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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  • ClipMate


    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.

  • Synergy


    Price: Free

    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.

  • Snagit


    Price: $50

    I have no idea how long I’ve been using Snagit. A long time, certainly more than a decade, probably more than 15 years. Version 1.0 debuted in May 1990—if SnagIt were a human, I could order it a round of drinks as a thank you.

    In my daily work, I capture a lot of screenshots. SnagIt offers an exceptional number of ways to customize those screenshots so they help me tell a story. They’re essential in a how-to article, but screen grabs can help tell a news story as well—the screenshots I’ve taken of malware in action on PCs and Macs have been valuable evidence.

    Snagit’s one of the few programs I run at startup. In fact, because it’s always running it’s second nature for me to just press PrtScr when I see an error message or anything out of the ordinary.

    And then there’s Snagit Image Editor, which lets me do the post-production work more easily. I use it to crop and resize images and to convert image formats. It’s easy to add circles, arrows, highlights, and annotations to an image, or to add effects like torn and faded edges in a cropped section of a screen.

    It’s hard to think of too many software companies that have survived as long as TechSmith. And yet this program feels modern. Snagit 10, the current version, was one of the first third-party programs to adopt the ribbon interface, for example.

    Maybe in three years I can write something about the 25th anniversary of Snagit.

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.
    • That used to be the case...


      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, is another indispensible (and free) tool I use every day - mostly for what you use SnagIt for.
    • 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.
      • 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:

        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 network as I do my other work. Now as an extension to my PC, I'll probably start using it for more productive work.

    • 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.
    • RE: My seven favorite Windows 7 utilities

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

        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.
    • 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.
  • 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)
    • Very easy


      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.
      • 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.
      • 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)?