Tools of the trade (and other software)

Pictured: an old laptop

Pictured: an old laptop

I am currently relocating to a new PC, always a good opportunity to start fresh with software. Below is a list of the software I deem necessary for my everyday work and some recommendations.

It used to be that a refresh like this was required every once in a while (remember “reformatting your hard drive”?). With more sophisticated operating systems (Mac OS or Windows 7) and me being more careful to use virtualization for one-off software installs, it’s easier. These days,  I perform a refresh like this only when moving to a new computer.

Interesting conclusions from looking at my top 10 list below:

  • Microsoft Office still has no replacement. In a world where Mac, Linux and online solutions are gathering market share, it is somewhat surprising.
  • a new productivity item for me is Balsamiq mockups – a wonderful product from a great little company.
  • 8/10 are freeware. Seems like a victory for that business model.
  • In a world where people are talking about HTML5 as a standard, I still need three different browsers.

What’s on my list?

  • Balsamiq mockups for desktop: (commercial, $79) an invaluable Product Management tool: get UI mockups up and running in minutes, in enough detail to deliver your message to the development team, but not too much details to distract from the core meaning.
  • Screenpresso: (free) excellent for taking screenshots and highlighting the important parts.
  • Notepad++: (free) because, at the end of the day, we all look at configuration files/code-snippets/etc – we need that one editor that can handle it all and do comparisons/syntax highlighting, even if we don’t (read: shouldn’t) write code.
  • Microsoft office: Mainly word and excel(very expensive): unfortunately, even with the wide adoption of the excellent google docs (which have revolutionized collaboration, especially on spreadsheets), Microsoft office is still the most feature rich, widely accepted standard for creating and editing documents, and excel – with it’s pivot tables – it an invaluable data analysis tool. Microsoft have earned my respect with these.
  • paint.net: (free) a marvelous application which enables me to do most of what a PM needs to do in the field of screenshot manipulation, from resizing to recoloring to layers. Beyond this, your next stop is Photoshop.
  • virtualbox: (free) because you need a walled playground to test your applications, and it’s very useful to be able to return to a snapshot. VMware has been my friend so far, but virtualbox is free.
  • ccleaner: (free) PCs get filled with “leftovers” over time, ccleaner has proven very effective at reclaiming that free space.
  • The surprisingly old (free) deskpins product, combined with setting windows to “focus follows mouse“. This is a techie one, but it enables me to more efficiently use limited screen real estate to edit a document while viewing another document as well.
  • phrase express: (has a free version) a powerful text replacer, not only it fixes my typos (no matter what application I am on), it also has powerful macros.
  • Browser extensions (I don’t use IE): firebug – mainly to create web page mockups(but it has so much more), click and clean – to maintain my privacy.
  • 7zip: (free) – powerful compression utility, without the fuss.
Also: honorable mention goes to Sysinternals Suite, VLC, Picasa, HandBrake, MediaMonkey, and Dropbox.
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