Marc’s Indispensable Computer Tools List

Updated February 27, 2017 3:04 pm

Scott Hanselman has a well-known list of computer tools and utilities that I had the chance to see him present personally at a user group meeting a couple years ago. In the same spirit, here’s my own list of tools I consider indispensable and find myself frustrated if without. I think all skilled computer users, and certainly programmers, have favorite utilities; in fact I had a colleague who liked to ask about this as an interview question. My purpose in publishing this list is partly to have the list for my own reference, and partly to share my experience with others who would find it useful. I expect to make additions and changes over time.

A lot of these are open source tools for the simple reason that I like tools that I can install on any computer, home or work, without having to worry so much about licensing restrictions, purchase orders or the family budget; and I give preference to open source over free tools because they’re less likely to contain spyware, and more likely to be maintainable if the original author moves on to other projects. And now, without further ado, the list:

This is by no means a complete list and is very much “under construction”. Some parts are totally out of date! I expect it to fill out as I add things over time.

Windows

  • Ditto Clipboard Manager
  • Everything Search Enginevery fast find anything by file/folder name on your Windows hard drive.
  • Open Command Window Here PowerToy from Microsoft. Note that there are a number of interesting PowerToys on this page although this is only one I personally can’t live without.
  • Process Explorer
  • Unlocker deals with the very annoying situation of getting “access denied” messages in Windows and you can’t figure out why (more often because an unknown program is using the file, and not for any security reason which the simple meaning of the message implies to me).
  • diskmon by Jon Grieve puts a small pie chart of how much disk space you’re using in your system tray. I tend to install it on servers, and put a shortcut to it in the startup folder (under the start menu) so I can always have a quick read of whether to worry about disk space.
  • SequoiaView uses a “squarified treemap” to answer the question “why is your hard disk full?”
  • GnuWin32 has a lot of little utilities that no serious computer person should be without.
  • Or better yet, gow–GNU on Windows–will install a great selection of Unix-like tools for you.
  • Cygwin
  • Sizer

Web

  • Inline Search – gives Internet Explorer my favorite feature from Firefox.

Editors

  • Notepad++ – not perfect but my favorite free text editor of the moment.

Git

  • Git Extensions—I do most of my Git stuff at the command line, but like this in particular for viewing the history
    of individual files from a Windows shell extension.

Python

Python is my favorite computer language and while I haven’t done as many major projects using it as I’d like, I am constantly finding it a quick way to script little utilities.

  • Add Python to your Windows path: My Computer -> Properties -> Advanced -> Environment Variables -> Path -> “;c:\python25”. Or see the first part of these instructions.

Visual Studio