This page contains links to various applications not related to programming or typesetting, plus some hardware reviews. All programs run on any recent version of Microsoft Windows, unless otherwise noted.
This section gives my recommendations for some basic I/O devices on Microsoft Windows and Apple iOS.
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.
Mouse, Stylus, Voice — On Windows, the corded Logitech Gaming Mouse G500 is well-shaped, extremely precise, comes with hardware DPI selectors, and needs no drivers. You don’t have to use it for gaming!
The iPad’s capacitive touchscreen supports drawing with your fingers or with a specially designed stylus such as the Wacom Bamboo Stylus, although neither method is very precise. On the software side, try GoodNotes for a comprehensive solution with PDF and Office annotation, or PenUltimate which is simpler but can integrate with EverNote.
If you prefer yelling at your iPad, More Fun With Siri Dictation by Jim Rhoades lists numerous voice commands for punctuation and text formatting that are recognized by Siri on iPhone and dictation on iPad. Any application with a text edit box should accept these commands.
Sound – On Windows, I’m using Sennheiser HD 380 Pro headphones connected to an Asus Xonar DGX sound card. Please see my review for more information and installation tips.
This section gives my recommendations for basic applications on Microsoft Windows and Apple iOS, as well as cross-platform web utilities.
Book & PDF — On Windows, Reading PDF Documents details my recommendations for PDF readers.
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 is adequate for e-book reading while 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, 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.
Compression — 7-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, official and unofficial 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 a Windows GUI version 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, including a security envelope that detects tampering. Free UnRAR programs are available for all supported platforms and more.
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 and photo editing.
Some of Paint.NET’s missing features are supplied by plugins. dpy’s Pack provides a variety of features, most importantly custom text formatting and positioning. Simon Brown’s Plugin Pack (feature overview) supports custom brushes and animated GIFs/PNGs, among others. 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.
On Windows, Mac, and any mobile platform, Skitch is very useful for adding highlights and annotations to otherwise unchanged pictures. The free application integrates with Evernote if present, but can also be used on its own. Please see my review for more details.
Note Taking — Evernote is a popular cross-platform note manager with basic text formatting, hierarchical tagging, and quick insertion of web content. Evernote supports Windows, Mac, and every mobile platform in existence. Please see my review for more details.
On Windows only, my previous favorite was myBase by Wjj Software. This “free-form database” has a clunkier interface than Evernote but quite a bit more features, so it’s worth a look if you don’t need mobile interoperation.
Search — Google 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.
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, at least if you don’t have a touch screen.
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.
PassCreator generates random passwords for any desired 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, Speccy for comprehensive system information, and Recuva to recover deleted files that are not (or no longer) in the Windows recycle bin.
Speed Commander by SpeedProject is a powerful two-pane Windows file manager in the Norton Commander mold. Unlike other popular NC clones, such as Total Commander and Free Commander, Speed Commander offers a native 64-bit implementation. This is a necessity on 64-bit Windows because 32-bit programs cannot access certain system directories and do not support 64-bit Explorer plugins.
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.
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 fate, and for many other tips on styles and formatting.
Mozilla Firefox & Thunderbird add-ons: For Firefox, NoSquint by Jason Tackaberry manages site-specific zoom levels and text colors; and 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 composition and HTML display windows; and Import Export Tools by Paolo “Kaosmos” are much more powerful than the built-in facilities.
As a basic example for Stylish, my Ars Technica Georgia style changes article text and forum posts from Arial to Georgia. (Simply copy the text into a new blank style.) Also note that Stylish features a custom sidebar – which is only accessible through “View: Sidebar: Stylish” in the main menu, which is disabled by default in recent Firefox versions!
WordPress.org provides the most popular free software for self-hosted weblogs. I wrote a few articles that cover my plugin recommendations and customization experiences: my weblog move, some theme tweaks, a problem with statistics, and its resolution.