I have spent a lot of time installing, testing, learning and uninstalling utils and applications of all kinds.
I am always on the look out for a productivity enhancer.
Today is your lucky day, because I am going to save you the years of wading hip-deep through murky rivers of crap software, only to give you the 4 best general purpose applications I have found.
I present them in no particular order…
PowerPro is a regular swiss army knife when it comes to application launching, system information, shortcuts, automation and any arcane type of control over your windows environment you would like.
Some of the things I use PowerPro for, but by no means a complete feature list:
- Shortcuts for launching certain applications, lile win-t for my text editor (vim) and win-c for a command console
- Shortcuts for windows operations that windows doesn’t have shortcuts for, such as win-s for always-on-top toggle or win-arrowkeys for moving windows, or win-_ for minimize, or right-click minimize for minimize to tray
- Project timer for all the different freelance projects I am doing – I have all the project timers in a bar, and I can start and stop the timer for the project by clicking on it
- Yellow stickies for my desktop
- Toolbars with icons for launcing programs or system information
- A macro that switches from two to one monitors and the other way around
- Text macros that allow me to write ;a which turns into Ã¥, ;e turns into Ã¦ and ;o turns into Ã¸. I use this to write danish characters on my US keyboard. I also have ;name which inserts my name, %date for the current date and so forth
PowerPro is not pretty, but it’s extremely flexible and powerful, and it comes with a learning curve. The default configuration is kind of crappy, with an ugly toolbar on your desktop and other such sillyness, but rest assured that you can change all that.
It can be configured to be completely invisible if you are so inclined.
PowerPro is the first application I install when I install a Windows machine. It’s freeware.
You can find it at http://powerpro.webeddie.com/.
Clipmate is a clipboard manager. Basically, I hangs on to any and everything you copy into the clipboard, and lets you browse it, search it, save it, convert it or simply paste it.
If you haven’t used a clipboard manager before, I wish I could write something to convey how different your relationship to your clipboard is going to be when you use one. Suffice it to say, your clipboard becomes many times more useful than the basic windows clipboard.
Clipmate It is by far the most featurerich clipboard manager I have used, and it has some features I absolutely can’t live without.
It also has a lot of features I haven’t even gotten around to exploring yet.
Here are some of the features I really can’t live without in Clipmate:
- A searchable, browseable history of my clips, as far back as I want
- The ability to “clean” text in my clipboard, so it turns styled text into pure text
- The ability to capture the client area of a window or a dragged selection of the screen
- PowerPaste – a feature that allows me to copy a bunch of different clips, and then paste them back in either the same sequence, the reverse sequence or loops. This is great if you want to snag a bunch of different bits of text out of a document and put them into another document without having to alt-tab back and forth like a madman.
- PowerPaste with explode – copy a block of text and then then paste back the different parts of it, split over whatever characters you like. I mostly use this for copying a serial number like ABCD-EFGH-IJKL-MNOP-QRST into 5 separate little boxes. I just copy, and paste the clip back with five consecutive ctrl-v’s
- I keep all my creditcard numbers and such as encrypted clips in a clip collection, so I can easily access them and paste my info into the browser for online shopping
Clipmate is doesn’t have much of a learning curve for the simple features I mentioned here. There is a good help system that quickly tells you what you need to know.
Clipmate is shareware. It costs $35, which is a little steep but well worth it.
It can be found at http://clipmate.com/.
Vim is a text editor that will in time grant you text editing superpowers.
I’m not going to spend a lot of time touting it, even though it’s probably the most complex piece of software in this list (not in it’s code, but in the scope and nuance of what it does).
There is one drawback, and this is why I wont spend a lot of time selling it: The learning curve makes the north side of Mount Everest seem like a tiny little hill. There are hardly any people I know who are up for it.
It has taken me several years to get to the high-end newbie level I am now, and I have talked to people who have used vim for over 15 years who are still learning new stuff every week.
Vim is hard to get good at, but if you edit a lot of text, it is so worth it. And even as a newbie, you still quickly beat the other text editors out there. I should note that the main reason it’s hard to get good at, is because it predates Windows and all the shortcuts you are used to from it. Ctrl-f doesn’t find, shift-ctrl-left doesn’t select the word left of the cursor and ctrl-q doesn’t quit. It has it’s entirely own way of doing things, and it takes some time to adjust.
If you are a stubborn person when it comes to learning things that pay off in the long run, take a good long look at vim and some vim tutorials. After a while it stops hurting and then it just feels good.
I have used it for maybe 5 years with a few gaps in the beginning, and I still fall in love with it all over again at least once a month.
Vim is free, open source and awesome.
You can find vim at http://www.vim.org.
Directory Opus showing it’s relative size guage, incremental filtering (upper left corner) and it’s text viewer
Directory Opus showing that it has custom content fields for stuff like artist and album, plus it’s viewer image turns into an id3 tag editor.
Last but certainly not least is Directory Opus, or dopus for short.
Dopus was the file manager on Amiga, but what most people don’t know is that they also make a PC version, which is currently in version 8.2.
Directory Opus is to files what vim is to text, only without the learning curve.
It does everything you ever wanted plus a thousand times more.
It’s a bit hard to tell people why Directory Opus is so fantastic, because when you start listing all the cool things it can do, it sounds like a bunch of “little” things. But these thousands of little things really come together to give a super sleek, endlessly improving experience. You quickly start wondering how the hell you ever lived with the regular Windows Explorer.
Here is less than one percent of the things I like about Directory Opus:
- I can configure every aspect of it
- It can be set to replace windows explorer
- I can configure what goes on the context menu for a given filetype or group of filetypes (like “upload to ftp site” for all image filetypes)
- I can paste text directly into the lister and it turns into a text file named “Clipboard Text.txt” if it’s text, or “Clipboard Image.png” if it’s an image – and the format used is of course configurable
- I can have it show accumulated sizes for a folder, and I can have it do it only on local drives and removable drives, or only network drives or whatever else I please
- It’s has an ftp client that made me drop every other ftp client I ever used. It navigates ftp sites like regular folders
- It’s an image viewer that made me drop acdsee
- It’s a zip program that made me drop winzip, and it navigates zip files like regular folders
- It’s a rar program, and it navigates rar files like regular folders
- It let’s me configure how I want to list the contents for files based on location (always show the attributes column for ftp sites), percentage of a certain type files (more than 20% image files, use the thumbnail view)
- It has an insane number of different column types that you can use in your listing, like artist and album for mp3s, or camera model or shutter speed for your pictures, md5 sums of your files, video codec for video files, SVN revision for files under source control and a lot more
- It can synchronize folders, also to ftp sites
- It has shortcuts in the address bar, so besides the pre-configured ones like /cookies, /system /temp and /appdata, I can also set it up to understand /movies /music /pictures /server /my_ftp_site and so forth
- It can do pattern renaming with both wildcards and regular expressions
- It allows me to map any keyboard shortcut to anything, even compound commands – I could have a keyboard command that launches a new lister windows and shows me what I need to synchronize from my local copy of my website to my actual website
- It’s fast
- It is in fact so awesome that this list could be 60 pages long, and I would still only scratch the surface
- Did I mention it’s customizable to the extreme?
Reading this list back, it seems feeble. And it really is, compared to Directory Opus’ array of features. It’s the kind of program where I could rant and rave about it for a month, and I would not be able to convey the true power and sleekness it possesses.
I can only recommend that you download the trial, knowing that everything about the default settings can be changed and explore the help file a bit.
I have been using dopus for 6 years consistently, and I keep finding new things I love about it.
Directory Opus is a boxed product that you can buy online either as a box or as a direct download. It costs $65 and it’s easily worth 3-4 times that in my opinion.
As far as I know, they also have different pricing models where you can choose not to get some of the features, and then get the program cheaper. I would recommend getting the full package though. You wont regret it – it’s written by australians.
You can find dopus at http://www.gpsoft.com.au/.
Finally, without including it in the list, I just want to mention a program called “Colibri“, which is an app launcher that acts pretty much exactly like the app launcher part of Quicksilver for Mac OS. I have already assimilated it into my work routine instead of Google Desktop.