03 Jun

Essential Apps

[Note: 2/21/2014 - This is stunningly out of date. Hopefully I'll get it current yet this year]

The genesis of this page is “The Current Essential Apps List” post in which I discuss a handful of applications that’ll show up on pretty much any install I do for myself. The purpose of this particular page is to list out all the other applications that I tend to install over and over again and that have stood up well to my abuses.

Most of these applications are free or have free versions. Want to get almost all of them in one run? Check out ninite.com. This site is priceless when setting up a new OS installation.

First, start by reviewing “Essential Apps” to get a handle on why I use and suggest Evernote, Dropbox, Firefox, and Paint.NET. Now, in no particular order, here are the rest.


I already mentioned Firefox above, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the add-ons as well, right?

  • Adblock Plus – Block all the ads and banners.
  • LogMeIn plugin – I use LogMeIn for remote access frequently at work and home and this plugin helps streamline things a lot.
  • NoScript – Security. I tend to run it with scripts globally allowed (not the safe way to play!) but even so, it still helps catch the XSS attacks.
  • VeriSign’s OpenID Seatbelt – I use a VeriSign service as my OpenID provider and this plugin helps streamline the authentication aspects.
  • Fast Dial – Similar to what both Chrome and Opera offer but a bit more configurable. I use it to group up my frequently visited sites for convenience. I like that it lets you add folders and such.
  • Xmarks Sync – This keeps my bookmarks in sync between machines – and, with versions for IE and Opera it also keeps my bookmarks in sync between browsers. Nice plus is that Fast Dial keeps the settings as bookmarks so my Fast Dial shortcuts stay in sync as well.

If I’m going to be doing any web development on the machine, I’ll add some or all of these as well:

Is it all about Firefox for me? No, not really. More and more lately I find myself using the Google Chrome browser as well.

I used to have Opera on every machine but not as often these days… the competition has largely caught up and sometimes it seems as the Opera lost their script. But if I’m developing sites, it’ll be there for testing along with Safari for Windows.


  • 7-Zip – IMHO, the best and fastest compression utility.
  • Foxit Reader – PDF reader.
  • Synergy – I usually have a laptop sitting next to a desktop or another laptop. Synergy lets me control both machines from one keyboard and mouse.
  • uTorrent – the obligatory BitTorrent client. Easy to use and easy on the resources.
  • ImgBurn – light-weight CD/DVD burning software.
  • Remote Desktop Connection Manager – Great utility from Microsoft to manage multiple remote desktop sessions. I love the thumbnail view features.
  • CrashPlan – Awesome backup program that I’m still loving.


  • Secunia PSI – Personal Software Inspector. The way to keep all your apps current and vulnerability-free.
  • Microsoft Security Essentials — This quickly replaced all the other free/limited AV and Malware tools I used to rely on. The price is right and I’ve been pleased with how it has performed so far.
  • nmap – sometimes it is desirable to have a quick look around…

Not apps, but very core to our home security. These two work very well together and, I believe, have gone a long ways toward contributing to the fact that we’ve had no virus/malware issues since they were deployed.

  • Untangle – I threw an extra network card into an older PC and put Untangle on it as our all-in-one Firewall and filter. Stops most of the crud at the perimeter and gives me some control over what sites are allowed. Been using it since April ‘09 and very happy with the results.
  • OpenDNS – I have the Untangle server configured to use OpenDNS DNS servers. This gives us another layer of security via the OpenDNS service which I’ve configured to block access to some genres of “bad” sites. [past mentions]

Development Tools

If the machine will be used for development a lot of the utilities will already be there via what I store as portable apps in Dropbox. However, a few more will be added.

  • Visual Studio 2010 – My current development axe for any Windows apps or utilities I build. A blessed benefit of belonging to the Website Spark program.
  • Expression Web – Another benefit from Website Spark. A great little “underdog” web development tool from Microsoft. I had purchased earlier versions of this one before joining spark.
  • SuperPreview for IE – Compare sites with your installed IE7 or IE8 to what they might look like with IE6. Eliminates the hoops to keep IE6 around (*sigh*).
  • Notepad++ – Yeah, it is in the portable apps but if I want the full experience I’ll install it locally. For Windows machines, I think this is the best notepad replacement around.
  • Visual Studio Express editions – If you don’t have the full Visual Studio version, these are a great way to get rolling.

Portable Applications

I keep a suite of handy tools in my Dropbox account thus they’re available as soon as Dropbox is installed. Almost all come from PortableApps.com.

Revision History

  • June 2, 2009 – First version
  • December 21, 2009 — Updated. Removed Digsby, updated Security section with current choices
  • November 13, 2010 – More Updates