14 Great Programs You Didn't Even Know You Needed

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More Windows Enhancers

Xplorer2

As long as I'm bashing Microsoft--and really, can you think of a better way to spend a summer's evening?--I might as well bring up other programs that do all the things Windows Explorer can't do worth a darn. The most efficient approach is simply to chuck Explorer and run Xplorer2.

At first glance it may look as if you're running Windows Explorer--until you notice the multiple file lists, the preview window, and the plethora of goodies strewn along its toolbar and menus. It's filled with dozens of tweaks that should be standard in Windows.

Xplorer2 lets you search for duplicate files, display a history of programs you've run, and copy to multiple folders. And that's just the beginning. Use its automatic script-generation wizard to create scripts to apply multiple commands to multiple files. Create your own commands and put them on the toolbar. Transform drives so they look like folders. Use "sticky clicking" and never again have to hold down the Ctrl key as you select files.

The utility's best trick is that it lets you change the text and background colors based on file extensions so that you can identify files as a glance. I've given all my graphics files red backgrounds, but I use the text colors to distinguish among JPEGs, GIFs, TIFFs, and so on. It's a computing rainbow. Makes me think Microsoft needs to hire not more programmers, but the art director for Hairspray.

Download Xplorer2

Ycopy

Xplorer2 is, of course, a whole corral full of one-trick ponies. Ycopy has only one trick, one very small, modest trick. But at the right time, you'd rather see Ycopy's little pony caper than a herd of horses performing Tristan und Isolde.

Why? Because the following has happened, or will happen, to you: One day, you discover that you have to copy a few hundred gigs' worth of files from one place to another. Because this task will take a few hours, you decide to go on a long lunch while the files migrate. Three hours and four banana margaritas later, you return to find that the copy operation choked on the tenth file because the file was open on another screen, or had an error, or was read-only. All your computer has been doing while you were gone is display a message asking what to do about the problem.

This is when you remember that computers are not like people: Even the dumbest human would put aside copying that one file until you returned. So will Ycopy. When Ycopy finds a file it can't handle, it makes a note about it and moves on to the next file. When you get back from lunch, you still have to do something about the recalcitrant files, but at least all of the other ones are taken care of.

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Spybot Search & Destroy

Please try to stifle your yawns. I'm sure you have heard of Spybot Search & Destroy, and I'm sure you're saying that you already have a perfectly decent program to track down spyware. That's fine. But you need to check out Spybot for two reasons. The first is that no single antispyware program is enough; I use four, myself, because I haven't yet found one that can catch all the insidious, constantly morphing, beastly programs determined to pester me until I pay for a video of Britney Spears getting out of a car.

Even if you're already using Spybot, you may need it in a way you're not aware of, because the program's creators hide one of its best features. They even try to scare you away from this feature with warnings of computer disasters, lost data, locusts, and earthquakes.

This secret feature is the ability to edit which programs and services launch when you boot your PC. Other programs give you the same ability, but what sets Spybot above the others is that it provides an explanation and recommendation as to whether most of the programs really need to be there sucking up memory. Without that information, most of us are left staring at program names written in computer gobbledygook and wondering if we should chance a plague of locusts. Be brave: Damn the locusts and take command of your startup.

Download Spybot Search & Destroy

HyperSnap

Windows thoughtfully gives you a PrintScreen function so at least one of the orphan keys at at the upper right of your keyboard has some reason for being. But Windows' PrintScreen is another example of software underachieving, as it gives you only a full-screen capture in .bmp format. Like anybody uses .bmp anymore.

Here's a better choice: HyperSnap. A screen shot of your desktop--in any graphics format you can think of and several you can't--is only part of what HyperSnap can offer. You set up hot-keys so that with a single, deft touch you can trigger image captures of individual windows, a region you select or several regions at the same time, any controls or toolbars, entire browser screens (including the part that hangs below screen level), or a single button. Once you have your screen shot, HyperSnap provides the tools to annotate it with text, arrows, circles, stamps, and more than you need, really. It also will capture text in error messages and other dialog boxes that usually resist being transformed into words you can actually use.

If you have to create instructions, document errors, or just illustrate online stories about 14 great programs people didn't know they needed, HyperSnap is the way to go.

Download HyperSnap

StrokeIt

I suppose most people, at some time or another, have had a reason to use a computer with only one hand. For those occasions, there's StrokeIt. (Perhaps not the name I would have chosen.) StrokeIt allows you to issue commands and execute recorded actions using only mouse gestures.

It comes with enough predefined gestures to cover generic commands, such as save, open, and maximize, as well as gestures for particular programs, such as selecting tools in Photoshop and playing back music in popular media players.

Most of the gestures are simple to learn: O for open, N for new, P for play or print, depending on what program you're using. You can add new gestures and new programs to control by moving your mouse. If you're using them when I walk by, don't get up. Just gesture.

Download StrokeIt

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