Utilities

Three events have got me thinking about utilities: Christer Ericson’s post, getting a Mac laptop, and sending my older son off to college (to Northeastern, in Computer Science – not my doing, he just liked his high school courses in programming). There are tons of useful utilities, from file searchers to spyware detectors to sound editors, and plenty of pages covering these. Many I use, such as FileZilla, Picasa, MWSnap, GIMP. Some I’m undecided on, such as IrfanView vs. XnView for quick image viewing (XnView is currently winning, but what I really want is trivial individual pixel examination built in – just tell me the RGB(A) that the mouse is over and I’ll be happy forever). Update: XnView wins! Going to the View menu, Display Colour Information can be toggled on, doing exactly what I wanted. That said, see the Comments below; now I have another one to try out, ddsview.

However, three stand out as just plain great, that everyone should know about:

  • Beyond Compare 3: compares files, that’s it. I’d been using version 2 for years; 3’s seriously better, and I’m happy to pay for the upgrade. I’ve found that which “diff” program is best is a matter of religious debate among programmers. Most of us have a favorite and can’t understand why anyone would use anything else. Anyway, this is my choice – compare files or folders, copy differences from one to another, easily edit either file, create reports, compare images (though this feature needs more oomph), plus a great try-before-you-buy policy: 30 days of use before it expires, not 30 days from first use.
  • Dropbox: This is my new best friend. For a number of reasons, I found myself often moving files between various machines via a USB flash drive. Slow, and a giant pain. Dropbox makes life easy for this and 58 other tasks. Install it, create an account, and there’s now a folder on your machine. Install it on other machines. Now when you move a file to this folder, the file is automatically uploaded to their server, then downloaded to all your other machines, almost immediately available on them. You can also put files in a Public subfolder and right-click to get an URL for this file, allowing you to serve up files to the web – extremely easy to do, beats manually FTPing, and you get 2 Gigs of storage free. You can also make private folders that can be shared with others of your choosing over the web. My latest use is putting my bookmarks HTML file into dropbox and pointing all my browsers on all my computers to it – update the file in one place and every machine then uses it automatically. Lovely. One caveat: when you move a file to your dropbox folder, by default you’re really moving it, since the folder’s local – delete it from any machine and it’s gone (well, recycled, but only on that machine). I tend to copy files instead, to avoid surprises.
  • Windirstat (Disk Inventory X on the Mac): This free utility does a great job showing you what’s taking up all that disk space. One key bit of info, that’s not obvious from the interface: almost everything in the window can be clicked (and right-clicked) on, giving still more information. Plus, it’s the only utility in its class with Phong shading (I knew I could tie this post to graphics somehow).

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4 comments

  1. davidnr’s avatar

    Best simple image viewer to me is ddsview small, fast, allows viewing mipmap levels (on dds), alpha channel, colour channel, alpha blended image, plus tons of formats support. On the downside it’s windows only but source code is also available.

  2. plillevold’s avatar

    Alternative to Dropbox file syncronization: Live Mesh (http://www.mesh.com)

  3. Eric’s avatar

    Cool, thanks for the pointers. Live Mesh sounds even better in some ways (plus, 5 GB).

  4. Mauricio’s avatar

    I use the (free) FastStone Image Viewer for (duh) image viewing, but it also supports TWAIN scanners, simple markup (e.g. text and arrows), and some image processing.

    I solve the file sharing problem by only having one main computer. =) It helps that it is a laptop. I actually want as few computers as possible in my life: right now its a gaming rig and a work laptop, and I am set.

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