12 November 2020

Useful Software

Let us be honest, software is what ultimately drives IT. It is what allows us to perform duties and complete tasks. We use it everywhere from our smartphones, to our home PCs and office workstations. But there is a difference between good software, and useful software, as well as just plain bad software. I am fortunate in that between work and home, I use a lot of different programs.

I’m always on the lookout for new programs that will help me do my job better, whether it’s at home or in the office. Like most things in IT, it is an iterative approach as there is always something new.

That said… here are some programs and services that I find myself using often. These are my personal recommendations. As my opinion or tastes change, I’ll make sure to update this post.

This post was last updated: April 6, 2021

Brave Browser https://brave.com/
This is a chrome based browser that is privacy focus. It’s taken all of the “nasty” user tracking features in Chrome and has stripped them out.

FastStone Capturehttps://www.faststone.org/FSCaptureDetail.htm
This application makes taking screenshots a breeze. I use it a lot when creating documentation. It’s inexpensive, but it really makes the chore of documentation a lot easier in my opinion.

MS Office 365https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/microsoft-365/
Love it or hate it, it is the gold standard of Office suites. It’s what 99% of people are using at home and work. If you have more than one person in your house, go for MS O365 Family, as it allows for 6 users on the plan for only $99/year. If you are a student, make sure to utilize your “free” Edu licensed copies of Office.

Yes, there are other free Office suites out there, like Google Apps or LibreOffice, which will work in a pinch – but why settle. Go with the gold standard and go with the software you know will work, go with O365.

This is my favorite text editor. If you haven’t tried it, what are you waiting for? It really is just the best multi-tab text editor out there.

VMware Workstation Playerhttps://www.vmware.com/products/workstation-player.html
This is a great, free, type two hypervisor. Do you want to run a VM on your workstation? This will do it! If you are really getting into virtualization (or use it a lot for work) look into purchasing (or having work purchase) VMware Workstation Pro, it’s $149. Having the Pro version unlocks a lot more features which the regular player doesn’t have. Also, take a look at the VMUG Advantage membership I mention below.

VMUG Advantagehttps://www.vmug.com/home
If you work with virtualization at all, then you probably want to get yourself a VMUG Advantage membership. VMUG is VMware’s free User Group and its paid VMUG Advantage provides members exclusive development opportunities with 365-day access to VMware solutions, discounted training, certification opportunities, and more.

While it’s a little costly at $200/year, you get a lot back. Heck if you were to buy VMware Workstation Pro, that alone is worth $150, so for a little more, you can gain access to basically the entire VMware software library. How’s that for a LifeProTip. And with a bit of googling you could probably find yourself a discount code even.

This is my go-to archiving software. It is free. It is open-source. You can use it on any computer. You never have to register it to use it. It works with just about any compression/archive file format. What else could you want!?!

Also known as, VLC player. Need to play a media file? Well, you are in luck! VideoLAN will play it.
If it can’t play your media file, then you got bigger problems. I find that VideoLAN just works better than other media players. It’s also fairly lightweight, so it won’t slow down your system. It’s also available on every platform iPhone, Android, Mac, Windows, and Linux.

This app is a bit dated. But it’s still a powerful little app that gets used daily by a lot of folks. It’ll open a terminal session (i.e. – SSH or Telnet) to the server or host or device you specify. I know that there are “newer” and more “robust” applications now that will let you do what PuTTY does… and someday I might swap one of them onto this list. But for the role PuTTY plays, it’d be hard to find a more widely used app among IT professionals.

WinSCP https://winscp.net/
WinSCP is a great app that works as a FTP client, SFTP client, WebDAV client, SCP client & S3 client. Its mostly used for transferring files between your local and a remote machine, but it also has some capabilities in scripting and file management. I really like that it can share site settings with PuTTY, making it even easier to connect to my server and upload/download files.

I have two scary words for you – Password Management. Yes, it’s a scary subject. However, it’s one we need to talk about. With passwords needed everywhere and for everything, it’s important to keep track of what you are using on what site. Even more so, it’s important that you are not re-using the same username/password combinations on every site.

By using an application like Bitwarden, you can keep some of your sanity by letting it keep track of all of your passwords. There are plenty of other password managers out there… so I’m not saying that this one is the best. It’s just the one I am using. You just need to find the one that will meet your needs and utilize it.

This site is my goto when I’m setting up a ‘fresh’ Windows machine at home for myself or friends. To sum it up, it’s basically just a multi-installer. Tick the boxes to select all of the programs you want to install and then download just a single installer file. It’s fast and simple!

Trace32.exe, an executable found in System Center Configuration Manager 2007, can quickly open very large trace files and will automatically highlight lines with apparent errors. This tool will allow you to quickly open very large files and locate errors visually. It’s wonderful for log files!