If you’re like me and are required to (or perhaps choose to) use your computer every day, this can often time bring its own set of challenges and stress. Part of personal development is learning how to become more efficient to free up time to spend on things that matter most. Dealing with lost data, security issues, slow processing speeds and never-ending spam can strip you of your time and sap your energy. Why work so hard, when there are tools out there to help you? Luckily, there are a whole mess of free and useful utilities that can help make your computer experience a little easier and more secure. Here’s a list of 12 must-have utilities that I regularly use:
- Multi Clipboard
If you routinely enter information into web forms or any other application, then this tool is for you. Multi Clipboard gives you access to 9 clipboard slots, which you can select with either a mouse click when the program window is active, or via the Hotkey “Ctrl + NUMPAD 1..9″, even if the program is inactive or minimized to the system tray. This will copy the selected slot to the Windows clipboard, from which you can paste it into your active application (with Ctrl + V for example).
Manually backing up your data is a time consuming and often forgotten task. Back2zip is a cool little utility that regularly monitors your chosen documents and files and makes sure that they are always properly backed up to the physical location of your choice. It has an easy-to-use interface and provides you the choice of compressing them before the back-up.
As a side note, if you’d rather backup to a remote FTP server you can use the freeware version of Handy Backup.
RamBooster allows you to free up RAM that Windows tends to fill with unnecessary data, allowing your computer to run faster. You also have the option to have this run automatically, keeping plenty of RAM available for you and your apps instead of Windows hogging it all.
- Active KillDisk
Warning!! this will completely obliterate all your data without any possibility of recovery! If this is what you want, then read on.
When I sell or donate my old computer or laptop, I’ll use this tool to securely get rid of any data that is left behind, keeping me safe from identity thieves and other malicious intenders. It’s important to note that this can only be run in DOS mode (or a shell if you’re running Linux). As such, it might scare away less-than-savvy users. However, it’s very simple to do and the online tutorials provide more than enough instruction.
Regularly monitoring the health of your computer will prevent possible shutdowns or worse. Doing this manually is a pain. This utility will keep you informed of any possible problems, notifying you real-time or via email (it can also log results on a database if you so desire).
- Computer Profiler
Ever need to find out the important little details of your hardware and software like its name, version, manufacturer and driver info, only to get bogged down in the search? This utility lists all your resources and more in one easy-to-find location. Everything from the programs installed on your computer to the individual PCI devices are listed with their important details.
One of the most annoying things about certain file share and email applications is the size limit that you’re allowed to send. This nifty program helps you break a large file into a set of smaller files sized to your liking. Also if you only have a floppy disk or small memory stick and want to copy a big file over to another computer, this will help you do this.
- Password Generator
A useful tool for creating very secure passwords. It has a very simple, easily-to-use interface that gives you the freedom to generate up to 1000 passwords at a time to store them in your brain or a program like KeePass:
Ok, so if your memorization skills are limited or if you think torture might drive them out of you, use this program to keep all your various passwords in a safe, secure place (using AES and Twofish encryption algorithms).
Google Pack is a great collection of (mostly) free software provided by Google. The two that I use most are Desktop and Picassa.
Since Google is so good at searching, why not leverage its search capabilities to find files on your desktop? Google Desktop will help you locate specific files, emails, previous IM chats, search through PDFs and so on, all located on your computer. And Picasa will help you organize, share and find your photos. It uses the same user interface that drives Google’s web search, perfect for geeks and grandmothers alike.
Google Pack does come with antivirus software but it’s only free for the first 6 months. ClamWin is an excellent and free Antivirus and spyware software available under the GNU General Public License (open source). Much like its proprietary siblings, ClamWin has a scanning scheduler, does automatic downloads from its updated virus database and can be used with Microsoft Outlook to automatically remove virus-infected attachments (I love that part).
- ClearType Tuner PowerToy
ClearType is a great and surprisingly free technology (what was Bill thinking?) developed by Microsoft. It drastically improves the appearance of text on certain display screens, especially flat-panel LCD monitors (like mine), easing your eyes if you do a lot of online reading.
Before you think Bill has become soft and is offering his stuff up for free, think again. Basically, PowerToys are additional programs that developers over at Microsoft didn’t have time to finish in the initial XP release, and instead finish up afterwards. Either way, this tool is still cool.