Tuesday, May 22, 2007

What's in your toolbox?

Summary: Continuously updated list of excellent Windows freeware tools.

Update: For the categorized list of my favorite freeware tools and utilities, see the Essential freeware for Windows post.

As a true software junkie, I'm always looking for new tools and utilities. Every time I stumble upon a piece of software, which offers at least a vague promise of helping me in a daily battle with computer (or another piece of software, namely, OS, IDE, etc), I have to install it.

Unfortunately, most software I install belongs to a category called crap. The desktop lifespan of a typical tryware on my system is about 10-20 minutes, the time it takes to complete the installation, launch the program, and, after a few minutes of frustration, reach for the Add or Remove Programs panel.

Although I feel the urge to start ranting about bad software (what makes software bad, why it is so pervasive, and so on), let me do something useful and mention the applications, which I actually like. In fact, I think that these apps are so good that I carry their binaries (or setup files) on a flash drive attached to my keys for easy reach.

Here is the list of my favorite FREE* software tools and utilities:

1-Click Answers is a must-have application for English learners, but it can also come in handy for many native speakers. The program can be used on any word displayed in any window (with few exceptions, such as windows' titles) to check spelling, to show the word definitions, explanations and facts (biographies, tech terms, geography, pop culture, etc), to translate the word into different languages, and to pronounce the word. (Note: To display the information, make sure that 1-Click Answers is running, press the ALT key, click on a word using the left mouse button, and release the ALT key; the informational popup window will appear after you release the ALT key.)
Advanced Renamer allows you to rename multiple files (or folders) at once. It can use several methods for building the new names, e.g. by adding, removing, replacing, changing case, or giving the file a brand new name based on known information about the file. The program can also change file attributes and timestamps.
AIMP2 is a capable audio player with many options including Unicode support, multilingual interface, audio grabber, audio converter, tag editor, and more.
allSnap will be appreciated by neatness freaks like me. It allows you to align top level windows (a'la WinAmp).
Amok DVD Shrinker can reduce the size of a DVD up to one fifth of the original size without any noticeable quality reduction, so it can be burned on a "normal" 2.5 GB or 4.7 GB DVD-R. Although it does not remove copy protection, Amok DVD Shrinker is reported to work faster than DVD Shrink.**
Ashampoo Burning Studio Free 6.6 is a very capable CD/DVD/Blue-ray burner (and ripper), which offers more features and better GUI than most (free) burners, such as ability to set burning speed, number of copies to burn, and more (DVD Decrypter/ImgBurn are still my favorites, though).
Audacity is a well-known audio editing tool, which can record sounds, edit and mix tracks, add sound effects (bass boost, equalizer, and others), remove background noises (static, hiss, hum), remove silence, import/export audio files to/from different formats. To edit MP3 files in Audacity, you will need to install LAME.
Audiograbber can be used to rip music files from CDs and convert them to different audio formats, such as WAV, MP3, and WMA. In addition, Audiograbber can normalize audio files in a play list, remove silence from audio tracks, split, join, and fade audio files, and do a few other things. Keep in in mind that the built-in MP3 encoder produces audio of very poor quality, so you're recommended to install an external MP3 encoder, such as LAME. For additional information about using LAME in Audiograbber, read my MP3 Encoding Primer post.
AudioShell is a Windows Explorer shell extension (plug-in), which allows you to view and edit music tags directly in Windows Explorer.
AusLogics Disc Defrag can defragment disc drives better than Windows Disc Defragmenter.
AutoCollage is a product of Microsoft Research. It allows you to create collages of your photos (or pictures) in a few clicks of a mouse.
AutoRuns shows which programs start automatically during system boot up or login in the order Windows processes them. These programs include ones in the startup folder, Run, RunOnce, and other Registry keys. You can configure Autoruns to show other locations, including Explorer shell extensions, toolbars, browser helper objects, Winlogon notifications, auto-start services, and much more. Autoruns' Hide Signed Microsoft Entries option helps you to zoom in on third-party auto-starting images that have been added to your system and it has support for looking at the auto-starting images configured for other accounts configured on a system. Autoruns comes with both a GUI tool and command-line utility, which work on all versions of Windows (including 64-bit versions).
Avanquest Connection Manager can automatically adjust laptop settings -- printers, email, disk drives, etc. -- for each defined network connection; this is handy if you travel between different job sites, or use your laptop at work and at home.
BurnAware Free is a simple utility to burn disks: CDs, DVDs, and Blu-ray.**
Buzzsaw On The Fly Defragmenter allows you to defragment your drive while you work.
Caffeine can be used to temporarily disable screen saver, e.g. when watching a movie.
CAPshift extends the Caps Lock key by slowing it down, and shows a menu to change the selected text to lowercase, UPPERCASE, TitleCase, iNVERTEDcASE, RaNDoMCaSE or to Replace user defined characters. To use, select text and hold the Caps Lock key for a few seconds.
CDBurnerXP Pro performs most typical CD/DVD burning and ripping tasks. [I wish it could copy disks in one operation.]**
CCleaner is a system cleaning utility. It removes unused files, unneeded and corrupted registry entries, allowing Windows to run faster and freeing up valuable hard disk space. Some recommend setting CCleaner to not delete cookies or pre-fetched data.
CDex is an open source digital audio CD extractor, which offers a set of nice features, such as ability to automatically insert ID3 tags during ripping, support for most common audio formats, and more.
ClipX is a clipboard manager, which holds entries from your clipboard history so that you can easily copy them between applications.
Clip2Net offers an easy way to share screenshots and files. It will host up to 500 MB of files in your free online account, or keep them in a temporary location (if you are uploading files anonymously) for 5 days. Clip2Net also provides a free screen capture tool.
CubicExplorer is a better alternative to Windows Explorer. It offers many nice features not available in Windows Explorer, such as natural sort, ability to copy file paths, folder bookmarks for quick access, tabbed views, command prompt shortcut, and more.
CyberShredder lets you erase confidential files from your computer permanently. CyberShredder overwrites the space occupied by a file with random data, so it cannot be recovered.
Daemon Tools acts as virtual CD/DVD-ROM drive emulator. Using this utility, you can mount an ISO image file as a virtual disk drive without having to burn it on a CD or DVD. I also recommend awxDTools, which is a shell extension for DAEMON Tools v4.x (notice that it's available in 32-bit and 64-bit versions). The awxDTools add-on creates the mount and unmount context menu options, which appear when you right-click on an image file. Daemon Tools is free for home use only.
Ditto an extension to the standard Windows clipboard, which saves each item placed on the clipboard and allows you to access any of those items at a later time. Ditto supports different data formats including plain text, rich text, HTML text, images, bitmaps, and more. This program looks like a good alternative to ClipX.
doPDF creates PDF documents from Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and other document formats (including HTML). You can also use this utility to save changes to PDF forms, which normally do not allow saving changes. doPDF installs itself as a virtual printer driver, so it will appear in your Printers and Faxes list. To create or save changes to PDF files, you have to print your documents to the doPDF converter (instead of a regular printer). doPDF will ask you where to save the PDF file and when finished, the PDF file will be automatically opened in your default PDF viewer. doPDF does not seem to work from a remote desktop window (in a terminal server session).
Double Killer finds and removes duplicate files.
DriveMax allows you to download the latest driver updates for Windows Vista and Windows XP, so you do not need to search for rare drivers on discs or on the web after rebuilding the system. Just create a free account, log in, and start downloading the updates that you need. You can also export all your current drivers (or just the ones that work) to a folder or a compressed file. After reinstalling Windows you will have everything in one place.
DVD Catalyst Free can convert video files to formats playable on portable devices, such as iPod, iPhone, Zune, etc.**
DVD Decrypter is a classic DVD ripping tool. According to some sources,
"Macrovision Europe [...] has acquired full rights to the DVD Decrypter software and [has] changed its licensing terms. Effective immediately, they have decided to withdraw all distribution rights from all third party companies[...] Thus, distributing DVD Decrypter is now as illegal as it would be to distribute cracked copies of Windows operating system or pirated copies of games."
If this is true (and it must be), soon you may not be able to find DVD Decrypter online.**
DVDFab HD Decrypter removes copy protection from DVDs when copying them to hard drive.**
DVD Shrink is capable of re-authoring, decoding, and re-encoding DVDs. With DVD Shrink, you can select compression level for each video track separately to obtain the desired disc size (which is usually below 4.38GB). The software can produce either an ISO image of the ripped DVD, or a VIDEO_TS folder for further processing, viewing or burning.**
EasyCleaner cleans up Windows registry (entries pointing nowhere) and file system (temporary, backup, or duplicate files). It shows disk space usage data and fixes startup programs, invalid shortcuts, and the add/remove software list.
EncSpot will tell you what is wrong with your lousy-sounding MP3 files. It can guess which encoder was used to encode each MP3 file in your collection. It will also give you a general idea of the audio quality of the file. The Pro version of EncSpot is now available free of charge.
ePassportPhoto is a Web-based tool (so you do not need to install it), which can generate image files for printing passport photos, and photos for other state and government documents, such as immigration forms. Just ask someone to make a picture of you against a white (or off-white) background (make sure you follow the U.S. government guidelines), use an image editor to fix colors, exposure, contrast (if needed), upload the resulting image, and use ePassportPhoto to crop and replicate the part suitable for printing on a standard 4x6 photo paper. If you are planning to use ePassportPhoto, check my Free passport and document photos post, which provides some helpful tips.
Eraser allows you to completely remove sensitive data from your hard drive by overwriting it several times with carefully selected patterns.
Exact Audio Copy rips music (and other audio) from CDs and DVDs correcting errors left out by other audio grabbers. It also comes with a simple sound editor allowing to enhance the quality of uncompressed (WAV) audio files and a rudimentary CD burner. Similar to Audiograbber, Exact Audio Copy requires installation of external MP3 encoder.**
FileBox eXtender adds a couple of buttons to Windows Explorer's title bar, system tray, File Save As and File Open dialogs, which allow you to quickly switch to a favorite or recently accessed folder (you need to define favorite folders before they appear in FileBox eXtender).
FileSplitter can be used to split files to multiple chunks and then merge these chunks into a single file.
FileZilla is an FTP client (server is also available), which works across firewalls and supports SSL, drag-and-drop, custom commands, and other options.
Firefox Preloader load parts of Mozilla Firefox into memory before it is used to improve the its startup time. While it's a bit taxing on the system memory (and can delay the Windows login process), Firefox Preloader can in fact decrease the Firefox startup time. Note: When using Firefox Preloader, remember to unload it when installing (or uninstalling) new extensions or peforming other tasks requiring Firefox restart.
FlashFolder is a small toolbar that docks onto the Windows’ "Open/Save" and "Browse for Folder" dialogs. It provides a number of functions including the ability to bookmark and quickly access favorite folders, as well as quick access to recently used folders.
Flexible Renamer can rename files using various rules. The program has a nice feature: live preview.
FolderBox is a Windows Explorer extension, that displays additional folders in the lower part of Explorer, so that you can open two folders at once.
FotoSizer is a simple batch image resizing tool, which can resizes photos in 3 easy steps.
Free Commander is a light-weight file explorer/manager, which offers certain functions missing in Windows Explorer, such as dual panel with tabs, built-in file compression tool, file splitter, folder comparison and synchronization, and more. One major limitation of Free Commander is lack of Unicode support, which (being bilingual) is a deal breaker for me.
Free Download Manager makes the process of downloading large (or multiple) files easier and faster. You can pause and resume downloads, schedule downloads at specific times, download entire sites, limit the download speed, and use a number of other tweaks.
Gadwin PrintScreen can capture screenshots better than Windows. For example, Gadwin PrintScreen can capture the mouse cursor, overlapping application windows, and partial screens. It can also save captured screen directly to a file.
GOM Player is light-weight media player which supports most popular codecs and offers a few niceties such as ability to play broken AVI files and files that are still being downloaded, WinAmp plug-in support, screen capture, and more.
GNUCash is personal and small-business financial accounting software, which allows you to track bank accounts, stocks, income and expenses.
Google Hacks allows you to perform specific kinds of searches: music, books, lyrics, tools, and more. (Note: For a Web-based alternative, see Filoogle.)
Hide Desktop is a nice little utility which hides desktop icons when the mouse is elsewhere.
HP Smart Web Printing allows you to print clips from multiple web pages as a single page. The program, which integrates with Internet Explorer and Firefox, supports any printer (not just HP).
Iconix eMail ID can help you detect email spoofs. It verifies email senders against the list of senders registered with ICONIX, Inc., and once an email has passed authentication and identification steps, it displays a Truemark icon next to the message in your inbox. The program works with most popular email clients (Outlook, Outlook Express, etc) and web-based email providers (GMail, MSN Hotmail, Yahoo! Mail, etc).
ImgBurn is a lightweight, yet powerful CD/DVD/ HD DVD/Blu-ray burning application. It supports a wide range of image file formats (including BIN, DI, DVD, GI, IMG, ISO, MDS, NRG and PDI), Unicode folder/file names, all the Windows OS's (Windows 95, 98, Me, NT, 2000, XP, 2003 and Vista, including the 64-bit versions). ImgBurn has several advanced features that are often lacking in other tools.**
InfoTag Magic is a shell extension that provides informational tooltips on mouse-over for audio files, quick tooltip previews for text files (TXT, INI, LOG, BAT, DIZ, BAK, and QUE), tooltip information on the properties of windows shortcuts, and tooltip version information for EXE, DLL, and OCX files.
InfraRecorder is a nice and clean CD/DVD recorder. InfraRecorder is one of very few free burners, which can create disc copies on the fly (using a temporary disc image).**
IZArc is an archive utility supporting many archive formats and most compressed and encoded files. It allows you to drag and drop files from and to Windows Explorer, create and extract archives directly in Windows Explorer, create multiple archives spanning disks, build self-extracting archives, repair damaged zip archives, convert from one archive type to another, view and write comments, and do more. IZArc also supports command-line interface.
Jing as a screencast and screenshot software, which also offers free hosting (2GB of storage and 2GB of bandwidth/transfer).
John's Background Switcher periodically changes the wallpaper on your computer. You can specify how often to change pictures and where to get the pictures from (your computer, Flickr, Phanfare, or Yahoo! photo search).
Juice is a podcast receiver, which can be scheduled to download your favorite podcasts when they become available online.
Ka Type In lets you define frequently used text snippets. The application will auto-complete your text entries once you enter the first few characters and hit a hotkey, such as Ctrl+;. You can also define variable placeholders in the snippet templates, in which case the program will prompt you to enter the values before pasting the snippet.
KeePass Password Safe helps you manage passwords in a secure way. You can put all your passwords in one database, which is locked with one master key, so you only have to remember one single master password. The database is encrypted using the best and most secure encryption algorithms currently known.
KMPlayer is a very capable media player which can handle most types of audio and video files without the need to install additional codecs.
Launchy designed to help you forget about your start menu, the icons on your desktop, and even your file manager. Launchy can launch your documents, project files, folders, and bookmarks from the indexed folders (predefined and/or customized) with just a few keystrokes. It can also perform simple calculations.
Lingoes is an easy-to-use dictionary and text translation software, It offers lookup dictionaries, text translation, cursor translator, index list and pronunciation of word in over 60 languages. These language are English, French, German, Spanish, Russian, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Italian, Portuguese and more.
Magic Boss Key will hide open windows (and also desktop icons and taskbar) with a stroke of your keyboard or mouse. When you hit the shortcut again, every window Magic Boss Key will restore windows to its previous state (although it will screw up the order of items in the taskbar).
MagicDisc, offered by MagicISO, is a virtual CD/DVD manager, which allows you to map ISO images files as virtual disc drives.
Media Coder converts audio and video files to different formats.
Mega MP3 Splitter is a simple audio editing utility that can split an MP3 file into multiple segments (tracks). It is handy for dividing long radio shows or mixes. Unlike other MP3 splitters, this program is extremely easy to use: just load the MP3 file, and set the breakpoints. There is no installer or documentation, though, and the current (beta) version leaves all tag fields blank.
Miranda is an instant messenger (IM) client which supports all popular instant messaging protocols including AIM (AOL Instant Messaging), Google Talk, ICQ, Jabber, MSN, Yahoo, and others. With Miranda, you no longer need to install and run multiple IM clients.
Monkey's Audio can be used to compress audio files without loss of quality. Unlike traditional audio compression algorithms, such as MP3, which permanently affects sound quality, Monkey's Audio compresses files in such a way that you can convert them back the original (uncompressed) files. You can think of Monkey's Audio as WinZip for audio. Several audio players and rippers, including Windows Media Center and WinAmp, support Monkey's Audio.
MP3 Album Maker by Make it One will merge/pack/join MP3 files in a single file. This is helpful for converting multiple audio tracks into a single podcast file.
mp3DirectCut is an audio editor and recorder for MP3 files. You can directly cut, copy, paste or change the volume with no need to decompress your files. This saves encoding time and preserves the original quality, because nothing will be re-encoded. I use mp3DirectCut to split large MP3 files, such as long podcasts, to smaller files.
MP3Gain analyzes and adjusts MP3 files, so that they have the same volume. MP3Gain does not just do peak normalization, as many normalizers do; instead, it does some statistical analysis to determine how loud the file actually sounds to the human ear. Also, the changes MP3Gain makes are completely lossless. There is no quality lost in the change because the program adjusts the MP3 files directly, without decoding and re-encoding. Some users recommend increasing the volume of the files to 95.5 dB for pop/rock/dance and 91.5 dB for classical/jazz/spoken word (see Justin's comments submitted on January 21, 2006 11:53 AM).
Mp3Tag is a powerful and yet easy-to-use tool to edit MP3 tags and other metadata (ID3, Vorbis Comments, APE) of common audio formats. It can rename files based on the tag information, replace characters or words from tags and filenames, import/export tag information, create playlists, and more. The program supports online freedb database lookups for selected files, allowing you to automatically gather proper tag information for select files or CDs.
MP3/Tag Studio provides an easy interface for MP3 tag manipulation. You can rename MP3 files based on their tags, change tags based on file names, copy data between tag fields, clean up custom tags, repair variable bit rate (VBR) headers (which is a common issue for MP3s using VBR), and perform a number of other operations. (Note: I tried this application several times and in all cases ended up uninstalling it. The last time I tried to use it to fix the VBR headers, but it did not work on all files; it also seemed to add noises to MP3 files, but I haven't verified it.)
mpTrim is a simple audio editor which works directly on MP3 files. It can remove silent or unwanted parts, adjust and normalize the volume, fade-in/fade-out (to fix abrupt beginning/ending), and do other things. See also WavTrim. Notice that the free edition of mpTrim has a limit on the maximum size of MP3 files, which significantly limits its usefulness (e.g. it refused to load a 10-minute 64-bit-encoded podcast).
nCleaner (free for non-commercial use only) allows you to clean your system, free disk space, and boost your system's speed.
Net Profiles eliminates the need to manually reconfigure network settings when moving laptop to different locations. Once a profile is created, Net Profiles can configure your IP settings, proxy settings, mapped drives, default printer, wallpaper, and screen resolution with a click of a button. It can also run any number of user-defined applications upon activation of a profile.
Notepad++ is a multi-document text editor, which can be used as the Notepad replacement. Notepad++ supports syntax highlighting for several programming languages (C/C++, Java, C#, XML, HTML, PHP, CSS, ini files, batch files, JavaScript, ASP, VB/VBS, SQL, and others), syntax folding, auto-completion, regular expression search and replace, drag-and-drop, split views, file status auto-detection, zoom in and zoom out, bookmarks, brace and indent guideline highlighting, macro recording and playback, and numerous other features. The default installation of Notepad++ may be missing spell checker, but you can install it as a plug-in (other plug-ins are also available). You need to copy the plug-in DLL to the Notepad++ plugins directory (normally, c:\Program Files\Notepad++\plugins). Configuration steps may be required, e.g. spell checker requires GNU Aspell binaries and dictionaries. [Updated on 6/27/2007: I tried to replace text based on a regular expression replacement -- removing new line characters; specified '$' as the search expression to indicate end of line -- and it failed saying that the format of expression is invalid; well, it worked fine in PSPad, so I'm switching to it now.]
Paint.NET is a photo editor which is much easier to use than GIMP. It supports many common image editing features, including resizing, rotation, levels, adjustments (brightness, contrast, hue, saturation, curves, levels), special effects (blurring, sharpening, red-eye removal, distortion, noise, embossing), and more. Paint.NET requires .NET 2.0 (or later).
PDF Tools can merge, split, reorder, encrypt, decrypt, rotate, crop, reformat PDF files. You can use PDF Tools to define headers, footers, insert watermarks, convert images to PDF and PDF to images, delete/flatten/list form fields, and more.
PDF-XChange Viewer is a better alternative to the Adobe Acrobat Reader, which is not only faster, but more capable. It allows you to fill and save forms, export text, images and add content to PDF files, type on PDF documents, and much more. (Note: When printing documents with typed over text, make sure you select the Print Markups option in the Print dialog box.)
Piky Basket simplifies the task of copying or moving files from different locations to a single folder. The program provides a context menu available in Windows Explorer (or an alternative file manager), using which you can add files to a virtual basket; once you are done, simply copy or move these files to a specified location.
Pismo File Mount lets you mount ZIP files, ISO images, and folders as virtual drives. E.g. to access files in an archive (ZIP file), instead of extracting them, you can mount the ZIP file, and its contents will look like contents of any other drive on your system.
Pitaschio (yes, I spelled it right) is a somewhat weird utility, which -- among other things -- can tell you the current age of the Moon. For those more interested in Earthly matters, Pitaschio offers such features as ability to snap a window to other windows when moving and resizing, disabling the Insert and other keys, and more. I particularly like the option to control the sound volume using the mouse, and ability to mute and unmute the sound via a double-click on the desktop.
PrimoPDF is similar to doPDF, but it has extra niceties, such as ability to merge and append PDF files upon conversion. Unlike doPDF, PrimoPDF works over terminal server sessions.
PSPad is another excellent text editor, which can be used as a Notepad replacement. It has a built-in spell checker, and a few features developers would appreciate, such as syntax highlighting, macro recorder, hex editor, HTML preview, and much more.
Q10 is a minimalist text editor, which lets you concentrate on writing (once running Q10, press the F1 key to view the list of hotkeys and menu options).
QuickTime Alternative allows you to play QuickTime files (.mov, .qt, .3gp, etc.) without having to install the official QuickTime Player. It also supports QuickTime content that is embedded in web pages. After switching to QuickTime Alternative, I no longer get annoying daily pop-ups prompting me to update QuickTime and sneak in its Safari web browser (or iTunes).
RadarSync finds and install the correct updates for programs and device drivers installed on your computer.
Real Alternative allows you to play RealMedia (.ra, .rm, etc.) files without having to install RealPlayer/RealOne Player (I do not like Real players because their free versions are a bit heavy on advertising).
RegSeeker is a registry and file system cleaner. RegSeeker includes a tweaks panel for OS performance optimization.
ReNamer provides an easy interface for renaming files.
ReSysInfo is a system information viewer for Windows. The tool has 25 total information modules: BIOS information, CMOS, desktop, DirectX, drives, environment, fonts, keyboard, locale, machine & APM, mainboard, MCI, memory, mouse, multimedia, network, OpenGL, passwords, ports, printers & fax, processes, processor, video system, general information about Windows and a summary. The tool supports most of the latest technologies: SMBIOS/DMI, AGP, PCI, PCI64/66, VESA, EISA, MCA, PCMCIA, CardBus support, full DirectX support (DirectDraw, Direct3D, DirectSound, DirectMusic, DirectPlay, DirectInput), OpenGL support and detection, processor detection for most processors currently available on the market. ReSysInfo has a report wizard which can export the information to 3 different formats: plain text, HTML and XML.
Revo Uninstaller helps you keep your system clean by removing unwanted applications including the ones which have been corrupted and which cannot be uninstalled via the Add or Remove Programs Control Panel. In addition, it can prevent program from auto-starting, find and remove unnecessary files from your computer, erase Web site history, visited pages history, and temporary Internet files, remove recently opened files history, delete temporary files, remove tracks and history saved by Windows, erase files and folders forever, make sure already deleted files, folders and other data are unrecoverable.
RunScanner can detect all programs that start automatically, including spyware, adware, and homepage hijackers. It offers, Authenticode signature analysis, built-in Google search, VirusTotal, FileAdvisor and CastleCops integration, which allow you to compare the MD5 hash of your files with their respective online databases.
Search Commands is an add-in, which can help you find commands, options, wizards, and galleries in Microsoft Office 2007 Word, Excel and PowerPoint. Just type what you’re looking for in your own words and click the command you need. Search Commands also includes Guided Help, which acts as a tour guide for specific tasks.
SecureZIP is a WinZIP-like compression utility, which can also encrypt e-mail messages and attachments, generate self-extracting files, and perform other more advanced tasks, such as launching a specified program after extracting files from an archive. According to the Web site, a free version of SecureZIP v.11 is offered for a limited time. Other compression tools: ZipGenious, 7-zip.
SpeedLaunch allows you to create aliases and shortcuts for frequently used websites, applications, files, and so on, so you can open them faster. Drag-and-drop support makes creating shortcuts really easy.
Stickies allows you to create virtual notes on the desktop.
Super is one of -- if not -- the most comprehensive audio and video conversion tools, which supports many formats including DivX, XviD, Flash, MP1, MP2, MP3, MP4, OGG, AAC, Real Audio, WAV, WMA, and many others. It comes with a media player and all necessary codecs. Super can decode/encode audio and video files from/to different formats and save Internet media streams to local files. Some users posted a few complaints about the tool, the setup is not particularly small, and it takes forever to download, so I would not recommend installing it unless you really need to use certain features and cannot find a better alternative. [I have not used this application, yet. Just added a reference in case I need it.]
Taskbar Shuffle is a memory-resident program (with a reasonably small footprint), which lets you rearrange taskbar buttons and system tray icons via drag-and-drop. If you want to achieve the same functionality without running a memory-resident program, try Nicholas Butler's Taskbar Sorter (I have used this one for quite a while) or Mike Lin's TaskBar Commander (I haven't tried this one, yet).
TCExplorer provides an interface to import and export files from encrypted containers protected by TrueCrypt without requiring administrative privileges.
Texter can replace abbreviations with the commonly used phrases. Texter works similar to AutoHotKey, but is easier to use. For example, you can define an abbreviation #href, associate it with text <a href="%c">%|</a>, and set TAB as a replacement trigger. Once you enable this hotstring, every time you type #href (in any text editor or text field) and press the TAB key, Texter will change this value to <a href="%c">%|</a>, replace %c in the href attribute with the contents of the Windows clipboard, and move caret between the <a ...></a> tags.
The PC Decrapifier attempts to remove the crap from new PCs that you never asked for or wanted.
ToddlerTrap disables mouse and keyboard input to allow for cleaning.
TreeSize shows the size of folders (including subfolders) on your hard drives.
TrueCrypt is a disk encryption software. It is especially helpful for protecting sensitive data stored on flash drives.
TUGZip is an archiving utility that provides support for a wide range of compressed, encoded and disc-image files. It can also create self-extracting executable files and supports scripting (command-line interface).
UltraExplorer is my favorite file manager, which I use instead of the built-in Windows Explorer. It offers such features as dual panels (for easy copying), ability to define favorite folders, built-in command line window, and much more. Unlike Free Commander, UltraExplorer supports Unicode characters.
USB Disk Ejector ejects disks that are connected via USB better than the built-in Windows Safely Remove Hardware tool it can run as a command-line or GUI tool.
Update Checker can help you keep installed programs up-to-date (this is helpful for applications, which do not offer built-in auto updates).
WavTrim removes silence and any leftover of another track, when extracting audio tracks from CDs. See also mpTrim.
Who.HasFiles is an oline service offering you personal Web-based storage, which can be mapped to a local drive. With the help of who.hasfile you can share files between different computers. The amount of free storage is limited to 100 MB, but additional storage is cheap ($1 per each additional 1 GB).
WinAmp is my favorite media player. Although you can buy the Pro version, the free basic version works just fine.
WinDirStat is a disk usage statistics viewer and cleanup tool, which can help you figure out where your hard drive space went.
winLAME provides a simple interface for converting audio files between different formats, such as WAV and MP3. winLAME comes with all required libraries for producing high-quality audio.
WinOFF schedules Windows shutdown, restart, log off, hibernate, and other shutdown modes using a variety of scheduling criteria, such as specific time, after a specific period, or when the CPU is idle or usage is low for a certain period of time. Before shutdown, WinOFF can capture a screenshot of the desktop or execute a program.
WordWeb is a one-click English thesaurus and dictionary that can look up words in almost any program. It works off-line, but can also look up words in web references such as the Wikipedia encyclopedia. Features of the free version include: definitions and synonyms, proper nouns, related words, pronunciations, and more.
Xerox Mobile Express Driver lets you print to virtually any PostScript device on your network, even to those made by other manufacturers, largely eliminating the need to download individual printer drivers.
XNeat Windows Manager allows you to re-arrange taskbar buttons, show/hide system tray icons and desktop windows, prevent windows from overlapping, and more.
XnView Shell Extension adds graphics-specific commands to the context menu. After installing this extension (do not mix with the full-blown XnView application), when you right-click on an image files (such as GIF, JPEG, etc), you will see a section in the context menu showing image preview, options to convert graphics to a different format, resize image, and more.
Xobni is an Outlook add-on which opens a sidebar showing you an alternative view of your inbox data (Xobni is "inbox" spelled backwards). I think that the hype over Xobni is a bit overblown, but there are several features I like, such as fast inline search and better attachment organization. I also appreciate the ability to minimize the sidebar when I do not need it.
Zip Genius is a file compression tool, which supports more than 20 archive formats, including CD/DVD-ROM image files in ISO9660 standard, RAR, ARJ, ACE, CAB, SQX, and more.

If you are looking for a good and/or free anti-virus software, read my What Microsoft/McAfee/Symantec and AVG/AntiVir/avast! do not have in common post.

For more free software, see these sites:
Find reviews of the best free software by Windows Secrets (see the sidebar on the right side)
45 Best Freeware Design Programs by Snap2Objects
A Directory Of Programs Designed For USB Drives by Jeremy at LooseWire
Absolutely Free Software - Best Windows Freeware by nedwolf
Another FREE Online Freeware List by Daily Revolver
BestFreeApps by BestFreeApps
Best Freeware Downloads and Tips by TopFreeware
Exefind (a software search engine)
FileHippo (download free software)
Freeware Download Box by FreewareBox.com
Freeware Guide by The Freeware Guide Network
Free Apps for USB Drives by Chris Pirillo (the page has several references recommending small but helpful programs)
Free Portable USB Flash Pen Drive Applications by PenDriveApps.com
I want a Freeware Utility to ... 450+ common problems solved by eConsultant
Latest Freeware Finds by extort.net
Mohawke's Best of the Best Free and Open Source Software Collection by Dark Artistry
Open Source Alternative by osalt
Open Source Alternative to Commercial Software by Wikipedia
Free and Open Source Software by Webi
Open Source Windows by OpenSourceWindows.com
Portable Apps by Rare Ideas, LLC
Power replacements for built-in Windows utilities by Gina Trapani of Lifehacker
Reinstall Windows and outfit your system with all freeware programs by Samer (FreewareGenius)
Software by Donation Coder
The 46 Best-ever Freeware Utilities by Tech Support Alert
Reviews and Downloads of the Best Windows Freeware by FreewareGenius
The Best Free Software by PC Magazine
The Best of Free Software for Business and Productivity by John Hood
The Best of The Best Freeware by Free Feast
The Top 15 Ultra Tiny Apps by CyberNet News

*These applications were free (at least for non-commercial use) at the time of writing, but I recommend checking the most recent terms of use. Also, you may notice that while offering these applications for free, most of their authors encourage donations. If you find a particular program helpful, consider skipping your next dose (or two) of Frappuccino and making a donation instead.
**Please keep in mind that making unauthorized copies of copyrighted media is prohibited by law.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Recommended Firefox add-ons (extensions)

Summary: After installing Firefox, you may want to add one of the following extensions (this list is being continuously updated).

Disclaimer: Before installing (or enabling) a new Firefox add-on, it may make sense to check if it belongs to the list of problematic extensions, as well Mozilla's own Add-ons Blocklist.

Here is the list of the Firefox add-ons that I use and can recommend to others:

Aardvark can be used for cleaning up a page prior to printing it (by removing unwanted elements, such as advertisements), for making the page more readable, and for analyzing the structure of a page.
Adblock Plus gets rid of ads and banners that often take longer to download than everything else on the page. It works in conjunction with the Element Hiding Helper add-on. The Adblock Filterset.G Updater add-on is also recommended for use with Adblock Plus, but I had to disable it some time ago because it tried to perform a run-time check against an offline site significantly degrading my browser performance (the problem may have been fixed since then, I do not know).
All-in-One Sidebar lets you quickly switch between sidebar panels, view dialog windows (downloads, extensions, and more) and websites sources in the sidebar.
Answers provides facts and definitions from over 100 dictionaries, encyclopedias and almanacs without having to search through lists of search engine links. Just point at any word, hold the ALT key (CTRL in Linux) and click. Upon letting go, an AnswerTip in the form of a pop-up "information bubble" appears on the screen explaining the term.
Auto Copy adds options to context menu allowing to open a text URL (which is not marked as a hyperlink in HTML) directly in the browser without having to copy and paste it.
Clear Cache Button adds the Clear Cache button to the toolbar customization panel. Open this dialog to find the clear cache button and then drag it onto the toolbar. A similar extension is available for IE.
Clipmarks allows you to easily share parts of web pages (text, images and video), which is handy if you want to send someone a quote from a web page and not the entire page.
Configuration Mania displays advanced Firefox settings for editing.
CookieSwap lets you quickly switch between multiple web accounts (like Gmail) without having to log off.
Cooliris Previews displays contents of the web page referenced by a hyperlink in a preview window (simply mouse over the Cooliris link icon, and a preview window will instantly appear to show you the underlying content without leaving your current page). In addition, it e-mails links instantly, searches Google, Wikipedia, or a dictionary for highlighted words or phrases, and offers other minor conveniences.
Coupon Craze - Coupon Notifier shows coupons and discounts offered various online merchants when you access their sites.
Copy Plain Text gives you an option to copy text without the formatting. You can even set it to trim extra space in and around the copied text.
CyberSearch Adds advanced Google search capabilities to the Firefox 3 address bar.
Dictionaries work with the spell-checking feature in Firefox. Select the one that is appropriate for your language and locale, such as en-us for English speakers residing in the United States.
Defnr offers a way to quickly get word definitions, including synonyms.
Dictionary Tooltip displays the meaning of a selected word in a small pop-up window. To invoke, just press CTRL+SHIFT+D, or double-click the word, or right-click the selected word.
DownThemAll! lets you download multiple targets (pictures, audio files, etc) referenced on a web page.
Duplicate Tab allows you to clone a tab along with its history.
Extension List Dumper lets you generate a list of installed Firefox extensions and themes.
FireShot creates screenshots of web pages. It also provides a set of editing and annotation toolsallowing to insert text and graphical annotations, which is especially useful for web designers, testers and content reviewers. It's possible to choose whether entire web page or only visible part of this page should be captured. Screenshots can be saved to disk using various graphics formats, copied to clipboard, e-mailed, and sent to external editor for further processing.
Firefox Universal Uploader (FireUploader) provides a single and intuitive interface for uploading files to multiple sites including Flickr, Picasa, Youtube, Box.net, and Facebook. In most cases, FireUploader works better than the native uploading tools.
Flashblock blocks all Macromedia Flash content (such as YouTube movie clips) from loading; it leaves placeholders on the web page that allow you to click to download and then view the Flash content.
Form Saver saves form field data as auto-fill bookmarklets. Works with inputs, check boxes, radio groups, text areas, and list boxes.
Foxmarks Bookmark Synchronizer keeps your bookmarks, passwords, toolbar buttons, persistent cookies, history, and other settings in sync between different computers.
FoxyProxy offers a better proxy support than the built-in capability.
Freecorder can record streaming audio to an MP3 file, which is very useful for generating podcast files from podcast streams (e.g. old podcasts which are not available for downloads).
Fresh Bargains provides a convenient way of searching for best deals published at different bargain hunting sites (such as DealCatcher, FatWallet, SlickDeals, and many others) and sending yourself alerts when a particular product appears on these sites. While Fresh Bargains does not offer an add-in, you can add it to the list of search providers (in the Search toolbar).
GDirections finds directions on Google and Yahoo Maps based on your selected text and one of various home addresses.
Google Notebook extension lets you add notes to your online notebook entries. This is really handy for doing research and saving links, references, and quotes from different web sites.
GooglePreview inserts preview images (thumbnails) of web sites and Amazon products into the Google and Yahoo search results pages.
Gspace allows you to treat your Gmail account as free online storage. With this add-on, you can transfer files between your computer and Gspace. (NOTE: Some users reported that after transferring large amounts of data, their Gmail accounts had been locked out for 24 hours; use at your own risk.)
HP Smart Web Printing allows you to print clips from multiple web pages (or elected parts of one page) as a single page. This extension works with any printer (not just HP).
HyperWords adds a context menu for highlighted words with a number of options, including multiple searches (Google, blogs, etc.), references (Wikipedia, Thesaurus, etc.), translation, and others.
IE Tab embeds Internet Explorer in a Firefox tab. Use this feature to access web site optimized for Internet Explorer (such as Microsoft) without switching to Internet Explorer.
IE View Lite can be used to open a link in Internet Explorer. Use it for the sites which do not get displayed correctly in either Firefox or IE Tab.
Image Preview Extension allow you to see a thumbnail of the CraigsList images without clicking on each ad.
ImTranslator provides convenient access to online translation service powered by PROMT translation server (PROMT Ltd.) and AltaVista. It includes the following modules: translation editor, virtual keyboard, spell-checker, dictionary, decoder, back translation, email client. With ImTranslator you can enter multilingual text, check it for correctness, adjust unreadable messages, translate in different languages, look up words, print results and send email. The add-on installs the context and tool menus, as well as a toolbar image button.
Interclue opens a small pop-up windows showing a preview of the page pointed by a hyperlink. It works similar to Cooliris Preview, but is a bit more flexible (after using it for a few minutes, I think I like Inerclue better).
Link Alert changes the cursor to indicate the target of a hyperlink. This extension will allow you to see whether a link will open in the current window (tab) or a new one.
Locator displays highlighted address in a Google Map popup.
Map+ displays a Yahoo! map of a selected address without having to open a new window or tab. After enabling Map+ you may need to adjust the size of the pop-up window displaying the map in the add-on options.
Meebo installs a sidebar which you can use for instant messaging (IM) via the browser. Supports different IM protocols (networks) including AIM, MSN, Yahoo!, GTalk, ICQ, and Jabber. This extension allow using IM across corporate firewalls.
Mini Map Sidebar allows you to drag-and-drop addresses to generate maps and driving directions. It provides a whole range of features for working with addresses.
Minute Minder for Cingular Service displays your remaining Cingular minutes or text messages in the status bar. It also displays a detailed account overview when you hover your mouse over the extension in the status bar. Minute Minder works with both individual and family plans. For more information check out the extension's blog. [Update: This add-on has been renamed to Minute Minder for AT&T Service, a new version of which could be downloaded from the author's web site; however, after AT&T redesigned its web site, Minute Minder does not seem to work. For the latest information, check the news at the author's blog.]
MrUptime comes handy when you need to access a web site which is down. MrUptime adds can add such web site to the watch list and alert you when it comes back online.
MR Tech Local Install provides the tools needed to install and manage extensions and themes.
Open IT Online lets you open and edit documents and images online without the need of any software to be installed.
Ordered Preference Import/Export allows you to import and export your installed extension preferences. This is useful when installing extensions in a new profile, or synchronizing multiple Firefox installations.
PicLens allows you to view full screen slideshows of photo galleries from Google, Flickr, Picasa, Facebook, Yahoo, and a few other image services.
Picnik adds a menu option to send an image or screen shot for editing in Picnik.
PlainOldFavorites allows you to use the Internet Explorer and Windows Favorites directly from Firefox without needing to import or synchronize the bookmarks first. [Update: I don't need this extension any more.]
Pluribo: Instant Summaries scans all of the reviews on any Amazon web page and summarizes them into a single paragraph.
PriceDrop will notify you about price drops for selected items at Amazon.com, giving you a chance to take advantage of the 30-day refund guarantee.
Pronounce can pronounce English words.
Read It Later allows you to bookmark pages which you would want to read later and later retrieve them from the 'staging area'.
ReloadEvery automatically refreshes a web page displayed in the browser every so many seconds or minutes.
Remember The Milk for GMail allows you to manage to-do list in GMail. Assuming that you keep your to-do list at Remember The Milk, this extension will let you complete, postpone, and edit tasks, add new tasks, connect tasks with your emails, contacts, and Google Calendar events, automatically add tasks for starred messages or specific labels, and much more.
RetailMeNot automatically displays coupon codes for the current web site being viewed using the information retrieved from the coupon sharing web site retailmenot.com.
SavvyCircle will notify you whenever an item you mark at a selected online store goes on sale. Free registration is required.
ScrapBook lets you save and organize bits of web pages along with notes and original URLs. Good extension for research.
SearchWith adds a context menu (shown on right-mouse click) to search web for a highlighted text.
Sxipper can manage your passwords and automatically fill registration, sign-up, and sign-in forms.
ThumbStrips creates a filmstrip of thumbnails for the pages in your browser history making it easier to find the web sites you recently visited.
TinyUrl Creator adds a context menu entry to create a tiny URL for the current page, which eliminates the need to go to the TinyURL site.
UnPlug lets you save video and audio embedded on a web page. It works with many video sharing sites, such as YouTube, Google Video, and others.
VideoDownloader add a small icon on the status bar at the bottom of your Firefox window and a toolbar button, which allow you to download videos from YouTube, Google, Metacafe, iFilm, Dailymotion, and a growing list of more than 60 video sites.
WOT (WebOfTrust) warns users about risky websites that try to scam visitors, deliver malware, or send spam.
Woot Watcher monitors the Woot! web site, and keeps you updated with the current item, price, and if it is sold out. During Woot-Offs, it will also let you know what percent of the item is remaining. It can also automatically open a new browser tab or play a sound when the Woot! item changes. [If you're a total Woot! junkie, try the Windows desktop WootAgent.]

The following add-ons do not offer much value for general population, but they are indispensable for web developers:

Compact Library Extension Organizer (CLEO) works with FEBE to package any number of extensions/themes into a single, installable .xpi file. You may have a list of your favorite extensions/themes that you would like to share with others. With CLEO, you can gather them all together into a single file (called, perhaps, "My favorite extensions.xpi") and post them on a web page. Others can install the whole batch with just a couple of clicks.
Colorizer is a web development tool, which uses a color picker to change the color of HTML elements in real time.
ColorZilla gets a color reading from any point in the browser, quickly adjusts this color, and pastes it into another program. You can zoom the page you are viewing and measure distances between any two points on the page. The built-in palette browser allows choosing colors from pre-defined color sets and saving the most used colors in custom palettes. DOM spying features allow getting various information about DOM elements quickly and easily. And there's more...
CoLT adds two menu items to the browser's context menu visible when right-clicking a hyperlink. The Copy Link Text menu item copies the hyperlink's associated text to the clipboard, while Copy Link Text and Location copies both the hyperlink's text and URL to the clipboard in the format you choose: either as plain text, as an HTML hyperlink, or as a custom format (which you may specify). A very handy tool for blogs!
CSSViewer combines style properties in all style sheets and displays the effective style applied on the selected element.
DT Whois adds button to the browser for easy access to the currently opened web site's WHOIS source.
Extension List Dumper generates a list of installed extensions, themes or plug-ins.
Fasterfox allows you to tweak many network and rendering settings such as simultaneous connections, pipelining, cache, DNS cache, and initial paint delay. Dynamic speed increases can be obtained with the unique prefetching mechanism, which recycles idle bandwidth by silently loading and caching all of the links on the page you are browsing. A popup blocker for popups initiated by Flash plug-ins is also included.
Firebug puts a wealth of development tools at your fingertips while you browse. You can edit, debug, and monitor CSS, HTML, and JavaScript in any web page.
Firefox Extension Backup Extension (FEBE) allows you to back up your Firefox extensions -- and (optionally) bookmarks, preferences, passwords, cookies, and just about everything else Firefox offers -- so that they can be easily synchronized between office and home computers. Backups can be performed on demand or scheduled for daily, weekly, or monthly unattended runs.
FireFTP is a very capable and easy-to-use FTP client, which supports FTP connections over proxies.
LinkChecker check links on a web page to make sure they are valid. There's also a toolbar button that can be added for easier access to LinkChecker. Just right click on your toolbar, choose "Customize" and look for the button with the underlined blue check.
MR Tech Local Install provides the tools needed to install and manage extensions and themes locally and tons of other features.
Pencil is a sketching and prototyping tool, which can be used to create mockups of screenshots.
SourceEditor allows you to view and edit HTML elements in-place. Use the button on status bar to activate/desactivate SourceEditor, then double-click (or use the context menu) to edit the HTML source of the selected element.
View Dependencies adds a tab to the Page Info window, in which it lists all files included in the current page.
View Source Chart draws a color-coded chart of a web page's source code allowing users to quickly scan and recognize the document's tags without reading a single tag, see how deeply nested an element is just by looking to its left (no scrolling/finding/reading tags), and identify an element's containing tags without having to scroll, find and read each tag.
Web Developer adds a menu and a toolbar with various web developer tools. This is a must-have extension for every web developer.

Additional references:
50 Best Firefox Extensions for Power Surfing
Firefox Extensions
Firefox Extensions cause Memory Leaks and Crashes
Reducing memory usage - Firefox
Top 10 Firefox Extensions, and More