Saturday, September 09, 2023

My favourite Windows utilities

Here's a quick article listing the essential applications I install with every new Windows computer. These solve some of the nagging annoyances and make life more efficient. 

The great thing about Windows is that every problem has a solution and most of them are open source. All of the solutions below are free. And none require compiling or other technical jiggery-pokery.

File Manager

The first problem is the application once known as Windows Explorer, now just as ridiculously named File Explorer. Am I really exploring when I create a new directory? Am I like some lost captain of the seas as I patiently rename files?

The interface keeps changing with new versions, but this application remains an inefficient and error-prone way to manage your files. You need to launch multiple instances and this becomes tiresome. It's also far too easy to copy from one Explorer to another the wrong way round. 

Way back in DOS days this problem was solved with a class of programs known as Commanders. These provide a two-pane view, so that you always see two different locations (or two views of the same location). But since you can bookmark locations and have multiple tabs stacked, you get instant access to numerous folders you might commonly need to use.

MultiCommander is my choice of many that exist. Never look at Explorer again.

Aside: The problem is even worse on MacOS since the Finder is particularly uninformative. Commanders also exist for that operating system, but I have never found a good one that's free. That's basically the difference between the operating systems in a nutshell. Both have problems. But it's more expensive to solve them with Apple. And sometimes you simply can't.

File Copying

Copying files is a completely stupid operation in Windows. If you encounter name collisions your only choices are to give up or overwrite the destination. Once again, this leads to management hassles and unnecessary risk of smashing files you meant to keep. 

Teracopy installs as a replacement for the copy operations, so it works everywhere, including within third-party applications like MultiCommander. This gives you meaningful choices while copying, reports progress in a transparent manner, allows you to skip problem files, and will verify files using checksums. 

Aside: Teracopy is available for macOS but does not integrate with the OS, so becomes almost useless. <sigh>

Microsoft's own treasures

Microsoft's own PowerToys (open source) should likely come with Windows, but then they'd have to support them. I use several daily. Color Picker and Screen Ruler are great for UI design and general graphics. Text Extractor runs OCR on a region of the screen you lasso, converting the graphics to text. How did I ever do without this?

The next two apps integrate with the context meu (right click), allowing quick access to commonly needed functions. Image Resizer is more efficient than booting up an image editor. File Locker tells you which apps have a lock on the current file.

And others

Greenshot (open source) is an alternative to the built-in Snip tool, which keeps changing its functionality in an annoying manner. Use Greenshot to get screen shots in a customisable manner. 

Notepad++ (open source) is a serviceable replacement for the basic text editor, though coders and others will want something more robust. 

Character Map UWP (open source) is a font viewer that replaces the Character Map application. Essential for anyone working with text.

WinLaunch (open source) will help those annoyed by the limitations of the Windows 11 start menu, by providing a full-screen panel with resizable icons. 

Everything provides a search bar with more power than Windows' own. And without all the spammy results. 

OK, those are the main utilities I use, aside from a crop of audio and video utilities that are better left for a different article. 


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