10 Insanely Essential Utilities That Made It To My Windows 8 Slate

I’m spending more and more time on my Windows 8 Slate, but I don’t add programs or files to it lightly.  There are two reasons for that:

  1. Space is limited on its 125GB SSD
  2. I know I’m going to have to repave the machine soon when I install Win 8 RTM, so only the most important things are worth installing right now.

In fact, if I add a utility, it probably means that I was finding it difficult to get my work done without it, and that the utility I added was insanely essential.

The definition of “utility” is tricky.  What I’m talking about here excludes the big applications that I have to have even to begin doing my job: Visual Studio, Office, Camtasia, etc. 

I’m also not listing programmer utilities, because that is for another post. The utilities listed here are life-savers that I can’t imagine any computer user going without.

Here are the 10 utilities that made the cut…

 

Evernote

Evernote is a note-taking “capture anything” retrieve-anywhere utility. EvernoteWhat I love about Evernote is that you do not need to classify or sort your notes on the way in, you search for them on the way out.  This is faster and, more important, lowers the friction in adding notes in the first place.  (You can create multiple notebooks, and add tags and etc. etc. but I don’t bother).

I should mention that “note” can be a photo, a recording, an email, a web-page, etc. etc.   Here’s something even cooler: take a picture of, say, a tee-shirt with text. Evernote will parse the text and let you search on it. 

I purge very old dead notes, but I err on the side of keeping my notes; you never know when you’ll want that information again.  Right now, being a piker who doesn’t really use Evernote as extensively as some; I have 1501 notes.  Average time to find the one I want is sub-second.

Skype

Skype is the greatest thing to happen to telephony since the invention of the telephone. Skype I use Skype as my primary phone, making all my business calls on it and receiving all my incoming calls on it when I’m at my computer.  I tried hard to give them a lot of money, but it can’t be done.  Even a premium account is dirt-cheap.  

I’d go on and on about Skype, but since right now Skype reports that there are 31,258,659 people on line, I figure the word is already  out.

LiveWriter

There is simply no better tool for creating blog posts than LiveWriter. LiveWriter  Creating posts is as easy and natural as in any word processor, except that LiveWriter knows your blog, your layout, your styles.  It knows how to upload your blog entry, and it can easily and handily manage more than one blog at a time.

LiveWriter also does a very nice job with spell check, with managing photos (adding them to blog posts, positioning and framing them, etc.)  Finally, and perhaps most important, there is an entire eco-system of LiveWriter add-ins that can greatly enhance your blogging. 

DropBox

DropBox allows you to store files in the cloud.  This makes transferring big files fromDropBox one computer to another, or from you to a co-worker or friend, a piece of cake.  DropBox puts a folder on your computer and you simply drag and drop files into its subfolders.  Some subfolders can be shared (public or invitation only) and some can be private.  It couldn’t be easier to use, but just in case, they provide a video that explains how to get the most out of DropBox, step by step.

DropBox keeps a snapshot of every change in your folder for 30 days (or more with the optional Pack-Rat feature) and so you can retrieve previous versions even if you’ve overwritten what you need.  It’s not version control, but it is a nice close second.

Oh, did I mention that 2GB of storage is free? And that you can go all the way up to 18GB of free storage by making referrals?  You can also buy 100GB, 200GB or 500GB of space as you need it.

Roboform

Roboform does two things incredibly well: it keeps track of your passwords, and it fills Roboform in forms for you.  It does some other things as well (such as keeping notes under password protection) but its main job is to allow you to have a unique password on every site you visit without going insane. It also allows you to fill in long forms with your name and address and credit card numbers at the press of a single button. 

In recent years they’ve changed their business model somewhat, and they now offer “Roboform Everywhere” which  allows you to buy a single license for all your computers and devices.  Nice. 

ClipX

ClipX will, in the words of its creator, change the way you think about Clipxclipboard operations.  It is recalled using a hot key and provides a list of your previous clipboard items.

You can (and should) set it to default to the 2nd item so that you can easily switch between the most recent and the second most recent item – very useful when filling out forms and the next best thing to Yank-Pop. 

AutoHotkey

AutoHotKey provides scriptable desktop automation. AutoHotKey It combines the functionality of Hotkey with text macros and allows you to automate virtually anything by sending keystrokes. 

A few very simple but incredibly useful options are to expand abbreviations, fix common spelling mistakes and rearrange the functionality of control keys.  It does much much more, but is well worthwhile just for those features.

Pandora

Pandora is not just radio the way it should be, learning which music you Pandoralike and which you don’t, with uninterrupted music with commentary reserved for the accompanying text, and multiple stations to fit your moods.  It is also the “custodian” of the Music Genome Project, created in 1999; an effort to “capture the essence of music at the fundamental level using almost 400 attributes to describe songs and a complex mathematical algorithm to organize them” (Wikipedia)

The result is enormously satisfying; the Pandora service learns quickly what you like and what you don’t and can tell you why it is playing the next song even if it isn’t immediately apparent what this song has in common with the songs you like.

Hypersnap

HyperSnap is, I admit, getting a bit long in the tooth, but it is still an incredibly HyperSnap reliable way to capture windows or regions of the screen.  It provides advanced image editing and I rely on it for capturing and cleaning up images for my blogs and for my books. 

The image editing in HyperSnap is both flexible and easy to use.  It is simple to cut out areas of an image, to copy over one area to another and to adjust color, contrast, and much more.

Carbonite

Carbonite is a set and forget off site backup plan for your computers.  CarboniteIt is startlingly easy to designate which folders and drives you want to back up and it is extremely easy to recover files, folders or entire drives in the event of disaster.

Carbonite works in the background, and as far as I can tell has zero impact on the performance of your computer.  It constantly backs up files as they are revised or created.  Finding backed up files is identical to browsing through the file Navigator, and you can restore files to their original position or to a new location at your discretion.  

The service offers unlimited backup space for a fixed price: $59/year without external drives, $99/year with (for home and small businesses).  The business plan gives you unlimited backup with external drives on unlimited computers for $229/year.

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About Jesse Liberty

Jesse Liberty is a Master Consultant for Falafel Software, and has three decades of experience writing and delivering software projects. He is the author of 2 dozen books and multiple Pluralsight courses, and has been a Technical Evangelist for Telerik and for Microsoft, a Distinguished Software Engineer for AT&T, a VP for Information Services for Citibank and a Software Architect for PBS.
This entry was posted in Essentials, Observations, Opinion, Tools and Utilities and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

33 Responses to 10 Insanely Essential Utilities That Made It To My Windows 8 Slate

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  11. Alek Davis says:

    In case, my previous attempt to comment was lost in a black hole (didn’t get any error, but don’t see it), one more try.

    One more vote for Ditto (instead of ClipX). I think I tried all (free) clipboard managers (ClipX was the first one I tried), and at this time, Ditto seems to be working better than others. I have been using it for about two years.

    I am not familiar with Roboform, but LastPass also allows you to easily fill out forms (in addition to password management). And it’s free.

    I did not realize that Evernote offers a desktop app. Always used their browser add-ons. Not sure if I need a desktop app, though. It could be good for those who want to clip non-web references.

    [In case, someone is looking for other free software recommendations, I have been keeping a list here: Essential Freeware for Windows]

  12. Avatar X says:

    Windows Live Writer. How sad i am that it is probably dead and there will not be a new version of it. With the only consolation being that thanks to plugins it still can get something new from time to time or you can get it something new if you really want to.

    And that even considering it was last updated over a year ago, it is still the very best Blog Editor not only for free, but at any price. Even the two top paid Blog Editors in OS X don’t get close to it. I mean, there is people that actually run Windows 7 on VM while on OS X just for Windows Live Writer and Artisteer. It is just that good.

    On the other choices:

    I prefer OneNote over Evernote. I also like Clipboard.com

    I used ClipX until i saw i liked to use Clipboarder a lot more. It only keeps track of the last 100 things. But that is more than enough.

    Instead of Hypersnap that is now too old school. I use the CaptureIt plugin for WLW or Jing.

    AutoHotkey is cool. No argument there.

    Don’t use Roboform or a password manager.

    For Radio, i use an app for last.fm called Echo or an app that never made it to public beta called RadioShark that used Grooveshark. And from time to time i just launch up Winamp for shoutcast. :P

    Still, nice to see what you use Jesse.

  13. Eugene Z says:

    I must be a dinosaur (I am 40).

    evernote – I use actual paper for keeping notes.
    Incredibly convenient; and does not consume any power!!

    skype – nice.
    I stopped using it once I got a good voip service.
    Now I don’t need to use my notebook to talk to people.

    dropbox – I wouldn’t think of letting somebody else keep my files.
    Read EULA very carefully. They can do anything with them.

    roboform – I wouldn’t think of letting somebody else keep my passwords.
    If you do – I guess you also give your money to strangers.

    ClipX – why would you copy 2 things into clip without pasting out the first
    – I don’t know

    Hotkey – seems like something for ADHD babies (blogs too, BTW).
    I develop code 12 hours a day.
    I use a good programming editor, and compiler, and debugger.
    And I check e-mail.
    What do you need hotkeys for??

    Hypersnap – sounds like something redundant for ppl that have Photoshop or PaintShopPro

    Kudos on the backup

    • As one dinosaur to another…

      … paper is great, unless you have to search for something, or the paper isn’t with you. Evernote is always with me (on my phone). That is very handy.

      … dropbox and roboform, i have no problems trusting my files and passwords like this; confidential information is highly encrypted as are all my passwords.

      … If your only use of the computer is coding and email, much of what I have here won’t be of use to you

      In any case, I’m not selling; just sharing. :-)

    • Alek Davis says:

      You seem to sound pretty presumptuous for a dinosaur (and I am 46).

  14. In regards to Evernote, it’s a great tool. I mostly use it for remembering stuff off the web. As a Chrome browser user, I find it much easier to just install the Evernote Web Clipper browser extension and not install the app locally. It’s very easy to clip articles/images and it saves a LOT of disk space (I have over 4000 notes). Searching on the Evernote website is very fast so that fact that it’s not installed locally hasn’t been a problem.

  15. Duo says:

    Can’t wait to get my hands on Win8 tablets for our office, thanks for the suggestions.

    “Jesse Liberty is a Technical Evangelist for Telerik and has three decades of expereience writing …”

    But his spell-checker is broken.

  16. Alon says:

    Hi,
    I always like to read such articles – to find new utilities… Thank you!

    My preferences regarding utilities are:
    1. Free (donation is optional)
    2. Portable (I think that today 90% of the utilities I use are portable and if I find a new one that is not, I think twice before installing)
    3. Doing exactly what I need, not more (and for sure not less :)

    Here are some of my alternatives to the ones mentioned above:
    For Roboform, I use KeePass Password Safe. With a bit of configuration, it allows filling with a shortcut and most important, it is saved locally. I backup its file based DB within my regular backup procedure and it also has an android version where I sync the DB to it using SugarSync (another service, similar to DropBox, though with different advantages).

    For ClipX, I use Ditto. I’m not familiar with ClipX but Ditto does all that was mentioned above, plus it allows you to show the clipboard list and then just start typing the required value, to filter the list. It also allows you with a keyboard shortcut to edit a value, before pasting. Very cool and useful.

    For AutoHotKey, I use TinyTask. This one is not as thorough as AutoHotKey but it does what I need – record a macro of my mouse moves and clicks.

    For HyperSnap, I use the Win7 built in SnippingTool (C:\Windows\System32\SnippingTool.exe )

    Other utilities I use, if you care to check them out: WizMouse, SlickRun, Notepad++, FotoResizer, Autoruns, procexp (Process Explorer), TeraCopy, xyplorer, lingoes, join.me, everything.

    And last, check the PortableApps site for many more portables. You don’t even need their UI platform, just pick an app and ‘install’ it to your “Tools” folder.

    Enjoy,

    Alon

  17. Phil says:

    Dropbox is great, but since Microsoft recently overhauled SkyDrive, that is better – same functionality, more free space, better integration, especially in Windows 8. However, I never understand why more isn’t written about Syncplicity. It does basically the same thing as Dropbox, but is much more flexible. I can sync FolderA on my work PC with FolderB on my home PC which, because the two machines have different purposes, are in different locations in the file structure. It lets me sync my documents in a very obvious folder, as well as obscure folders containing game settings so that my preferences are universal. Everyone should use it.

  18. ahad porkar says:

    Why whould u try to install Dropbox when win8 have dropbox embedded as a menu ???

  19. Hardik says:

    I use Ditto CP instead of clipX. I’ve found it to be *extremely* versatile.

  20. Al Wilson says:

    The article has some useful advice. I can testify to the value of Evernote, Dropbox, and Pandora. I find it remarkable that vendors like Microsoft and Apple cannot duplicate those programs. I can tell you that I have tried several alternatives to each of them and I always came back.
    With respect to Skype – I wonder how it works now with cell phone calls. The original technology for wired calls was limited in such a way that interconnection to cell phones caused substantial degradation to the audio. This caused me to drop out of Skype.
    Roboform, Hypersnap, and Carbonite might be worth some experimentation. The usual problem with passwords as they might be saved on Roboform is that they are now routinely changed every few months. When I track a hundred logins, this means the form on one or more computers has to change almost every day. Maybe Roboform has a solution for that. No one else does.

    • CB says:

      I use LastPass for passwords, and that seems to recognize when I am changing the password for a site and it offers to update what it (LastPass) has associated with the site. Very handy.

    • Alek Davis says:

      Regarding Skype, I have been using it on a Windows Phone (Nokia Lumia 900), and it works fine. Tried it when communicating with another phone and a laptop. The Windows Phone app Tango Video Calls, is more efficient, though.

  21. Martin says:

    I thought this was going to be about Windows 8 specific tools, but most if not all are for all Windows version… Clickbait title!

    • Leeroy says:

      Most people would understand from the title that these were used in previous versions of Windows and made the transition to Windows 8. I guess everyone isn’t as skilled in reading comprehension and prefer to troll.

  22. Rich says:

    It is a shame that Pandora is a US only service, as I would have liked to give it a go with my eclectic musical tastes
    :{

  23. Some great apps listed here Jesse. I’m going to try carbonite now. You should ask them for commission! :)

  24. Ilija Injac says:

    Hi Jesse,

    thank you for sharing your favorite tools. About 60% have been totally unknown to me.

    Best,
    Ilija

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