Tips & Tweaks: Super-Duper Tools for Your Toolbox

"Hey Bass, how about a newsletter with a bunch of utilities?" It was an e-mail from my editor, who must have just attended a management seminar. I love his worthy-of-a-Dilbert-comic motivational approach. It worked, though: It's motivated me to change the .wav sound I hear when his e-mail pops up to "ding-dong." I think it fits.

Tool Appeal

My editor was right about one thing. I love writing--and reading--articles about software tools. If I find one useful utility, something that's solid and I can use regularly, I'm tickled.

This week? A few of those smart utilities and a handful of articles you might have missed.

Open Up Your Tool Kit

There are a few old hands at PC World, writers who know how to find utilities and can figure out which are keepers (and just as important, the ones to bypass).

One of my favorites is the guy who writes the "Windows Tips" column, Scott Dunn. For example, see his "Freeware Fills In Where Windows Comes Up Short. Scott found SyncBack, an elegant, sophisticated, on-the-fly backup and synchronization program. (He scooped me, the dog.) Look at Scott's column and you'll find SyncBack at the very beginning, in the paragraph that starts out "Backing up ain't hard to do."

For the past year or so, Staff Editor Laura Blackwell has put together "Download This." It's a meaty column with thorough descriptions of useful programs. Laura has targeted products I use, and I suspect you can, too. For instance, in "Top Download Picks of 2004," Laura profiles two products I love: SnagIt, a screen capture and editing tool, and WinPatrol, an excellent utility that keeps an eye out for spyware and adware trying to access your PC's startup areas.

Dig This: Do you think you've done dumb things to your PC? Wait until you get a look at these images from a guy who worked in a service department in a retail store of a very famous computer company (think cows...). [Thanks, Brad.]

Supercharge Your Software

I had a week's worth of fun digging up more than 20 nifty utilities for the May issue of PC World. Specifically, I was contributing to the Windows section of an article called "Supercharge Your Software." The article ran long, though--ducking deadlines is a habit, but once I'm on a roll, it's hard for me to stop--and I had to cut a handful of products. I just can't stand to waste anything, so here are the tools that didn't make it in.

Uninstall Me: MyUninstaller is a freebie that replaces Microsoft's Add/Remove applet in Windows. I found it a few years ago, pinned it to my Start Menu (right-click any item in your Start menu and choose "Pin to Start Menu"), and never used the one that came with Windows again. It's a valuable tool because among other things, I can see the location of the program, when I installed it, and, the name and location of the uninstall routine (which is helpful for troubleshooting).

Sock It to Winsock: You're busy surfing, having a grand time poking around the Internet. But then you take a little break and uninstall a program, or maybe you scan for spyware and your anti-spyware tool removes an adware component. And when you go back to your browsing, your Internet connection's hosed. You've tried opening and closing the browser and rebooting your PC, but nothing helps. To the rescue comes WinSock XP Fix, a free tool from Option Explicit that fixes corrupted or incorrect Winsock settings. Just run it, head back to your browser, and continue surfing.

Find It Now: There are tons of great desktop searching programs. Some cost money, like those in "Find Files Fast"; others are free, as in "Yahoo Launches Desktop Search Tool." But sometimes I just grab Agent Ransack, a super-duper, free substitute for Window's dumber-than-dirt Find feature.

Viewing the Process: Windows' Task Manager lets you see what's cooking under the hood. But for a better look, including the process or program's path, version number, and a list of affiliated DLLs, you want the free PrcView.

Terrific Tweaks: Microsoft's Tweakomatic is like TweakUI, but for geeks. If you're a novice, a wannabe geek, or someone who hasn't a clue about Windows Management Instrumentation scripts, stay away. Seriously. But you geeksters out there will want to check out the lengthy (and extremely funny) explanation, then download the tool, at Microsoft's TechNet.

Dig This: If you're wondering whether or not to up your meds, make the decision before you visit The Zoomquilt site, a visually enticing art project. When you get to the site, click your mouse and drag it up and down to navigate. [Thanks, Todd.]

Steve Bass writes the "Hassle-Free PC" column in PC World's print edition and is the author of PC Annoyances: How to Fix the Most Annoying Things About Your Personal Computer, available from O'Reilly. Watch this spot for details on his "Updated and Revised" edition due out, well, any day now. Sign up to have Steve Bass's Tips and Tweaks newsletter e-mailed to you each week. Steve Bass is probably still busy trying out new tools and utilities, and may be checking e-mail.
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