My seven favorite Windows 7 utilities

My seven favorite Windows 7 utilities

Summary: Ed Bott is picky about the utilities he uses in Windows. This collection represents the utility software he installs whenever he sets up a new PC.

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  • Ninite

    Info/Download

    Price: Free

    When I first wrote about Ninite last year, I called it "fast, easy, and foistware-free." It's still all that.

    The top half of the screenshot above is a view from the Windows 7 Control Panel showing me the names and other details of 13 programs I installed today. The bottom half shows Ninite doing all the work for me. I wasn't pestered with annoying dialog boxes. No toolbars or unnecessary add-ins were slipped into the installation. I selected some boxes on a web page, clicked the Get Installer button, and ran that one executable file to install all 13 programs.

    The Ninite website now includes 85 apps in 12 categories. The company has remained true to its goal of making the installation process as easy and safe as possible for all the programs on that list. Ninite chooses the appropriate version for your system architecture, downloads the most recent copy, and installs it silently. You see a progress dialog box, but you don't have to do anything else.

    The Ninite installer upgrades programs if it detects than an older version is installed, and it skips the installation if the program is already up to date. This makes it a real timesaver whether you're setting up a new PC or cleaning up an old one.

    Did I mention it's free? 

  • Ninite Updater

    Info/Download

    Price: $9.99/year

    Yeah, the top two slots in my roundup come from the same company. That's how awesome Ninite is.

    Ninite Updater is a separate program that you can run on any Windows PC, regardless of whether you used the Ninite installer or not.

    It's a super-lightweight standalone utility that runs in the background and alerts you when updates are available for any of the programs it monitors. That includes widely used programs that are common targets of malware authors, like Flash, Adobe Reader, and Java.

    The tray icon turns from green to red when updates are available. Click the red icon to display a list of all programs that have an update available. Click the Update button to immediately download the update packages and install them silently , with no pestering of any kind.

    The program isn't free—it's $9.99 for one PC for a year, with family packs available at significant discounts ($50 for 10 PCs, which don't have to be in one location). If you support a business network, try Ninite Pro. 

  • 7-Zip

    Info/Download

    Price: Free

    7-Zip will never win any design awards. In fact, it looks like a throwback to an earlier era, when flat icons roamed the earth.

    But this open-source utility does its one job very well—helping you pack and unpack compressed files in just about any format, including ZIP and GZIP, TAR and ARJ, CAB, and DMG files. It also opens standard ISO disk images, Windows virtual hard drive files (VHD) and Windows Imaging Format (WIM) files used for OEM Windows installations.

    Oh, and it's just plain faster than Windows Explorer at the core task of unzipping a file.

    To recap: Free. Fast. Incredibly versatile. What more could you ask for?

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Topics: Windows, Operating Systems, Software

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  • RE: My seven favorite Windows 7 utilities

    I looked into Synergy 6 months ago. I would love to use it with my Mac and PC (hate the Mac keyboard) but it was too daunting to set up. I'm quite technically literate and it was too daunting for me to try.

    I completely agree with NiNite and 7-Zip. I would add Handbreak and SpaceMonger (especially since moving to a small SSD boot disk) to the list.
    DaleDietrich
    • That used to be the case...

      @DaleDietrich

      I used to have to manually install and tweak stuff. But now I just install and drag a monitor onto the screen and it works.

      Maybe I'll do a tutorial...
      Ed Bott
      • RE: My seven favorite Windows 7 utilities

        @Ed Bott

        I would love it if you did a Synergy tutorial. I watched several on YiuTube and they were either: 1. out of date; 2. Shown from the Mac host point of view; or 3. Just too confusing to follow. My setup is exactly like yours. I have a PC with 4 monitors and a Wacom Tablet attached. The Mac is a satellite PC that I use about 5% of the time. Would love to add it in as just another in my array of monitors.

        And, oh ya, Paint.net is another indispensible (and free) tool I use every day - mostly for what you use SnagIt for.
        DaleDietrich
    • Give Synergy another try

      @DaleDietrich I started using it years ago. It was exactly what I needed to jump between my machines. It's worth it to try again.
      happyharry_z
      • RE: My seven favorite Windows 7 utilities

        @Ed Bott : Synergy -
        After many years I am still using v.1.3.1 happily on a daily basis to operate 2 old Dell machines from one keyboard/mouse. Is there a more recent update which allows file/folder drag'n'drop yet?
        Ian Orlebar
      • RE: My seven favorite Windows 7 utilities

        @happyharry_z @Ed Bott

        Well, I did give it the old college try! I spent the better part of two days trying to get Synergy to work. I tried the newest betas, I tried the stable versions. I tried the various Apple GUI installers. I tried updating my Mac OS from Leopard to Snow Leopard. I tested them in every possible mode. I learned how to become a root user. I copied files to the bin directory on my Mac. I used the official install instructions (including using Terminal). I probably watched every Synergy tutorial there is on Youtube. And on and on and on. Hours upon hours of frustration. I officially gave up.

        MouseWithoutBorders is PC only and I needed a PC to Mac solution. So, I downloaded the trial version of ShareMouse:

        www.keyboard-and-mouse-sharing.com/

        I installed it on both computers and within a minute it was working! JEEZ!!! Why is Synergy so hard!!!!!!????

        Sharemouse has the added benefit that you can drag and drop multiple files files from any directory on one PC to any directory on the other.

        Sharemouse has a couple downsides:

        1. I have 5 monitors on my main rig set up like a cross. Three horizontally and one above and one below (the one below being a Wacom tablet). ShareMouse won't let me put the Mac monitor where it is (top to the left). Rather I have to drag out of the right or left side of my screens. I assume they will fix this one day. And its no huge biggie because there are also hot keys to jump from one rig to the other's monitor.

        2. While they advertise a free version, if you have more than one monitor on each PC you don't qualify. Power users don't qualify.

        3. The price is a bit steep for this kind of thing - $25 per computer. But after the hell Synergy put me through, I was happy to pay it.

        Anyway, I'm a happy customer and REALLY enjoy one keyboard and mouse running both rigs!

        Thanks Ed for kicking my butt and getting me to finally do this. I've always wanted a solution like this. I'll probably start using my iMac a whole lot more rather than having it be the ugly stepchild it has always been. I pretty much only use it to watch the Twit.tv network as I do my other work. Now as an extension to my PC, I'll probably start using it for more productive work.

        ...Dale
        DaleDietrich
    • RE: My seven favorite Windows 7 utilities

      @DaleDietrich <br><br>One thing I would recommend on both sides (client & server) is running in "Debug Mode", see if either the server or client is complaining about something. On the Windows server app there's a "Logging Level" set this to "Debug". I use the client on the Mac side and you can run it with the "-d" flag so that it spits out various output. This assumes you're comfortable with running a command line on the Mac, aka "Terminal". It's not hard, you just have to want it bad enough, i.e. have the inclination. Just Google "Mac OS X terminal tutorial" if that's one of your blocking points. I started using Synergy a decade ago and it's one of the most useful pieces of software that I still use from back then. A bunch of years ago at an employer some tech coworkers were mystified as to how I was moving between a laptop and desktop. I was quite amused since even as "IT people" they couldn't intuit what was be going on. Anyway, Synergy is awesome, that simple.
      betelgeuse68
    • RE: My seven favorite Windows 7 utilities

      @DaleDietrich
      I used to use Synergy but found Microsoft MouseWithoutBorders much easier to use. If you are only using two PCs then its a breeze.
      RTBart
      • RE: My seven favorite Windows 7 utilities

        @RTBart I've switch to Mouse Without Borders as well. Seems to be more reliable as well - I don't get the strange problems I did with Synergy quitting working for no reason.
        chadness
      • RE: My seven favorite Windows 7 utilities

        @RTBart What about Input Director? I've been using it for a while and find it extremely easy to use. Does MWB have more going for it?
        rkegel@...
      • RE: My seven favorite Windows 7 utilities

        @chadness That's probably because you were using a very old version. You should give Synergy another go. Download the latest version from here (tip: use 1.4, not 1.3): http://synergy-foss.org/
        nick.bolton.uk
      • Mouse Without Borders doesn't work with a Mac

        @RTBart i need my solution to work with a Mac. However I am exploring Share Mouse which promises to be better than MWB. We'll see. I wonder how difficult it is to install

        http://www.keyboard-and-mouse-sharing.com/index.html
        DaleDietrich
    • SnagIt is definitely the Bomb!

      @DaleDietrich I have also used SnagIt from as long ago as I can remember. As an IT person there isn't an easier tool around to snap a screen shot, point arrows to what you are talking about, insert text to make a point or circle items to draw attention to them and it is amazing how flexible, quick and easy it is to get your point across. Definitely one I would not want to be without!
      kandrolewicz2@...
      • RE: My seven favorite Windows 7 utilities

        @kandrolewicz@...
        You are spot on with your assessment of Snagit. I use it weekly and don't hesitate to "snag" a desktop pic when I get an error message I need to decipher. I have a folder of these that forms a great history.
        obans_rover@...
    • RE: My seven favorite Windows 7 utilities

      @DaleDietrich You were probably using 1.3. Try using 1.4 instead, it's much easier to configure.
      nick.bolton.uk
  • RE: My seven favorite Windows 7 utilities

    does the pay upgrade path for RoboForm make it totally worth it for your additional machines? (don't really care about extra full features for the original computer, just that very little effort is needed to go through the process all over again on other computers if it is registered with a user name that can sync passwords)
    Catapults
    • Very easy

      @Catapults

      You go to the RoboForm site, download a small exe, enter your web credentials, and it syncs your passwords to the new PC.

      It's really very easy.
      Ed Bott
      • RE: My seven favorite Windows 7 utilities

        @Ed Bott
        I was RoboForm for many years. But LastPass stole me away. Since I respect your opinion highly, would you recommend taking another look at RoboForm? I know LastPass is better (for my needs) than the RoboForm I left, but I don't know what has happened since.

        BTW: SnagIt is wonderful. I can tell from the comparisons made here that most people don't know what it does (for example, comparing it to the Win 7 Snipping Tool). I used to have lots of graphics tools. Now with the graphics engine in Office plus SnagIt all the expensive, complex graphic programs have disappeared from my systems.

        Thanks for your standout articles.
        keith.manning@...
      • LastPass Premium better for Android

        LastPass Premium won me over RoboForm because of Android support, as I need to use both a PC and an Android phone. The RoboForm app for Android is extremely primitive and limited at this point, and doesn't work with Dolphin, my favorite Android browser. LastPass for Android is much more mature, and it has a Dolphin plug-in.
        goyta
      • Will RoboForm input from Lastpass?

        @Ed Bott I've been using Last Pass for a couple years (on Paul Thurrott's recommendation). While I love what it does I very much dislike the clumsy interface. Ifi were to move to RoboForm would it input my multitude of login credentials from LastPass or will I need to retrain it from a scratch (which would be a major multi-week/month migration path)?
        DaleDietrich