5 of 8Image
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?
Price: $35 to use on two PCs; $80 for a 5-PC family pack
This is one of those amazingly powerful little tools that I find myself using dozens of times a day. Back in 2008, I called it one of "my 10 favorite Windows programs of all time." Nothing has changed from this description I wrote nearly four years ago:
The idea behind ClipMate is simple: Anything you cut or copy to the Clipboard gets saved in the ClipMate database where it can be recalled any time. This makes it easy to perform on-the-fly backups. If you’re working in a web-based editor and you’re worried you might lose all your editing if you accidentally navigate away from the page, just press Ctrl+A, Ctrl+C. Now all your work is on the Clipboard and will stay there for at least a few weeks (you can configure the default sizes and mark some clips to be spared when others are purged).
ClipMate can also manipulate the contents of the Clipboard, changing formats or cleaning out unwanted cruft. Once you memorize a few keystrokes you can strip away almost any sort of formatting. Ctrl+Alt+B, for example, removes stray linebreaks from the current contents of the Clipboard, and Ctrl+Alt+T removes all non-text formats. Or you can use the Clean Up Text dialog box, which offers a few dozen more options.
ClipMate was last updated in 2009, but it's been solid and stable for me on many Windows 7 PCs, as it was on earlier Windows versions. It's one of the first programs I install when I set up a new PC. Don't let the price tag scare you off—it will pay for itself the first time you realize that a piece of work you thought had vanished into thin air is still there on the Clipboard.
This open-source project might be the geekiest tool on my list, but it’s one I use every day.
I have a PC and a Mac side by side on my desk, each with its own dedicated display. Switching between physical keyboards and mice is annoying. With this utility, I don’t need to think about which keyboard or mouse I’m using—I just move the mouse pointer to the edge of the screen and keep going. It effortlessly moves from the PC display to the Mac and back again. The keyboard follows its focus.
I run the Synergy server on Windows and the Synergy client on the Mac, but you can set it up in the other direction if you prefer. The hidden bonus of Synergy is that it also connects the PC and Mac clipboards, so you can copy a block of text or a link on the Mac and paste it into a program on the PC. Or vice versa.
Of course, you can also share between Windows PCs, and you can have an unlimited number of PCs if that strikes your fancy.
This one is always running.