10 Essential Free Or Cheap Windows Utilities

These tools keep the workflow humming.

Mitch Wagner, California Bureau Chief, Light Reading

April 19, 2005

4 Min Read

A colleague is moving from one department of the company to another, and as part of the job change, he has to start using a Windows laptop as his primary computer. Until now, he's used a Mac. So we were talking about his job transition and, as the conversation came to an end, he said in passing, "Are there any good utilities that I really need to get for Windows?"

He was asking the right guy. I'm compulsive about fiddling around with cheap and free personal productivity software. I do it the way other people buy Filofaxes and Dayrunners, fountain pens, and blank books. I'm always on the lookout for the right combination of tools that will turn the chaos of my life into order.

Here are 10 tools that I use to keep my work flowing faster. Six are priced under $30, and four free tools.

Cheap Software
1. ActiveWords lets you set up simple, typed text strings to do text-substitution, launch programs, open documents, navigate to Internet sites, pre-address e-mails, and create Outlook tasks and calendar entries. It monitors everything you type, and looks for certain sequences of text followed by two taps of the spacebar (or the F8 key — user's choice) and then it takes action.

So if I type S, followed by T, followed by space, space, ActiveWords automatically pastes in my business e-mail signature wherever the cursor is at the moment. If I type "pub" it pastes in a boilerplate passage that I use when responding to some readers' e-mail, asking if it's okay for me to publish their e-mail. If I type "scpgo," it launches my browser and takes me to Security Pipeline, the site I edit. And if I type "task", ActiveWords opens a new, blank task in Microsoft Outlook. I can type these things anywhere. I don't have to be in my browser to launch my browser and go to a Web site. I don't have to be in Outlook to create a new task. I've only just touched on usefulness of this wonderful, flexible application, which is reviewed here. Price: $19.95 for basic version. Note that pricing in the review is out-of-date. 2. Anagram is a handy little utility. It allows you to easily extract contact information from e-mails and other documents, and create Microsoft Outlook, Agendus, Salesforce.com, or Palm Desktop address book entries. You just highlight the text containing the contact info, click Ctrl-C twice, clean up the entry a bit, and you're done. Pricing: $19.95 flat for Outlook, Palm Desktop, and Agendus; $6.95 per month for Salesforce.com. 3. ClipMate is a clipboard extender. It keeps a database of recent items you've clipped to your clipboard, so you can paste them back in again. Like ActiveWords, it's a regular little toolbox of useful gadgets: you can save libraries of frequently reused boilerplate text, use it as a screenshot capture utility, use a feature called "PowerPaste" to paste different items in sequence, and more. Price: $29.95. 4. FeedDemon is my current favorite RSS aggregator. Price: $29.95. 5. NoteTab Pro. Microsoft Word really isn't suitable for writing copy on the Web. It generates a lot of weirdly formatted characters that aren't Web-compatible. Some of my colleagues have figured out how to customize Word to generate Web-friendly text, but I find it simpler just to use a text editor, which produces plain, unformatted text. The free Notepad that comes with Windows is fine for some people, but I like a few more features. My text editor of choice is NoteTab Pro, which includes spell-checking, the ability to open multiple documents in a single window, create outlines, some wizards for generating HTML, and more. It's actually a full-fledged programmers' editor; you can use it for programming in C, C++, Java, and other languages. Only NoteTab Pro has the spell-checker, URL and HTML highlighting, and a couple of other features I consider essential. Pricing: $19.95. for Pro version; $9.95 for standard version; Lite version is free. 6. SplashID stores and encrypts usernames, passwords, and any other short text snippets you want to protect against prying eyes. There are a lot of cheap or free password-storage-and-encryption programs out there; I prefer SplashID because it's the only one I've been able to find that synchs easily with my Palm handheld computer. The Windows version also synchs with versions that run on the Pocket PC, Windows Mobile Smartphone, Sony Ericsson P-Series phones running Symbian UIQ, and Nokia Series 60 phones running Series 60 software. Price: $29.95. Free Software

About the Author(s)

Mitch Wagner

California Bureau Chief, Light Reading

Mitch Wagner is California bureau chief for Light Reading.

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