'll get sick of it soon enough, but for now it's highly entertaining - and no install either, just download the EXE and double click it. On the other hand, my friend who also played this game got bored of it in a couple of minute & never opened it again, so hey to each his own. I just happen to like watching things unfold before my eyes.

License: Freeware
Installation: Portable
Date Added: January 16, 2012

I use this program: Daily

Medwar "Medieval War"

This little wargame is simplistic by modern standards, and the Play By Email function seems quaint in the world of always-on-broadband and Playstation2 or XBox Live, but there's still a soft spot in my heart for this game. It was published in 1993 by Burnham Park Software, Inc. Written by Mark Brownstein.

Declaration of War is a version, which includes modern weapons such as airplaines and aircraft carriers. Search for "dowar11.zip" on Google. Also medoor11.zip, is a BBS door version of the game... I have no idea how this one works, as I never ran a BBS.

I was in contact with the programmer, who was developing a 2.0 version (which I was waiting for before I registered) but it never came out, and the company fell off the face of the Earth. I never did get a registered version (which would allow you to build your own scenarios).

Download directly from my site: Medwar; Declaration of War

License: Freeware and Shareware
Installation: Install & Portable
Date Added: March 21, 2009
Updated: March 21, 2009

The Original Daleks Game - Daleks.exe

Another addictive puzzle game. You play Dr. Who, and you have to avoid the Daleks. They move one space every time you move one space. You kill them by getting them to crash into each other, or destroying them with the one-use sonic screwdriver. You can also teleport, but that's dangerous. While you won't teleport directly onto a dalek, you may teleport next to one, and it can kill you on it's next round.

This DOS game was written by Robert Paauwe in 1985. Again, numerous other versions have been written of this game, including several online versions, but the first remains the best. Though some of the online-only versions have some good features, like, well, not having to install it at all, and you can compete against hundreds of other people for the high score.

Download directly from my site: DALEKS.EXE; see A Complete Waste of Time for online versions.

I recently discovered that this game was originally called Robots (and sometimes Zombies) created by guys behind Rogue, and was originally distributed with BSD. Neat.

License: Freeware
Installation: Portable
Date Added: December 5, 2005
Updated: March 21, 2009

The Original SameGame

"The ultimate time waster." In this addictive puzzle game, you have to clear the board of colored blocks. You can only clear 2 or more adjacent blocks, and the more you can clear at once, the more points you get.

  • SameGame 1.11
    The original Windows version was written by Ikuo Hirohata "Grow" in 1993 is available at:
    http://www.winsite.com/bin/Info?500000030590
  • Samegame 1.15
    This is basically identical to 1.11 and is available at:
    http://www.ryosoft.com/ (note that due to a small glitch on his site that screwed up all his links, you can't download it directly from his site in some browsers, so the direct download link is here: http://www.ryosoft.com/zips/same.zip
  • Same3 for Windows
    This version adds a lot of things like new game modes, undo, save, and choose a game to play (like Freecell). This version is shareware, and the only limitation (besides a mild nag screen on launch) is that your high scores won't be saved between games. It's available at:
    http://home.maine.rr.com/sabakker/same3_win.htm
  • Skinnable SameGame
    Finally there's Olof Tjerngren's version, which is skinnable. You can even make your own skins. It also lets you add many more game pieces, making the game much harder. It's available here:
    http://www.tjerngren.net/samegame/
  • Online Versions
    See my article A Complete Waste Of Time for some online versions of this game.
Download directly from my site: samegame.exe

License: Freeware
Installation: Portable
Date Added: December 12, 2005
Updated: March 21, 2009

BrowserQuest

MMO that runs completely in your web browser thanks to HTML5. The developers promise that completing it takes about an hour, but you can log in and play for just a few minutes if that's all you have time for.

License: Open Source
Installation: Browser Based
Date Added: March 17, 2013

I use this program: Once a year

Hard Drive and File Repair, Rename & Recovery

Everything you need to keep your hard drives running efficiently
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Contig

Command line tool that lets you defrag a single file or directory. From Microsoft, formerly from SysInternals.

License: Freeware
Installation: Portable
Date Added: March 21, 2009

I use this program: Once a decade (emergencies)

DoubleKiller

This file searches your hard drive & finds duplicate files. You can select the paramaters - Name, Filesize, Date or CRC, folders, filetypes, folders, etc. Easy to use, no install. Works great, the UI is excellent and it runs extraordinarily quickly.
Update: They've introduced a "Pro" version of DoubleKiller with a bunch of new features. (Thanks to Robert Bull for the pointer.)
Update 2: I've purchased the Pro version. The advanced options make it well worth it. I've already used it to clean probably several gigabytes of files I had lying around duplicated either due to having several copies from upgrading my computer or due to downloading the same file twice, or retagging MP3s so a less sophisticated program couldn't spot the dups. Well worth it for a digital packrat like myself. Update March 2009: I still use DoubleKiller Pro, though not as much as I used to. Nowadays I just buy another external hard drive. What's really impressive about DoubleKiller Pro is how fast it works (depending somewhat on how you configure it). Highly recommended for anyone that needs this sort of thing.

License: Freeware
Installation: Install & Portable
Date Added: December 12, 2005
Updated: March 21, 2009
I use this program: Once a year

Folder Size for Windows Explorer

Adds a column to Windows Explorer that tells you the size of your folders. It takes a moment to grab information from your folders (like doing a rightclick/properties), but can replace the "Size" column by including folder size information as well.

Update March, 2009: In my increasingly networked & large-hard-drive filled world, I don't use Folder Size much anymore - it's just too slow.

(via LifeHacker)

License: Open Source
Installation: Install
Date Added: January 7, 2006
Updated: March 21, 2009
I use this program: Never

InfraRecorder

I used to use DeepBurner to create my data CDs and DVDs but InfraRecorder does the same thing & is open source & there's a portable version. Win!

License: Open Source
Installation: Install & Portable
Date Added: October 31, 2011

I use this program: Once a month
PortableApps.com Version Available? yes

Oscar's File Renamer

I use this program on a regular basis. I hate getting files with extremely long file names and going to burn them them to CD just to find they don't fit and I have to rename 100 files. Or getting an audio book on mp3 just to find that the filenames are "Author - Book Title - Disc 1 - File 15.mp3" when my mp3 player only shows the first few characters of the file. Well, luckily, there's Oscar's File Renamer to the rescue. It's extremely simple interface lets you search & replace or record keystroke macro's. What really sets this apart is that it opens a directory like a text file, moving the cursor up and down doesn't just select a different file, it keeps the same character spacing as before, and you don't commit your changes until you're happy with them so you can experiment without fear of screwing up. When you use a program like this, you have to balance the time & effort you spend learning it/using it with the time it would take to rename all the files by hand. That said, here are a few other renamers you might be interested in.

I've also used BKRenamer, which is a great regular expression, command-line no-install tool. BKRenamer is great when you have to do a change all the file names in several directories because it can search through subdirectories as well.

I've also used the Bulk Rename Utilitiy, which is quite complex, but useful when you need to do more than simple renaming, such as renaming and moving only files that have been renamed, etc.

License: Freeware
Installation: Install
Date Added: March 21, 2009
Updated: March 21, 2009
I use this program: Once a month

PC Inspector File Recovery

When I needed to undelete a file that I'd erased, I googled for a program that would work for me. Out of all the programs I tried, PC Inspector was the best. It works with NTFS and FAT32, and it's extremely thorough. It may take a while to scan your hard drive, but it's well worth it if you can get your precious data back.

Update October 7, 2013: Updated Link.

License: Freeware
Installation: Install
Date Added: January 6, 2006
Updated: October 7, 2013
I use this program: Once a decade (emergencies)

SpaceMonger

This program shows you visually how much space is taken up by what folders/files on your hard drive. Think of it as a sort of square pie chart that allows you to zoom in to a folder. This is a very powerful program that allows you to literally see where all of your space is going. Not as popular as SequoiaView, but I think it's better because SpaceMonger shows you directories and allows you to zoom in on them.
WinDirStat is a free, open source program that does many of the things SpaceMonger does, and more. (Thanks to Robert Bull for pointing me to this one.) Folder Size (see above) is an excellent plugin for Windows Explorer that will show you the size of each folder. Update March 2009: There is a powerful shareware version of this software now, which you may be interested in if the freeware version doesn't do enough for you.

License: Freeware and Shareware
Installation: Portable
Date Added: March 21, 2009
Updated: March 21, 2009
I use this program: Once a decade (emergencies)

Spinrite 6

Hard drives go bad, it's a fact of life. Spinrite can help. By booting into Spinrite, it can analyze your hard drive (sort of like chkdsk), and even try to recover bad sectors. It's a real last-ditch drive saving tool, but can be the difference between recovered data & unrecovered data.
I list this as being "Portable" but you have to burn it to a CD andn run it as a boot disk since it has to bypass the OS for direct access to the disk.

License: Shareware
Installation: Portable
Date Added: March 21, 2009

I use this program: Once a decade (emergencies)

Information Managers

See Comparison of Outliners for a comprehensive overview of my favorite information managers.
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Freeplane

Freeplane is a pretty solid, straightforward mind mapper. Cross platform (written in Java, but not the clunky java of yesteryear, Freemind is very responsive). I use it all the time when I need to organize my thoughts.

Update March 12, 2013: Freeplane is a branch of Freemind.

License: Open Source
Installation: Install
Date Added: February 28, 2010

I use this program: Once a month

Keynote NF

Much of my most important data is kept in Treepad Lite (see below). Whenever I start a new job, I create a new Treepad file for that job & put it in a Truecrypt file, which is also dedicated to files I need for that job. I've recently started at a place that doesn't give me admin rights, and Truecrypt won't run. After looking at various encryption programs I decided that I'd just be better off using a different outliner and I chose Keynote, which I've known about and have used on & off for a while.

Keynote is very feature filled. Nodes are organized into tabs & it supports richtext and full unicode support. It also supports saving files in an encrypted format - this just scratches the surface of the feature list, but those are the most important selling points to me. By using Keynote I'm able to get the benefits of Treepad Lite, with none of the downsides (no unicode support) and Truecrypt (my passwords and notes are safe). I don't feel I need richtext editing of nodes, but it doesn't really hurt (though it may add considerable bulk to the file size). I've been a fan of Keynote for a while (I have a version on my hard drive that's nearly a decade old) and its long history is part of why I'm choosing to rely on it for my most important information.

License: Open Source
Installation: Portable
Date Added: January 18, 2012

I use this program: Daily

Treeline

More of a database than an outliner, Treeline is a great tool for keeping structured information. It stores files in an XML structure & exports nicely to HTML. I maintain this smallware list in Treeline.

Update January 26, 2012: Last year I was called on to take a bunch of CSV files and turn them into web pages. Through a convoluted process that involved "cleaning" the CSV files in Open Office Calc and BK ReplacEm to format them correctly - add <br/> tags instead of carriage returns and get rid of special characters I was able to create a pretty awesome website. Sadly it's internal use only and few people ever got to see it. I'm sure someone with greater scripting skills than myself could've automated this a bit better, but it does show the power of Treeline as a database tool.

License: Freeware
Installation: Install
Date Added: March 21, 2009
Updated: January 26, 2012
I use this program: Once a month

TreePad Lite

I've been using this program to organize information for as long as I can remember, certainly for the past decade (it being 2009 now). Combined with TrueCrypt to keep the data secure & Syncback to back up my files, TreePad has been the single place I store all my most important data. Thanks to this setup, I've never lost old passwords, can use very complex passwords that even I can't remember, and so on.

There are shareware versions, which I own, but Treepad Free remains the best.

Update January 18 2012: It should be noted that TreePad Lite doesn't support unicode - just the character set from the American alphanumeric set and the symbols you can easily type on an American keyboard (probably ANSI). So characters like ù and Я won't show up properly. I assume this is a limitation of the compiler used by the programmer. One of the strengths of Treepad is that the file format is open (the specification has been pubished), allowing people to create versions for other OSes (there's a Linux version that works on Mac as well - one of the reasons I like Treepad is that files from Treepad can be read on Linux as well).

License: Freeware
Installation: Install & Portable
Date Added: December 12, 2005
Updated: January 19, 2012
I use this program: Daily

Internet - email, chat, browsing, networking

Small alternatives to the major programs, as well as some interesting things you may not have known existed.
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Chat & Peer to Peer


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BitTorent Sync

BitTorrent Sync is similar to Dropbox & Groove - it allows you share & syncronize folders with other computers (home & work, between friend etc.) that have BitTorrent Sync, using the robust BitTorrent protocal. Why would you use this over Dropbox? Well it's free & peer-to-peer so your files aren't sitting on someone else's server.

License: Freeware
Installation: Install
Date Added: October 7, 2013

I use this program: Never
PortableApps.com Version Available? no

CryptoCat

Cryptocat is intended to fill in the space between big, difficult to use encryption software and simple to use chat software (like gchat and facebook). It uses the Off The Record protocol to encrypt chat end-to-end. This means that nobody's snooping on your conversations - it's encrypted on your computer & decrypted on your friend's computer. Anyone in between can't listen in. It runs as a plugin to Google Chrome, Firefox and Safari.

There is no registration and since encryption keys are generated each time you log in, there is no guarantee that the person on the other end is the person they say they are, other than offline authentication (secret questions, etc.). The flip side to this is, there is no record of your chat (unless someone inside the chat decides to copy/paste it)

  1. Use GChat, Facebook, AOL Instant Messenger, Yahoo Messenger, etc. if you want to chat with your friends & you don't mind corporations and goverments listening in
  2. Use a chat program (like Pidgin with a plugin like OTR if you don't want anyone listening in to your chat
  3. Use CryptoCat if quickly want to enter a group chat session where nobody in between can snoop in on the conversation & you're not super concerned about the people/person on the other end being who they claim to be


License: Open Source
Installation: Browser Based
Date Added: March 12, 2013

I use this program: Never

I2P

I2P is a decentralized, encrypted, anonymous peer-to-peer network that's intended more for communication than for file sharing.

Its topology is similar to Tor - lots of nodes connected to each other and you can run web servers or IRC servers on it. According to stats.i2p (i2p is their internal TLD) there are 10,000 nodes active as of November 2011. Still, it seems to suffer from the "network effect" problem - the only people on i2p are people who are interested in creating an anonymous, decentralized, encrypted, internet so most of the content on i2p is about i2p. There's also the interesting problem how how do you implement a domain name structure with no centralized naming authority? Their solution is that everone maintains their own hosts list (human readable domain to hash tag) & that whoever ends up first in your list for a domain (e.g. site.i2p) is the one you use. You can subscribe to trusted lists for new hosts, but the possibility remains that different people will resolve site.i2p to different machines. There is also an active IRC server.

Still, this is how I see Internet 2.0 taking shape - an anonymous, encrypted mesh network, and i2p is one of the more mature instances of this. In a world where the US Goverment is threatening to filter DNS [ref], creating their own version of the Great Firewall of China, it's evident that a decentralized mesh network will be the way forward and there are a number of projects that have cropped up recently to do so via hardware (resiliant, mesh, wifi networks). This is a strictly software implementation.

License: Open Source
Installation: Install
Date Added: November 26, 2011

I use this program: Once a year
PortableApps.com Version Available? no

Jabber (XMPP)

Jabber is a server + client protocol that allows you to set up your own instant messenger. Used mostly at companies that want to enable chat, but don't want their chat shared with AOL, Microsoft, Yahoo or Google or to go unencrypted over the internet. Since you control the server, you can enable things like encryption & chat logging on the server. Google Talk/Gchat is based on Jabber. You can also enable communication between server, so you can connect different branches of your organization with Jabber, each controlling their own version.

License: Open Source
Installation: Install
Date Added: December 12, 2005
Updated: March 21, 2009
I use this program: Never

MoonEdit

MoonEdit is a great collaborative text editing tool. It allows two people to edit the same document simultaneously. I've never found a use for this, but it's just simply awesome in concept.

Update November 2011: Google Docs now has realtime collaborative editing, making Moonedit somewhat obsolete.

License: Freeware
Installation: Install
Date Added: January 21, 2005
Updated: November 26, 2011
I use this program: Once a year

Pidgin

Pidgin is an open source instant messaging client that works with all the major protocols, including IRC and Jabber. It's the only instant messaging client I use.
A portable version is available at PortableApps.com. One of the benefits of having a portable version is that all your passwords & chat logs are stored in the same folder as the application, making Pidgin that much easier to secure. Pidgin Portable even supports encrypted chat sessions with portable versions of Pidgin Encrption and Pidgin OTR.
I DO NOT recommend Trillian. When dealing with tech support, the tech support guy emailed me a portion of my password hoping to jog my memory (thinking that my problems were an inability to remember my Trillian password & not their confusing licensing scheme). The fact that my password was stored in plaintext is a HUGE red flag that they don't take security seriously.

License: Open Source
Installation: Install
Date Added: March 21, 2009
Updated: April 10, 2009
I use this program: Daily
PortableApps.com Version Available? yes

Tor

Tor is a decentralized encrypted network tool that lets you surf the web anonymously. You connect to Tor & your web surfing is then routed through the Tor network until your request comes out through another Tor node - thus hiding your IP address from any sites you visit. There have been a few white papers recently on how it may be possible to monitor Tor traffic, but it's still the best tool out there for surfing the web with relative anonymity. (there's still the evercookie to track your identity).

Check out the Tor Browser Bundle for a portable version bundled with a pre-confiured Firefox.

Update December 26, 2011: Check out Advanced Onion Router (AOR) for a compact, portable TOR solution. You can launch programs from within AOR to help prevent privacy issues with certain plugins not obeying the proxy rules you set & giving away your IP address. I did find that I couldn't launch Iron Portable from within AOR because it would violate certain Windows security rules - I'm not sure how it would fare with other browsers.

Also check out OperaTor if you prefer to use the Opera browser to surf anonymously.

License: Open Source
Installation: Install & Portable
Date Added: November 26, 2011
Updated: December 26, 2011
I use this program: Once a year

TorChat

TorChat is a peer to peer instant messaging program (allows you to chat with your friends & send files to each other) that operates on the TOR network - which means you have strong anonymity and security.

TorChat is a peer to peer instant messenger with a completely decentralized design, built on top of Tor's location hidden services, giving you extremely strong anonymity while being very easy to use without the need to install or configure anything.

TorChat just runs from an USB drive on any Windows PC. (It can run on Linux and Mac too, in fact it was developed on Linux with cross platform usability in mind from the very first moment on, but the installation on other platforms than Windows is a bit more complicated at the moment)

Tor location hidden services basically means:
  • Nobody will be able to find out where you are.
  • If they are already observing you and sniff your internet connection they will not be able to find out
    • what you send or receive (everything is end-to-end encrypted)
    • to whom you are sending or receiving from
    • where your contacts are located


License: Open Source
Installation: Portable
Date Added: March 13, 2013

I use this program: Never

VNC (Virtual Network Computing)

VNC allows you to take control of another computer. It's cross platform (and comes pre-installed on Macs where they call it "Screen Sharing"). It does this by sending a highly compressed video of your computer to the other computer. Created by a compan that was acquired by AT&T, VNC has been long trusted in the computing world. VNC can also be configured to act as a web server, so you can allow someone to take control of your computer via a web browser alone without having them install the software, in which case it uses a Java client. One of the cons of VNC is that it doesn't work if the client is behind a firewall (such as on an internal network). Obviously, this is recommended only for highly technically proficient people.

Real VNC: Freeware & Shareware versions (I've only ever used the freeware version). I believe Real VNC is based most closely on the original. I've found RealVNC to be the least resource intensive VNC, which is great for older computers.
UltraVNC: Open Source, this version allows you to create an .EXE file that you can send to someone else and they can connect to you rather than you connecting to them. In this case, you have to not be behind a firewall (or at least open certain ports to the public). UltraVNC is frequently used by tech support personnel that need to control your computer to fix something (Verizon, for example, used it to help me troubleshoot a problem DSL connection).
TightVNC: Open Source, this version places an emphasis on how highly it compresses the video stream for slow internet connections, but I found it to be very CPU intensive, so it may not work so well on older computers.
Fog Creek CoPilot: Shareware/Subscription Service, this is a pay-per-use VNC based on Ultra VNC, meaning the other person downloads a program & runs it and automatically connects to you - they don't have to configur anything. The major benefit over Ultra VNC is that it takes care of configuration for you (you don't need to email/upload the configured file anywhere) & uses a 3rd party server to "punch through" firewalls, allowing it to work even if both computers are behind a firewall. There are many services like this (I believe "GoToMyPC" is another), but I happen to be familiar with CoPilot & like that you can pay for only 24 hours, which in most cases, long enough, and it's free on weekends.
TeamViewer (portable version): I keep hearing great things about this, but haven't had the need to use it yet. It seems to operate like CoPilot (with a 3rd party server to punch through firewalls) and it's totally free for personal use.

License: Freeware and Shareware
Installation: Install
Date Added: December 12, 2005
Updated: February 28, 2010
I use this program: Once a decade (emergencies)

WASTE

WASTE is a program with an interesting history. Written by the guy who wrote Gnutella after his company (which also makes WinAmp) was bought out by AOL as a competitor to AOL Instant Messenger and released controversially on to the web for just a few hours before being pulled by AOL executives, it's a purely peer-to-peer chat & file sharing app that operates similar to AIM/Yahoo/MSN/ICQ etc. Without a central network to connect to, you have to rely on your peers to keep their client open (and unfirewalled) for the network to stay alive.

WASTE is part of a burgeoning "darknet" community, but I find it very poor as a file-sharing tool, unless you're specifically sending a file to someone. Everything that happens within the network is encrypted to outside eyes, but the chain is only as strong as its weakest link.

The latest active version is Waste Again, which adds some nice features.

I wrote a version of the Wikipedia article.

I use it mostly to share files between home & work - it opens some files on my home network that only I can access. Recommended only for advanced users.

Update December 6, 2011: If you're connected and wondering why your up/down speed is so slower than you think it should be, you or someone you've connected to may have chosen a restrictively large key size. Choose a smaller key size and watch your transfer speeds increase.

License: Open Source
Installation: Install & Portable
Date Added: December 12, 2005
Updated: December 6, 2011
I use this program: Once a month

eMail




Date Added: October 7, 2013


Gmail

You've already heard of gmail, but you may not have thought of it for the purpose I'm about to describe - as a spam blocker for your email client.

A few people I work with get so much spam email that some sort of spam blocker is necessary or they'd be overwhelmed. They get over a thousand spam messages a day, and after a weekend their computers choke on the spam. One of my coworkers is also the type to open email attachments from spammers (because they've cleverly made it look important) leading her to get viruses. What do you do in these situations? Set Gmail up in between your coworker and their incoming mail. Gmail can check POP3 email and can act as a POP3 email server. Getting Gmail to check your incoming POP3 email server, and then getting your client to check Gmail using the available POP3 protocol, you've interposed the world's best spam blocker between your coworker and their incoming email. From everyone else's perspective, things seem normal - though they may take another minute or two to get email than everyone else, but you know that spam is being blocked before it ever gets to them. And if something gets labeled as spam that shouldn't (such as a website registration email) - just log in to gmail and find it. It also serves as an archive for all incoming mail, should you need it for audit/CYA purposes.

License: Freeware
Installation: Browser Based
Date Added: May 22, 2010

I use this program: Daily

Mailwasher

Using Mailwasher, you can log in to your email account & delete and bounce spam mails before they hit your inbox. Why is this cool? Because by sending a bounced email, you're telling the spammer "return to sender, address unknown" and spam bots will remove your email address from their list of valid email addresses. It won't solve your spam problems, but if used diligently, it should be a great way to cut down on the amount of spam that gets sent to you.

Update March 2009: I used this program to delete over 4,000 spam messages in someone's inbox. Yes, that's 4,000 spam messages. (Or maybe it was 40,000, I forget). Any email client that downloaded the email first to analyze it would have died. Mailtrust too wasn't rock-solid and I had to keep stopping the download process, otherwise Mailtrust would peg the CPU and churn for hours, but it was the only tool I could think of that would get the job done, nevermind the bounce features, it's a great tool for cleaning your inbox if there's so many spam emails your mail client chokes on them.

License: Freeware and Shareware
Installation: Install
Date Added: December 3, 2006
Updated: March 21, 2009
I use this program: Once a decade (emergencies)

Filezilla

Open source FTP and SFTP program. The interface is simple, it has good options and it just works.

License: Open Source
Installation: Install & Portable
Date Added: April 4, 2009

I use this program: Daily
PortableApps.com Version Available? yes

Free Download Manager

This program sits in your system tray & lets you add files to be downloaded. It can beak a large file up into smaller parts to speed up the download, or resume a download once it has been stopped (depending on the configuration of the web server you're downloading from). I haven't used it in a whlie, but it was very handy for a while.

License: Open Source
Installation: Install
Date Added: March 21, 2009

I use this program: Once a year

HFS - HTTP File Server

A very simple drag & drop file server that allows you to share files from your computer with friends. All they need to do is point their web browser at whatever address your computer is (the program tells you) and they can see whichever files you've decided to share. If you're behind a network firewall you will have to know how to find your address & share it with the outside world.

Windows Networking is so tricky, that I use this at home to share files with people on computers just a couple of feet away from mine.

A lot of antivirus programs will tell you HFS is a virus. It's not - it just behaves in some ways that a virus may behave (namely, allowing other people to access files on your hard drive - but this is what you want it to do). Tell your antivirus software that this program is OK.

Update November 2011: A new beta version of HFS includes some simple scripting which, when combined with the right template, can be used to create a simple forum/chat application, all hosted off of your home PC.

License: Open Source
Installation: Portable
Date Added: February 21, 2010
Updated: November 26, 2011
I use this program: Once a month

HTTrack

HTTrack will browse a website & make an offline copy of it for you to browse at your leisure. It's the kind of thing you'd only need occasionally, but you're glad to have when you do need it.

License: Open Source

Date Added: March 21, 2009

I use this program: Once a decade (emergencies)

NetWorx

A simple program that sits in your system tray and tracks your network usage in real time and with historical data. Especially useful for people who pay for bandwidth, I use it to look for leaks (unexpected bandwidth usage from programs) and to check for download speeds on prgrams that don't report download speeds (such as install programs that download the core program).

Portable Version

I also use the (somewhat less robust NetPerSec, part of the PC Magazine utilties that used to be free but now require a purchase/suscription.

License: Freeware
Installation: Install & Portable
Date Added: March 27, 2010

I use this program: Daily

no-ip

I'm on DSL at home and that means my IP address changes every few days. Yet I need to connect to my home computer to transfer files from time to time (frequently via Waste). So what do I do? I use no-ip so my home computer has a domain name I can connect to when away from home. DynDNS is a similar service, but I find it's clunky to use, I prefer no-ip.

License: Freeware and Shareware
Installation: Install
Date Added: March 7, 2011

I use this program: Daily

PuTTY

PuTTY is a Telnet and SSH program - you can use it to log in to remote servers and get access to a command line interface, which is useful for certain tasks- if you need me to tell you more than that, you probably don't need it.

License: Freeware
Installation: Portable
Date Added: March 8, 2011

I use this program: Once a month
PortableApps.com Version Available? yes

RSS




Date Added: October 7, 2013


FeedReader

An RSS aggregator that's fairly lightweight (though the database can get huge if you have a lot of feeds in it). If you prefer an offline reader, Feedreader is probbaly the way to go. I was able to browse thousands (yes, thousands) of job ads a day using Feedreader to quickly scan the headline & just look at the ones that were most intersting to me. It's a bit of a resource hog, but I've yet to find another feedreader that matches my needs so closely.

Edit May 22, 2010: FeedReader is an extreme resource hog - while it's running my hard drive spins non-stop, and whenever I open it, it takes a long time to open or to do things. I've finally found an RSS reader that matches all my needs - see March 21, 2009
Updated: May 22, 2010
I use this program: Never

RSSOwl

RSSOwl is my new favorite RSS program. It's fast and unlike FeedReader, doesn't keep my hard drive running 24/7. I currently have a few dozen news feeds with over 5,000 articles and it's fast and works great. It also has the option to delete articles after a set number of days, rather than just keep each feed with the same number of articles. This means that you can ensure that the news you're reading really is fresh and that old news isn't clogging up your system. It lacks the "intelliupdate" feature that FeedReader has where the program determines how often it should check for updates (based on how often updates usually occur) but the default setting of 30 minutes seems fine.

The UI isn't as clean as it could be - you can't click on the read/unread column to make things as read/unread - you either have to right lick on the item & go into the menu, or remember the keystroke, but this is a minor issue for an otherwise excellent program.

Update March 7, 2011: RSSOwl is nice, though when it's updating feeds it pegs my CPU. Admittedly I use it on a weak laptop and have a lot of feeds. It is still a good RSS Reader.

License: Freeware
Installation: Install & Portable
Date Added: May 22, 2010
Updated: March 7, 2011
I use this program: Daily

Web Browsers


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ChromeCacheView

Someone posted a video of me to Facebook & I couldn't figure out how to extract the video file to save to my hard drive, so I found ChromeCacheView. It's clunky & you still have to do a bit of hunting to find the files but using this program & a bit of ingenuity, I was able to find & save the video for future posterity.

License: Freeware

Date Added: October 31, 2011

I use this program: Once a decade (emergencies)

Google Chrome

Google Chrome is a somewhat lightweight browser that has some interesting features. It's based on the Safari rendering engine, and launches each tab in a separate process, so if a webpage has something on it that causes that tab to crash, you can to into the task manager, kill that process, and keep on browsing without losing any of the data in your other tabs. While this means greater overhead per-tab, it also means as you close tabs, memory is reclaimed and given back to your OS. It also has an "incognito" mode that keeps no cookies or history of what you're doing. All in all, I recommend it for lightweight or private browsing. Works on a computer I have at home that could never easily run Firefox.

Update March 7, 2011: I caught a virus while browsing the web using Chrome, so I unstalled Flash- it turns out that Flash is built in to Chrome, but you can turn off plugins by default and it's really simple to turn them on - either for a site as a whole or "now". Chrome does have one downside though- it downloads updates transparently & leaves the install files behind, so it will quicky grow to several gigabytes, which isn't good when you're using it on a netbook.

Update October 31, 2011: Check out Chromium Portable, based on the same code as Google Chrome, but it omits certain thing that you may find objectionable (from a privacy point of view). While I'll continue to use Chrome (because of it's ability to control how plugins work & because I don't have Flash intalled on my computer & depend on Chrome's bundled Chrome to view Flash based content), I do recommend Chromium for privacy oriented users.

Update December 3, 2011: Check out Iron Portable. Similar to Chromium above, but part of the Portable Apps suite.

License: Freeware
Installation: Install
Date Added: March 21, 2009
Updated: December 3, 2011
I use this program: Daily
PortableApps.com Version Available? yes

Off By One

This is a great tiny (1.2MB) web browser that only supports old-school website layouts (HTML 3.2 - no CSS, no Javascript), but could get you out of a jam on a computer with absolutely no spare RAM. It claims to erase your tracks after you use it, but I find that they persist.

License: Freeware
Installation: Portable
Date Added: March 12, 2006
Updated: March 21, 2009
I use this program: Once a year

Weblog Expert Lite

A nice, graphical and GUI based log file reader. I use Google Anlaytics now, but it doesn't tell you everything a good log analyzer may tell you.

License: Freeware and Shareware

Date Added: March 21, 2009

I use this program: Once a year

Macro


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Allchars

This program is great. A few simple keystrokes and you can type any unicode character, like ¼ or û. Plus you can use it to playback certain keystrokes in Macro mode.

Update March 2009: I don't really use this program, but leave it here because it's still pretty neat.

License: Freeware
Installation: Install & Portable
Date Added: December 12, 2005
Updated: March 21, 2009
I use this program: Never

iMacros

iMacros is a browser automation tool with a simple scripting languge. Simply let it record your actions, edit the script & it can play them back, loop them, etc.

License: Freeware and Shareware
Installation: Install
Date Added: October 7, 2013

I use this program: Daily

MacroMaker

Very robust macro program that can be programed to do just about anything you can do. I use it to automate tedious tasks, and create quick-launch keys to launch certain applications. Straightforward keyboard interface is easy to learn, though tedious to use. I don't use this nearly as much anymore now that I discovered than any shortcut on your desktop can have a shortcut key. Just right click on it and go to properties and choose a Shortcut Key in the appropriate box. Not as robust as other macro programs out there (like Maco Express), but this one has the advantage of being free.

License: Freeware
Installation: Install
Date Added: December 12, 2005

I use this program: Once a decade (emergencies)

TyperTask

TyperTask will replace any bit of text you type with a longer bit of text. It doesn't support carraige returns, but it works well across applications. My old review of RoboType is here for historical purposes.

Robotype. This is a great time saving macro. Any text you type can be replaced with any text in the robotype database. For example, any time I type ?latin, it's replaced with the Lorem Ipsum Dolor blurb text. This is great for sig files, or standardized bits of text you use all the time (like bits of code).

Version 3 adds a lot of great features, such as categorization, getting rid of the extra space after the replace text, merging two .rtl files, a "launch when windows opens" option (before I had to add my .rtl file to the Startup group), and the ability to prompt for input.

Note: RoboType is no longer free, it's now part of the PC Magazine Utilities, which are available inexpensively on the Ziff Davis website.

Update March 2009: I still use this program from time to time when I have a lot of repetitive text to copy/paste, but need to maintain several copy/paste sources.

Update March 2011: Texter seems to do the same basic thing as Robotype, but it's free & open source!. (PortableApps Version [Update November 2011: Texter doesn't seem to work very well] Update December 10, 2011: Check out AutoHotKey. Update March 16, 2013: Check out TyperTask (also portable). Typertask doen't support carriage returns in text, but seems to work well.


License: Freeware
Installation: Install & Portable
Date Added: December 12, 2005
Updated: March 16, 2013
I use this program: Once a year
PortableApps.com Version Available? yes

Office Tools


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Bullzip PDF Printer

There are a lot of free PDF printers out there, but a lot of them watermark your documents (Foxit PD Printer). Bullzip is a free PDF printer that just works. Install it & it shows up in your printer list. Print to it & it asks where to save your PDF document. It's as easy as that. It doesn't have advanced features, but it gets the job done. I use it whenever I need to create a PDF.

License: Freeware
Installation: Install
Date Added: December 10, 2011

I use this program: Once a month

Dia

Dia is sort of Visio type program that you can use for making diagrams - workflows, UML charts, etc.

License: Open Source
Installation: Install & Portable
Date Added: March 8, 2011

I use this program: Once a year
PortableApps.com Version Available? yes

Gnumeric

I love Excel. I think Excel is one of the greatest pieces of software known to man. (a quick browse through the rest of my blog should show you that - charts galore).
Now that Excel, and all of Microsoft Office has gone & changed the file format and the interface (and even introduced a carry-over bug) it's time to move on. Excel 2003 was the pinnacle - subtle improvements on an already excellent peice of software, but it's not available for sale anymore & it's as good a time as any to start evaluating other software packages.
Enter Gnumeric. I've tried Open Office Calc & I can't figure out how to get it to make charts and we all know I love charts. Gnumeric seems to do it all. Not as nicely, but it does it all, and it doesn't ask you to install the statistics plugin before it'll do statistics (like Excel). At home, for spreadsheets, all I use is Gnumeric. (At work I use Office 2003.)

License: Open Source
Installation: Install & Portable
Date Added: April 8, 2009

I use this program: Daily
PortableApps.com Version Available? yes

Libre Office Writer

I've been following Open Office for years (since Star Office 5.2 back in 2001 or so) and recently I was looking for a word processor to replace Word. I tried AbiWord but found it to be a little buggy - when I corrected a misspelled word the underline would stay there, and when I deleted a paragraph of text, the screen wouldn't refresh so I wouldn't be able to view everything I that was on the page unless I scrolle away & back again.
Open Office Writer is great, though. I almost feel like I'm using another version of Word. I highly recommend it as an alternative to Microsoft Word.
Update March 7, 2011: LibreOffice is a new branch of Open Office. You can read more about its background on Wikipedia.

License: Open Source
Installation: Install & Portable
Date Added: April 8, 2009
Updated: March 7, 2011
I use this program: Daily
PortableApps.com Version Available? yes

Other Office Tools

If these program are too big for you - if you're running on a computer with very sparse resources, check out these other super small office tools. I don't really use them so I can't comment on them much.



License: Freeware
Installation: Portable
Date Added: March 8, 2011

I use this program: Never

Operating System Tools

All the tools I use to keep my computer humming along & for moving around massive amounts of files.
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PowerMenu

This program adds Always On Top, Minimize to Tray, Priority and Transparency menus to your taskbar rightclick. Sometimes I wonder how I've managed to live without it. Setting priority on the fly and minimizing to the tray (freeing space in the precious taskbar, and effectively allowing me to rearrange the order of my taskbar) are must-have tools for me.

Update March 2009: I rarely use this program - probably because more & more programs feature "minimize to tray", but it is still part of my "bag of tricks" and I use it from time to time.

Update October 2011: I've started using this program more & more lately, especially to keep some programs that I want to keep running, but don't want in the list of programs (mostly my RSS reader). Minimize to Tray seems to do the main thing I use this program for, but I've never used it so can't recommend it.

License: Freeware
Installation: Install
Date Added: December 12, 2005
Updated: October 31, 2011
I use this program: Daily

SysInternals

These tools "get under the hood" of Windows and allow you to track things that you probably thought were impossible to track. I've been using these tools off & on for years, and a while back the company was bought out by Microsoft, who continues to develop & maintain them.

I don't have much day-to-day use for these tools but when I need them, I'm glad they're there. You can monitor every time your hard drive is accessed, every time your computer connects to an outside (or inside) port to communicate, every process on your computer (and every dll that process loads), you can search for rootkits and more. The amount of information any of these tools gives you is tremendous, so you'll have to learn how to sift through it for the bits that you need. Advanced user stuff only. If you regularly find yourself in RegEdit or MSConfig or at the command line - these are the types of tools you'll love.

License: Freeware
Installation: Portable
Date Added: February 28, 2010

I use this program: Once a decade (emergencies)

Ubuntu

Ubuntu is a flavor of Linux that has all of the amenities of any other modern operating system - such as Windows or OSX. After trying to get a few different Linux program to run on my girlfriend's netbook (from a USB key) Ubuntu is the one that came through for me. So far I've only used it for web browsing and playing Micropolis (the open source version of the original Sim City - which seems designed for a much larger screen), but it seems stable, easy to use, and powerful. I've had to use some of the obscure Linux commands (such as SUDO, CHMOD, PASSWD) to accomplish a few things and it's not without it's configuration difficulties (getting it to work with Broadcom wireless drivers), but then I could say much the same for Windows or OSX.

Ubuntu satisfies my need for an "OS on a stick" (USB key) that lets me get on the web, does basic Office stuff, and runs some of my favorite programs (especially TrueCrypt and Treepad which I depend on, and Google Chrome, Firefox and Pidgin which I use daily). I've used it on two computers so far (from the same USB key) with no problem switching between both.

I've also tried Ubuntu Netbook Edition and Slax, but could get neither to work with the Broadcom wireless card.

License: Open Source
Installation: Install & Portable
Date Added: May 22, 2010

I use this program: Once a week

Ultimate Boot CD

We recently lost a domain controller at work & when I switched some users from the domain to "workgroup" I lost the ability to access their files, including all their outlook emails, etc. Luckily, I had a copy of the Ultimate Boot CD (a 4 year old one at that), and I was able to boot up the machine & change some of the NTFS passwords (pretty scary that you can do that, but if you're not encrypting you're not really securing anyway) to regain access to those files. Then all I had to do was point outlook to those archive files & they had access again. The Ultimate Boot CD rocks!

License: Freeware
Installation: Portable
Date Added: March 21, 2009

I use this program: Once a decade (emergencies)

WhoLockMe

Don't you hate it when you're trying to move a folder, or delete a file and Windows won't let you because it's "In use?" Well WhoLockMe will tell you what programs are using that file or folder, so you can shut them down and move on with your life.

License: Freeware
Installation: Install
Date Added: December 12, 2005

I use this program: Never

Programming

Tools I use for programming tasks.
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XAMPP

XAMPP is an Apache, MySQL, PHP and PHPMyAdmin envrionment in a great one-click portable package. It's not meant for production environments (some hardening would have to happen first) but as a simple development & testing environment it works great. I use it to create PHP/MySQL scripts for various tasks I need doing/

Update October 7, 2013: Another thing I like about this program is that it's portable. I run it from a truecrypt volume, which makes backing it up a snap. Just stop the server, dismount the volume & copy the truecrpt file to a thumb drive. Much easier than copying the hundreds of files each tie you want to back it up (though probably slower if you have a decent backup process). Still, I like the idea that I can just open the truecrypt volume & launch the server and pick right back up where I left off. I leave XAMPP running 24/7 at work & it's performed flawlessly for over a year.

License: Open Source
Installation: Portable
Date Added: February 12, 2012

I use this program: Daily

Notepad++

Notepad++ is a great simple text editor with code highlighting, code collapsing & plugins. I use it all the time.

License: Open Source
Installation: Install & Portable
Date Added: February 12, 2012

I use this program: Daily
PortableApps.com Version Available? yes

Project Management / Getting Things Done


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Allnetic Working Time Tracker

A simple tool that's part clock, part spreadsheet. By clicking on it you can start tracking the time you spend on any task. If you're idle, or come back from idle, it will ask you whether or not you want to end/resume a task. At the end of the day, week, month, or year, you will know exactly how much time you spent doing what. The only drawback is that you have to be near a computer to use it.

Update September 2004: Unfortunately, this program is now shareware. The new shareware version adds a number of new features, but you will have to pay for it from now on.

License: Shareware
Installation: Install
Date Added: December 12, 2005

I use this program: Daily

Daily Todo

I admit that I'm a bit of a scatterbrain. I get distracted easily. I know that on any given day there are only a handful of things I want to work on - and they're usually the same things day after day. I wanted some sort of tickler/reminder of these tasks that was easy to use - a list I could pull up of the handful of things I wanted to do every day that somehow slipped through my fingers. A quick internet search turned up Daily ToDo. Simply enter the tasks you want to accomplish & you get a list of them with checkboxes for whether or not you did them that day. It keeps a history of red & green dots for days you did them & days you didn't and a 30 day running average. No registration required. Brilliant. It's Get Back to Work for recurring tasks.

Update December 6, 2011: Similar sites that I've come across but haven't tried yet are Teux Deux which looks like a much expanded version of ToDoList, The Big Picture which is more of a project mind mapping tool, and Trello which is designed for keeping track of where various aspects of a workflow are.

Update December 19, 2011: Beeminder helps you track your progress towards a goal. If you like, you can voluntarily add some amount of money (the amount of which gets exponentially higher).

Update December 22, 2011: Sciral Consistency is a similar offline, shareare program. Sciral Conistency has been on my smallware list for years - I never used it buy I like the concept. I've now removed Sciral Consistency as a main entry & added it as a note on Daily Todo because I do use Daily Todo and they perform similar functions.

Update March 12, 2013: KanbanFlow is a simple project management tool. You can see what everyone is working on in real time, and as tasks are completed, points are racked up allowing you to see everoyne's productivity & find bottlenecks.

Update March 17, 2013: HabitRPG is a way to "gamify" your life - add in things you want to accomplish (or avoid) and be rewarded in RPG fashion when you accomplish your goals.

License: Freeware
Installation: Browser Based
Date Added: November 29, 2011
Updated: March 17, 2013
I use this program: Daily

GanttProject

Open source alternative to MS Project. I found it to be a little buggy as of last year (2008), but still very good overall.

License: Open Source

Date Added: March 21, 2009

I use this program: Once a month

ToDoList

Ask and ye shall receive. I was looking for a good to-do list that combined the best features of an MS Project (inline editing, due dates, etc.) with the features of a regular to-do list (items disappear when you check them off, etc.) and I found it. ToDoList is great. Very flexible, and great for managing my myriad tasks.

License: Open Source
Installation: Portable
Date Added: September 19, 2009
Updated: September 19, 2009
I use this program: Daily
PortableApps.com Version Available? yes

Reading & Writing

Tools used for writing & analyzing text, behaviors, etc.
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Focus Writer

Focus Writer is a great, simple text editor that, when in full screen mode, removes all the distractions of your computer from view. It supports rich text editing (bold, italic) and a few formats, including RTF and ODF. Just open it and begin typing and allow the rest of the world to melt away.

Update December 10, 2011: Also check out Dark Room, which requires .NET and I suspect is less mature, but is based on the same concept.

Update December 22, 2011: Also check out Q10. I think I dicovered Q10 before Focus Writer - same concept, just a blank screen. Q10 gives you additional statistics at the bottom of the screen and won't run windowed. Hit F1 to get help from within the program. PortableApps version also available.

License: Open Source

Date Added: December 6, 2011

I use this program: Once a week
PortableApps.com Version Available? yes

Readability Plus

From 1990, this DOS program analyzes your writing style for style & content. I haven't come across anything like it since & I'm now making it available to you!

download Readability Plus.

License: Shareware
Installation: Portable
Date Added: April 4, 2009

I use this program: Once a year

Text Block Writer

If you're at all familar with the index card method of screenwriting, Text Block Writer is a brilliant program. It does what it needs to do & with little fuss. The interface is minimal (and you need to explore it a bit to understand it). One bug - I couldn't save options so I need to browse to the install folder & change the permissions on the usersettings.xml file so the program could save changes. (Use the Utility Panel on the right to add more columns, requires a restart.) I'm really excited to have discovered this program.

The guy who wrote it (Brian Vogt) no longer owns his domain so you have to get it from a site like FreewareFiles.com - don't get it from CNet though, CNet installs annoying extra software with their downloads. Do an image search for the title to see screencaps & find possible alternative download locations.

This is the checksum data [ref] for the version I have (1.17):
SHA-1: 11aea7a28bc3b2981911afb6366cfb660502c7c8
MD5: b4502777a4ffcc229d1f6b81afd551cc
CRC32: b5b87211

Update December 10, 2011: For the more serious screenwriter, check out Celtx. It's a rather robust screen/nove/etc. writing tool. A bit too structured for my tastes, but if your goal is to create a script for production, this may be th tool to use.

License: Freeware
Installation: Install
Date Added: December 6, 2011

I use this program: Once a month

Search & Replace


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Agent Ransack

Agent Ransack is a great search utility that will search through folders and files based on regular expression searches. It also has a handy regular expression builder, though I find it only gets you about halfway to where you want to go.

I don't use this program anymore, I think because I've become more organized. Google has a similar program called Google Desktop Search, which I haven't used.

License: Freeware
Installation: Install
Date Added: December 12, 2005

I use this program: Never

ExamDiff

This is a diff program - it will detect changes between two text documents or between two directories. I used this recently when migrating between two computers to ensure a lot of my important files made the transition smoothly without some random Windows copy error preventing me from getting something I needed.

WinDiff is open source and available as a portableapp. I find Examdiff is easier to use for simple comparisons, but Windiff has more features especially for merging.

License: Freeware and Shareware
Installation: Install & Portable
Date Added: November 15, 2006
Updated: February 22, 2012
I use this program: Once a year
PortableApps.com Version Available? yes

ReplaceText (formerly BK ReplaceEm)

This is a great regular expression based search & replace utility that will search through the text of multiple files & performer multiple search & replaces on them. One of the great things about this software is that you can save your search & replace strings for later use. Very handy for repetitive editing tasks, like cleaning up documents you get from someone else. The "Advanced Edit" tool also makes more complex search & replace tasks easier.

A shareware program that's similar, but more robust is TextPipe Pro.

License: Freeware
Installation: Install
Date Added: December 12, 2005
Updated: March 21, 2009
I use this program: Once a month

TextPipe Pro

TextPipe Pro is a very robust search & replace tool. I use it for times when ReplaceText isn't quite enough to get the job done.

License: Shareware
Installation: Install
Date Added: October 7, 2013

I use this program: Once a year

Security & Encryption

If you lost your laptop, what would the thiefs be able to find & do to you? You want to communicate with someone without big brother listening in. These are the tools you use.
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Blowfish Advanced CS

Sometimes you just need to encrypt a file so that you can open it later with a password rather than a keyfile, or to send to someone else to open with a password - or as in the case of Wikileaks, send it to the world to be opened with a yet-to-be-revealed password. Blowfish is the program you want to do this.

Update Jan 18, 2012: When working with this program, be aware that the unencrypted files are saved on to the disc - you can specify the directory & if you don't then it's stored in the computer's temp directory. So this isn't the program to use if you need to leave behind no fingerprints unless you want to securely wipe the file later. It's the program to use if you want to send an encrypted file to someone else, and to secure files if you're not particularly concerned with people finding the unencrypted version on your hard drive (or thumb drive or whatever) unless you securely wipe it.

License: Open Source
Installation: Install & Portable
Date Added: March 8, 2011
Updated: January 18, 2012
I use this program: Once a year

IgorWare Hasher

If you don't know what a hash is, it will take a bit of data (a file, some text) and return a brief value, called a digest. This digest can be used to ensure that the file hasn't been tampered with - just run the hash process again and the same value should come up. If a different value comes up, the file was tampered with. This isn't 100% foolproof (it is possible that two files may have return the same hash) but it's incredibly difficult to purposefully create two files with the same hash, and by using two different methods of creating/checking hashes it's nearly impossible. This is used to verify the integrity of files that are downloaded from the internet. The publisher of the file will put the hash on their website so that if you download it from another source, you can check against their published hash. It's not as good as a digital signature, but it's the next best thing. There are other uses for hashes, but that's the gist of it. This program will create & verify hashes for files & text.

Update December 23, 2011: If you need to create hashes for multiple files at once, HashMyFiles looks like a good utility to do this, though checking multiple files at once seemes more difficult.

License: Freeware
Installation: Portable
Date Added: December 6, 2011
Updated: December 23, 2011
I use this program: Once a year

Off The Record

OTR is a plugin that will encrypt your chat sessions. I use the Portable Pidgin OTR plugin.

License: Open Source
Installation: Install & Portable
Date Added: April 10, 2009

I use this program: Once a year

Password Safe

After a bug that caused the last letter of every username & password my girlfriend generated to not appear in Password Safe after upgrading from 1.7 to 3.0, I no longer recommend Password Safe. Rather, I recommend using an Outliner and Truecrypt. (We were eventually able to recover her passwords by using a backed-up version of her file & running Password Safe 1.7.)

License: Open Source
Installation: Install & Portable
Date Added: December 12, 2005
Updated: March 21, 2009
I use this program: Never

PicoCrypt

This is a simple, easy way to encrypt text to be decrypted later with just a password. There's a Windows version, but best of all a Java version that will work in the browser, allowing you to send encrypted text to anyone and expect that, if they have the password, they can decrypt it.

License: Freeware
Installation: Portable
Date Added: March 16, 2013
Updated: March 16, 2013
I use this program: Never

Pretty Good Privacy (PGP) and GNU Privacy Guard (GPG)

PGP is the grandaddy of all modern encryption. Using the same sort of technology that your browser uses to secure your credit card transactions (only much more powerful) it can encrypt your files & text so that only you, or only someone that you designate (who also has PGP) can open it. It also allows you to prove you are who you say you are or that you wrote something by digitally signing it.

PGP is for the somewhat advanced user - you have to be able to keep & protect a private key file that is essential for everything - encrypting, decrypting, and signing all of your files & messages (a truecrypt volume would be a prime candidate for this). GPG is an open source implementation of the PGP protocol and is fully compatible with PGP.

This is is maintained roughly in order of highest to lowest recommendation.
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gpg4usb

A portable version of GPG that currently supports encrypting & decrypting of text and files and signing & verifying (as of version 0.3.1). It's easy to use, portable and it seems stable. Run it in a Truecrypt volume to protect your private keys if anyone should gain physical access to your laptop. Put it & Truecrypt on a USB stick for portable security. At this moment I believe it only lacks a few advanced keyring features to make it feature complete, but should be great for ordinary usage. This is my current recommendation for sending and receiving encrypted or digitally signed files/messages. It's easy to use, stable and portable. If you need all the bells & whistles, then I recommend Gpg4win (see below)

License: Open Source
Installation: Portable
Date Added: December 12, 2005
Updated: October 7, 2013
I use this program: Once a month

Gpg4win

A freeware frontend to GPG that's pretty robust and easy to use. It's not portable, but if you need more advanced feature than gpg4usb can offer you, this would be my go-to program. (added December 6, 2011)

License: Open Source
Installation: Install
Date Added: December 7, 2011

I use this program: Once a year

PGPi.org

PGPi maintains a downloadable collection of the freeware versions of PGP. These are pretty old, but still work fine. I prefer these to the current version of PGP that installs a bunch of unnecessary software (PGP Disk) in the hopes that you'll buy it after a trial period.

License: Freeware
Installation: Install
Date Added: December 12, 2005
Updated: October 7, 2013
I use this program: Never

PGP

Apparently PGP was bought out by Syantec. I don't even want to bother trying to disentangle what product does what & in what ways it's been dumbed down/modified for corporate environments & licensing requirements.

License: Freeware and Shareware
Installation: Install
Date Added: December 12, 2005
Updated: October 7, 2013
I use this program: Never

PGP Disk

PGPdisk will encrypt a disk partition for you. While I prefer TrueCrypt for this (you can create small portable files that act like encrypted disks, and TrueCrypt is in active development) some of you may prefer PGP disk. The last freeware version is version 6 and is available from PGPi.org.

License: Freeware
Installation: Install
Date Added: December 12, 2005

I use this program: Never

GPG - GNU Privacy Guard

An open soure and fully compatible implementation of the PGP protocol, but only operates from the command line, so there are front-ends available that simplify running the program, but these mainly seem to be to interface to email clients. GPG is completely compatible with PGP protocols.

License: Open Source
Installation: Install & Portable
Date Added: December 12, 2005
Updated: October 7, 2013
I use this program: Never

TinyWall

A lightweight, free firewall for Windows. Finally.

License: Freeware
Installation: Install
Date Added: October 7, 2013

I use this program: Daily

TrueCrypt

TrueCrypt allows you to create encrypted files that act like drives, allowing you to store many file within them. I use TrueCrypt all the time at home and at work to store my most important documents (such as tax documents, password lists, etc.). It also has a "plausible deniability" feature that allows you to create hidden volumes - one password accesses one portion of the TrueCrypt volume, another password accesses another, hidden portion, so that if pressed for the password, you can give them a password. I use TrueCrypt every day to protecy my most important documents.

Update Jan 18, 2012: You can run Truecrypt from a USB drive, but you need admin rights in order to run it (something to do with the way it hooks into the file system to encrypt/unencrypt files on the fly).

License: Open Source
Installation: Install
Date Added: March 21, 2009
Updated: January 18, 2012
I use this program: Daily

Vernam Cipher

The Vernam Cipher is the only truly secure, uncrackable cypher. The only way to decrypt it is with the key - which you must transmit securely (e.g. offline) and use only once. It's similar to any substitution cipher in its simplicity. It's security comes from the fact that the key must be at least as large as the message and only used once. This website has a great explanation of the cipher, as well as a simple Windows program to encode/decode messages using it... generating a truly random key is up to the user though I could think of several methods of generating at least decently random data, but for the truly paranoid only a computer hooked up to a random external generator (the kind of thing online casinos do) will suffice. I include this in the list, not because I think my readers have such a need, but because it's an interesting concept & fun to tinker with. It's much less practical than the other programs in the list and as I said, only for the truly paranoid.

License: Freeware
Installation: Portable
Date Added: December 6, 2011

I use this program: Never

WireShark

You won't need this program a lot, but it can be used to analyze network traffic going into & out of your computer... for example I was able to configure it to create a chat log from software tht doesn't support chat logs. It can be useful in finding spyware as it tries to phone home & see exactly what is being sent.

License: Open Source
Installation: Install
Date Added: March 21, 2009

I use this program: Once a decade (emergencies)

Links

Want more? Here are a collection of links (last checked 4/4/2009 - it's amazing how many years some of these sites have been around) to places to find sofware with a similar philosophy.
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PortableApps.com
An excellent collection of "portable" apps (no install, will run from a thumb drive). They come with an (optional) "Start Menu" style launcher & the list of apps covers most basic computing needs. I may consider going here first next time I find myself starting over from scratch - a bit of a return to the glory days of programs that install into a single folder & don't hook themselves into other parts of your operating system, or check for updates non-stop. The focus here is on the basics, but they cover them well & everything works togethe (with their launcher) and is mature.

The Portable Freeware Collection
A massive collection of portable freeware programs, quickly becoming one of my go-to places for portable freeware.

EPIC Online Guide to Practical Privacy Tools

A good list of privacy-enhacing tools from the Electronic Policy Information Center (EPIC).



Date Added: October 7, 2013


AnalogX
Some of what you'll find inside: audio tools, internet utilities, articles, web tools, DirectX plugins, original MP3 music, MIDI software, and much more, all available to download for free!

CleanSoftware.org
"This software is believed to be free from nasties: adware, spyware, harmful/intrusive components, and threats to privacy. There are no sponsored entries."

CMD Tools
For everyone serious about the command line. (site seems down as of 4/4/2009)

DonationCoder.com
Lots of "freeware" and "donationware" software with revews and an active community.

Freeware Guide
Lots of good stuff here, and even have archives of abandonware that's no longer available.

FreewareFind
(currently closed)

gHacks Technology News
Tips & software for technology lovers.

Gizmo's Freeware Reviews
(formerly "The 46 Best-ever freeware utilities")

I want to: Web 2.0 applications, utilitie and resources
Web 2.0 applications and resources to help collaborate, communicate, discover, email, laugh, generate images, podcast, use multimedia, store photographs, use RSS, internet search, shop, create start pages, store information, time management, train, teach and do things with webpages and websites.

Jeffrey Vanneste's My list of useful tools/services

Karen's Power Tools
has a lot of cool stuff.

LOOP List
List Of Open-source Programs (LOOP) for Microsoft Windows Operating Systems. Maintained, interestingly, by the Ubuntu community to show the quality of open source products.

NirSoft
a unique collection of small and useful freeware utilities, all of them developed by Nir Sofer.

Nonags
"is the safest place on the Internet to download free software from. Before we list anything here we check for viruses, trojans, spyware etc. And even if we find something clean, it still has to pass our special "cheesetest" which for obvious reasons we do not publish exact specs."

Ohloh
A community for open-source projects & their fans. A good way to find the most popular open-source projects.

OldVersion.com
"because newer is not always better"

OpenDisc
(Formerly the Open CD) Similar to the LOOP list, the OpenDisc is a collection of free, open source programs for Windows - apparently with the intent of being downloaded, burned to CD and given to someone (or used for yourself) to replace a number of commercial software programs. There is an educational variant.

Open Source Windows
A small list of open source programs for Windows.

PenDriveApps.com
A rather extensive list of portable "pen drive apps."

PenDriveLinux.com
Bootable USB pen drive linux installation, which will theoretically allow you to bring your whole computing environment from computer to computer - provided you can boot from a Flash Drive.

Pricelessware Freeware
The best of the best in Windows Freeware, as determined by the readers of alt.comp.freeware

Scott Hanselman's Ten Tools in Ten Minutes
"a quick list of the tools I use to be productive"

SnapFiles
My go-to site for lots & lots of freeware & shareware.

Software hall of fame
An excellent list that I think compliments mine very well.

The "neat application I stumbled across on the web" thread (Ars Technica)

TinyApps.org
An aging catalog of tiny, well-made software primarily for the Windows platform (though Palm and OS X pages also exist) - very similar to my smallware list.

Top 100 Network Security Tools
(formerly the "Top 75 Network Security Tools", the name change is no doubt a sign of the changing times)

Useful Windows Software
Big list of useful windows software, collected from the SomethingAwful forums.

UtilityGeek
Diagnostic tools and utilities for your PC

winPenPack - Portable Freeware Collection
"winPenPack is an applications environment of Free Softwares, modified for being run and used from pendrive USB or any removable device, without need of installation." I think that means it's a way for programmers to make their existing apps portable - the upshot of which is that it gives us a nice useful list of portable software. Similar to PortableApps.com they provide a suite of programs that you can put on a pen drive & know that you have a good selection of software across the most commonly used types (like office tools, etc.).

page first created a very, very long time ago.


© Mark Wieczorek