Assorted Software

This page links to various applications not related to programming or typesetting, plus some notes on hardware. All programs run on any recent version of Microsoft Windows, unless otherwise noted. Also see the archived application articles on my weblog

Basic Setup

This section gives my recommendations for basic software and peripherals on Microsoft Windows and Apple iOS. Currently, my main Windows system is a Sony Vaio Duo 13. Outside of computers, I’m using a traditional audiophile setup for CD playback.

Book & PDF — On Windows, Adobe Acrobat sets the industry standard for PDF generation and rendering. Since version X the free Adobe Reader is reasonably fast, too. Just make sure to disable JavaScript which is Reader’s biggest security hole (Edit: Preferences: JavaScript).

On any desktop system, the free e-book manager Calibre can display and convert between all common formats, including Amazon’s proprietary Kindle format. An indispensable tool for non-Kindle readers, and quite useful for anyone with lots of e-books.

On iOS, Apple’s free iBooks may be adequate for occasional use, but you can do better if you don’t need iBooks Store access. Marvin by Appstafarian specializes in DRM-free EPUB and offers a great deal of options for reading, annotation, and organization, including synchronization with Calibre.

GoodReader by Good.iWare is excellent for PDF. Its renderer is not the fastest, and its somewhat obtuse UI is decidedly un-Apple-like, but its sheer amount of functionality is unmatched. Features include a versatile file manager with FTP transfer, two-page display on iPads, PDF watermark removal, and even a plain text editor.

Calculator – On Windows 7/8, the built-in calculator has all the features I need. On earlier Windows versions, the free Microsoft Calculator Plus provides the same functionality.

On iOS, the feature-packed PCalc is useful on iPhone and essential on iPad which inexplicably doesn’t come with its own calculator.

Compression7-Zip by Igor Pavlov is an open-source file packer that offers an extremely compact native compression scheme, but can also produce standard ZIP/GZip/BZip2 archives and unpack other formats. There’s a Windows GUI version, command-line versions for many other platforms, and a separate LZMA SDK (C/C++/C#/Java) to use 7-Zip’s native format in your own applications.

WinRAR by Alexander Roshal is a commercial file packer with GUI versions for Windows and Android, and command-line versions for FreeBSD, Mac OS-X, and Linux. WinRAR’s native compression scheme performs slightly worse than 7-Zip’s but the program supports many more flags and features. Free UnRAR programs are available for all supported platforms.

Images – On Windows, Paint.NET is a free image editor grown from a student project into a viable alternative to commercial applications such as Adobe Photoshop. While lacking their more esoteric features, Paint.NET is more than adequate for non-professional bitmap editing.

Some of Paint.NET’s missing features are supplied by plugins. dpy’s Pack provides custom text formatting and positioning, among others, while Simon Brown’s Plugin Pack (feature overview) supports custom brushes and animated GIFs/PNGs. Evan Olds’s Icon/Cursor Format Support creates Windows icon and cursor files. You can find more goodies for Paint.NET and other purposes on the websites of Simon Brown and Evan Olds, so browse around.

Mouse & Keyboard — The corded Logitech Gaming Mouse G500 is extremely precise, comes with hardware DPI selectors, and needs no drivers. You don’t have to use it for gaming, either!

On Windows, nothing beats the Microsoft Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000. Microsoft documents keyboard shortcuts for Windows Vista–8.1 (Windows 8.1 changes) and Internet Explorer 8–11.

On iPad, the Logitech Tablet Keyboard is excellent and comes with a folding case that doubles as an iPad stand. Apple’s key combinations for special characters are undocumented and often differ from Microsoft’s. Christoph Koeberlin has assembled a complete list of special characters on the English and German keyboard layouts for Mac and Windows.

Sound – On iPhone, the Sennheiser PMX 685i Sports are great in-ear headphones with remote control and microphone. Good volume, strong bass, sweat-proof for exercise, and reliably seated thanks to a rigid headband. The latter prevents use during bench presses or similar exercises, though.

On systems with a decent amplifier, the closed Sennheiser HD 380 Pro headphones yield excellent sound without waking the neighbors. They get somewhat hot and uncomfortable over time, though.

Other Software

Classic Shell by Ivo Beltchev recreates older Start menu styles and enhances Windows Explorer & Internet Explorer. That used to be a mere curiosity – until Windows 8 replaced the Start menu with an absurdly useless Start screen. Now Classic Shell is essential for Windows 8 and also Windows 8.1, at least if you don’t have a touch screen.

Clinometer by Peter Breitling employs the various motion sensors built into mobile devices to measure the three-dimensional inclination of any surface. Please see my review for more details.

IrfanView by Irfan Skiljan is a free viewer for graphics files, with some limited editing capabilities. Plug-ins for virtually all known graphics file formats exist, plus several animation and audio file formats.

Should you ever come across an image file not recognized by IrfanView, you might want to try XnView which is also free and supports another slew of obscure formats.

ISO Recorder by Alex Feinman writes the contents of an ISO file to a blank CD/DVD, a feature not built into Windows prior to Windows 7. The utility can create bootable disks and supports all recent 32-bit and 64-bit versions of Windows.

Macrium Reflect is a hard disk imaging and file backup utility that does everything Acronis True Image does, except faster and without the UI bloat. There’s even a perfectly usable free edition.

PassCreator generates random passwords for any desired length and set of acceptable characters. Steve Gibson’s Perfect Passwords is less convenient but more secure: pick your password from a random string of 63 characters.

Piriform offers several free system utilities, including CCleaner for deleting unnecessary files and obsolete registry entries, and Speccy for comprehensive system information.

Speed Commander by SpeedProject is a powerful two-pane Windows file manager in the Norton Commander mold. SC offers a native 64-bit implementation – a necessity on 64-bit Windows because 32-bit programs cannot access certain system directories and do not support 64-bit Explorer plugins.

Previously I had been using Total Commander by Christian Ghisler, but switched to Speed Commander because TC was 32-bit only for the longest time. Now that a 64-bit version is finally available, you might want to try Total Commander as well.

TrueCrypt provides strong encryption (AES-256 and others) for an entire partition or an arbitrary collection of files, accessible as a virtual disk. I haven’t tried partition encryption but file encryption works very well and is extremely easy to use. Great solution for keeping sensitive files hidden, even from users with administrator privileges or low-level disk monitors – or when storing data in a cloud service.

Virtual CloneDrive by SlySoft is an essential utility that mounts ISO files as virtual CD/DVD-ROM drives, a feature not built into Windows prior to Windows 8. The company also provides a number of commercial tools to deal with copy-protected disks.

WebLog Expert by Alentum Software is a powerful web log analyzer that’s extremely easy to use and fairly inexpensive compared to other commercial options. AWStats is a free alternative that’s much harder to set up and cannot show visitors per page, only global visitors and raw page hits.

Usage Tips

This section contains various tips on commonly used software, not necessarily recommended by me.

Adobe Flash Player is delivered by annoying download “helpers.” Here’s how to circumvent them: one well-hidden page provides direct downloads for Internet Explorer and other browsers, and yet another page links to the uninstaller.

Microsoft Word can exhibit incomprehensible formatting and numbering errors. Consult Shauna Kelly’s Word Help FAQ and the Microsoft Word MVP FAQ site to avoid this tragic fate, and for many other tips on styles and formatting.

Mozilla — For Firefox, NoSquint by Jason Tackaberry manages site-specific zoom levels and text colors. Stylish by Jason Tarnabe adds custom overrides to any website’s CSS style sheet.

For Thunderbird, Toggle Word Wrap by Kaspar Brand toggles word wrapping in the message windows. Import Export Tools by Paolo “Kaosmos” are much more powerful than the built-in facilities.

SearchGoogle Inside Search describes many powerful search functions that are invisible on the Google Search portal, thanks to the silly fashion of UI minimalism. Search Tips & Tricks groups features by category, and All Tips & Tricks shows them in one long list.

Tired of Google’s tracking & filtering empire? DuckDuckGo aggregates results from Microsoft Bing and other non-Google sources, shows “instant answers” from zero-click info sources, and most importantly does not store or transmit any personal data.

WordPress.org provides the most popular free software for self-hosted weblogs, mine included. I wrote a number of articles that cover my recommendations and experiences with Akismet, Google Analytics & Site Search, Jetpack, OpenGraph, Optimize Database, PubSubHubbub, WP Importer, WP Super Cache, and the Twenty Twelve theme.