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Top Thirteen Desktop Apps

TrueCryptAbout four years ago, I wrote an article on my top ten MS Windows applications, plus one.  In 2008, these were my top ten (plus one):

  1. Firefox
  2. Notepad++
  3. Directory Opus 9
  4. SnagIt v.7
  5. AusLogics Disk Defrag
  6. CCleaner
  7. TrueCrypt
  8. Microsoft Excel
  9. Nuance Paperport
  10. AI Roboform
  11. Evernote (honorable mention)

In 2012, I give you a baker’s dozen of my top desktop applications.  Why ‘desktop’ instead of Windows?  Although I do not own or use Apple Macs, every application here is available for Mac, with the notable exceptions of Notepad++. and Directory Opus.  I have been asked why I do not use a Mac, but I will reserve that explanation for another article.  Full disclosure: I paid full price for all apps and haven’t received a penny for the comments below.  {Cue the drumroll}

My top thirteen apps are:

  1. TrueCrypt: Where would I be without TrueCrypt?  Nowhere.  TrueCrypt is with me every day, and has been for many years.  All of my hard drives are encrypted with TrueCrypt.  I boot to TrueCrypt.  If my laptop were ever stolen, or a hard drive stolen from one of my computers, I can rest easily knowing that the bad guys will probably toast the hard drive before they get any valuable information.  As an HR and IT professional, this is probably the most important app in my toolkit.  This is also why it is #1.  (Cost = Free) **
  2. Firefox: If it feels like I have been using this forever, it is because I have.  I started using this when it was still called Phoenix (version 0.3) and I learned how to jerry-rig it to make it work with Oracle E-Business Suite.  This is still my champion browser, after some challenges from other browsers.  I use IE, Opera, and Chrome at various times, but I use Firefox as our main browser for it’s flexibility, stability, speed, and usability. (Cost = Free)
  3. Thunderbird: It is just an email client and it seems like the email client concept is dated.  But email remains my primary means of digital communication with my clients and family.  Thunderbird is very extensible, with skins, Quicktext, Zindus Google sync, and more.  Assuming I regularly archive, it is very fast and the global search is phenomal.  There are some missing features, such as the ability to group by name, as in Outlook, but I would not trade the speed or flexibility.  The fact that it syncs my contacts and calendars seamlessly with Google is what puts this in the top 13. (Cost = Free)
  4. Notepad++: Although there are a lot of text editors out there, this one is still the best for me.  I love the fact that I can create my own languages, which I did for Oracle FastFormula.  The TextFX tools are incredible.  This app should be part of any developer’s toolkit. (Cost = Free) **
  5. Directory Opus 10: Directory Opus is a Windows Explorer replacement and the best file explorer I have found on any platform.  This is the first paid app on the list, but it is worth every penny.  It has dozens of features and makes file management a breeze, even….enjoyable.  I upgraded late last year to the latest version and I cannot say enough good things about it. It is highly configurable, handles network shares and FTP seamlessly.  My only complaint is that you have to pay extra to add SFTP support. (Cost = 85AUD, about $89 US)
  6. Evernote:  This is a note taking tool that is phenomenal, which I have used since the beta days.  It is a cloud based solution, so you can sync your notes and share just about anywhere.  Although there are comparable applications, such as OneNote, I find this works better for me.  I stopped using Evernote for almost three years when they made some major changes to the applications, but I started using it again this past year.  One of the best features is being able to access your notes anywhere on any device: Android, iOS, any computer with a browser, and of course Windows and Mac OS.  Consider this an unstructured database, kind of like a junk drawer in your house.  I use it to store whatever thoughts, ideas, code snippets, or anything else I need for reference.  Don’t trust Evernote with your data?  You can have offline notebooks, too.  This is a very powerful tool that I think anyone can use, in any industry. (Cost = Free for basic, premium subscription = $45/year)
  7. SnagIt v.11: This screen capture app is a must have tool for just about anyone.  I upgraded earlier this year from version 7 to 11.  This is more than just screen capture; this is a full screen capture workflow, which you might think that TechSmith invented.  The built-in editor, which I find just plain ugly to look at, is amazing.  Take a screenshot and the editor opens, mark it up with arrows, text, callouts, etc., and save it or send it, all in a matter of seconds.  It automatically tags your screenshots.  There is a lightweight screen recorder as well.    Just about everyone I talk to knows about SnagIt and uses it, and it seems to have been installed on every Windows machine for the last 10+ years (trial versions) at all of my clients.  There are some functional open source screen capture tools, such as Lightscreen, and but there is no other application that even comes close in terms of functionality.  (Cost = $49.95)
  8. CCleaner: I don’t like clutter on my computer.  Some people call it crap.  CCleaner, originally known as ‘Crap Cleaner’, keeps my machine clutter free of temp files, browser cache and history, cookies, and other things.  It helps keep the registy clean and running smooth.  You can customize the options, select which cookies to keep (like 🙂 ).  All of this for free.  They now have a Mac version, but I cannot speak to what it does. (Cost = Free for individuals)
  9. Microsoft Excel: This is still my killer app.  I upgraded to 2010, grumbling along the way, and I love it even more now.  Everyone, everywhere knows about Excel. Enough said. (Cost = too many licensing options to even know)
  10. Skype: This is a critical part of our communications platform.  Between chat, audio, and video calls, this has become an integral part of our organization.  Here is a secret: our main phone number is a Skype number.  Let’s keep that between you and I.  (Cost = Free for most services, various paid services available)
  11. LastPass: LastPass, for those of you who don’t know, is a cloud-based password manager, with plugins for most of the major browsers.  “The last password you’ll have to remember’, is what they say.  I have found that there is no perfect password manager, but LastPass comes really close.  I dumped AI Roboform after some of their shenanigans in shoving upgrades down my throat.  As a cloud-based password solution, LastPass integrates nicely with all browsers, smartphones, and operating systems, even webOS.  I love their ‘Security Challenge’, which checks to see how secure your passwords are, and gives you a rating and recommendations.  They have gamified security.  They continue to innovate and I have been very pleased.  I wouldn’t trust my 400+ passwords to anyone else.  (Cost = Free for basic, $12/year premium)
  12. Calibre: Calibre is an e-book management program.  This is a strange application to have in any top thirteen, but this has been invaluable in keeping a variety of e-books and other documents organized.  I have a slew of e-books and this helps me manage.  You can edit metadata, convert books between formats, add covers, and also read your e-books.  The conversion is imperfect, but it is getting better.  This works great with e-readers, tablets, and smartphones, to easily add or manage books on these devices.  (Cost = Free) **
  13. LeechBlock: For the first time I am adding a pure browser plugin (i.e. no client install) to this list.  This amazing little plugin allows you to block distracting websites (Facebook anyone?) during specified hours of the day.  You can setup multiple schedules and get pretty granular on what sites you wish to block, and when.  It is like having a corporate web-filter on your PC.  This has saved me countless hours of random browsing and made me unbelievably more productive and profitable.  I am not sure if the plugin works on Mac OS or Linux desktop distros.  (Cost = Free) **

That about does it.  I am amazed that only three apps fell off the list, while most survived.  I use at least 100 different applications, from development to imaging.  I wonder what this list will look like in 4 more years.  If you use any of the open source applications listed above on a regular basis and you find value in them, I strongly suggest donating to the project.

** These are open source projects that either myself or Matrice Consulting have supported with financial donations and will continue to support.