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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Essential Windows Tools

When working, I like everything on my computer “just so.”  I want to do things quickly and with minimal mental overhead.  Here’s a list of (developer-centric) tools that make that possible:

  • VirtuaWin. This is hands-down the best virtual desktop manager for windows.  With a bit of tweaking, you can switch between desktops instantaneously by bumping your mouse pointer at the edge of the screen while holding down the control key. 
  • xplorer2. I use the free “lite” version.  Great features:
    • Tabbed views (just like your browser).  Keeps the taskbar clean.
    • Filter a directory listing quickly using ctrl-h. 
    • When in a folder, pressing F10 and enter starts a command prompt in that folder.  (With a bit more tweaking, get a cygwin bash prompt.)
  • Cygwin + minTTY.  If you spend time on the command prompt, it’s worth it to learn your way around bash.  And MinTTY’s native-windows interface – with fully resizable windows and transparency – is worth the price of admission alone.  I don’t use the built-in command prompt any more, and neither should you. Great features:
    • Color coded directory listings and grep results. 
    • Press control-r and search backwards through your command history.
  • Switcheroo. Yes, I wrote it, but what of it?  Switching between (and closing) running applications using incremental search keeps me from reaching for the mouse and breaking my concentration.
  • Slickrun.  A floating, auto-completing prompt that lets you quickly open programs, folders, and websites.  With some batch-script ingenuity, the possibilities are endless.  For example, I can type “vup” or “vdown” to quickly adjust the volume.  Or “newmail” to write a new e-mail in Outlook.  For most commands, I only have to type the first few letters. Set up tip: change the colors, make the font larger, and set it to autohide and chase your mouse cursor. 
  • Emacs. The One True Editor.  Learning it is a commitment, but worth it.  If you take the plunge, grab Ctrl2Cap and remap your caps lock key as another control key.  With a bit of setup, plays very well with Cygwin.
  • Winsplit Revolution.  Not as essential with Windows 7’s built-in window positioning, but the fusion mode is still great. 
  • Password Safe.  Securely encrypt a list of all your passwords.  Now you only have to remember one, which lets you online banking passwords more complex and harder to brute-force.  And you’ll stop using the same one everywhere.

I'm James Sulak, a software developer in Houston, Texas.

You can also find me on Twitter, or if you're curious, on my old-fashioned home page. If you want to contact me directly, you can e-mail comments@wordsinboxes.com.