My primary desktop computer runs Windows XP, although I spend a lot of my time working on Linux and MacOS systems as well.  To make XP more tolerable, I keep a bunch of free or inexpensive utilities close at hand.  Most of these get carried on CD or memory stick to assist in troubleshooting other people’s computers too.

  • Adobe Reader — I wish more people would just use HTML, but PDF beats .doc any day.  The good news is that Adobe Reader 7.x is much better than 6.x.
  • Ethereal — A good, free network capture/protocol analyzer that understands a huge number of protocols.  Not the easiest application to use but indispensable when you need it.
  • HijackThis — Scan your system for browser hijackers (a form of spyware), hidden programs that run at startup, etc.  Free but donations are accepted.
  • ID Serve from Gibson Research. — Probe any web server and find out what software it is running. Quicker and easier than launching Ethereal.
  • MWSnap — An excellent screen capture utility.  Free but donations are accepted.
  • pdf 995 — Create PDF files in any application that can print.  Free with ads displayed each time you use it or $9.95 U.S. (hence the name pdf 995)
  • Process Explorer — Look under the covers and see what processes are running, which shared libraries are open and who is using them, etc.  Free.  Be sure to check out the other tools from Sysinternals.
  • PuTTY — An excellent SSH and telnet client.  Lean, mean, and robust.  Free, but donations are accepted.
  • Spybot Search & Destroy — Track down and eradicate spyware and other unwanted programs.  I rarely feel the need to scan my own system but I always use Spybot when friends and family members ask me to help fix their Windows computers.  Slightly quirky user interface.  Free but donations to support development are encouraged.
  • VIM — A robust, fast, full-featured text editor that runs on many platforms.  Contributions to charity or to support development are encouraged.
  • WinZip — One of the best archive managers and compression utilities.  $29 U.S.
  • ZoneAlarm Security Suite — I wish I did not need this, but on Windows a firewall and antivirus utility are essential.  Retails for $69.95 U.S. but I paid much less than that (competitive upgrade promotions and other “special offers” seem to be part of the security suite business culture).

That’s enough for now.  Another time I will write about full fledged desktop and web-based applications I can’t live without.