14 Great Programs You Didn't Even Know You Needed

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Basic Needs, Basic Tools

Network Magic

Another of the things that Windows could be a lot more helpful about is networking.

Troubleshooting advice that ends in "consult your network administrator" sounds like a joke when you are your home's network administrator. Most software utilities that purport to simplify networking are lying through their routers. So I wasn't too excited about trying Network Magic--nothing about networking is magical, unless you include voodoo curses.

But whattayaknow? It's a program that lives up to its hype. Now when my network abruptly disappears, I click on Network Magic and it starts trying different methods to resuscitate the ethernet. It doesn't always succeed, and Network Magic has to resort to telling me which cable to unplug, how long to wait, and what to try next. Between the two of us, though, this networking stuff is child's play. A very big, mean child, but Magic and I can take him.

Download Network Magic


Considering that many people have moved their permanent residence to the Internet, you'd think folks would want better digs than Internet Explorer. Sure, there's Firefox; it's sort of the DIY log cabin that Linux devotees build themselves because, you know, Microsoft is evil. There's Opera, too--I have no clue why people use it. And then there's Maxthon, the Rodney Dangerfield of browsers--if Dangerfield looked like Brad Pitt and thought like Frank Lloyd Wright.

One possible reason Maxthon can't get no respect is that it originated in China and has never been properly marketed in the United States or Europe. But the people who have discovered it, as I did a couple of years ago, love it because it packs an arsenal of tools for blazing your way through the morass that the Web can become.

Maxthon, of course, has tabs--it had them before IE and Firefox did. But here's one example of why its tabs work better: When you reopen Maxthon, you're presented with a list of the tabs what were open when you last closed it, and you can pick up where you left off easily. Tabs can be renamed, locked in place, scooted around, tiled, constantly refreshed, and saved in groups that you can later recall in toto.

Other tools translate dozens of languages, let you edit a Web page to eliminate parts you don't want to appear in a printout, and zoom images or the entire screen.

A treelike history helps you find your way back to a certain page. The browser also lets you suck all the images off a page or collect notes and search with multiple engines. There's no way I can tell you all the things that have made me a die-hard Maxthon user. It's free. Try it yourself.

Download Maxthon


ClipMate is like Spybot Search & Destroy in that you may have heard of it, or even used it.

You've heard about it as a replacement for Windows Clipboard--and how exciting can that be, right? Wrong. Though it is a superlative replacement for Clipboard, think of it as an easily programmable database, and stop thinking of clips as mere pieces of data that you'll never see again once you've pasted them.

The beauty of it is that you don't have to endure the data-entry drudgery that comes with most databases. Because 95 percent of the data you're likely to save in the ClipMate database is stuff you've been copying anyway, it's in the database automatically.

I use it to track the passwords, registration keys, license numbers, and other codes I need when I inevitably have to reinstall every program on my hard drive. When I get a code, usually in an e-mail, I copy it and paste it into the program waiting to be authenticated. Then a press of a hot-key opens ClipMate's database. Ctrl-R lets me rename the code to the name of the program, and I slide it over to a database table that I've named "Registrations," from which no entries can be deleted unless I say okay. ClipMate is constantly backing itself up, so I don't worry about crashed drives--at least not as far as my passwords are concerned.

ClipMate also has tools for processing data. You can join separate clips together, or break a single clip into many. It will not only strip away all the line breaks, codes, and formatting that cause problems when you paste them into different programs, but it will also check the spelling and capitalization while it's at it. With a little planning and choosing among options, you can have all of this happen automatically when you copy, cut, or paste. It speeds up, dresses up, and cuts down on your work without your giving it another thought.

Download ClipMate

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