I'm sort of "forced" into using Windows XP for the last year or so. After working for more than six years with Linux and SGI IRIX, I got so used to several applications and utilities and environment features, that I find it hard to work in Windows without them. So I started collecting different tools to make work in Windows as enjoyable as possible.
There are still missing things though. For example, I work on IBM T42 laptop with only 512Mb memory, which leads me to performance issues.While I hope to get an upgrade at some point, it may take some time for that to happen. By default, memory handler in Windows XP is quite horrible, which makes me to reboot the machine couple of times a week.
So, herein my list for the useful applications, tools and utilities, which make my life if not perfect, at least much more convenient and productive when working with Windows XP:Environment:
- Dexpot - Virtual Desktops.
Dexpot provides me with the highly usable feature I need in my GUI environment - virtual desktops. No one who have worked in Unix/Linux environment since forever needs an explanation for what that is. But this feature have been missing in Mac OS and Windows. It is being added in Mac OS X - Leopard (the coming version), but in Windows its status is still unknown.
Using aforementioned utility I get the feature I need. There are other utilities that provide this feature, such as Sysinternals' (now Microsoft) Virtual Desktop Manager - but I find Dexpot to be the better one. Rich in features (can be used to make windows transparent or remove all shortcuts from particular virtual screen) and highly configurable make Dexpot the best utility for what I need.
- Graphics - Minimal.
This is just a concept and not a utility. To be as productive as possible, I want my computer to serve me and not me serving a computer. So I work with my laptop connected to an external 19" CRT monitor, with extended windows - I have screen 0 on a laptop with resolution of 1024x768 and screen 1 on CRT monitor with resolution 1280x1024. For example, I use big screen for browsing the web or writing documents (as I get more screen real estate this way) and I use laptop's screen for Outlook.
Even in Linux, I don't use advanced Beryl/other 3D mambo-jumbo on my production machine. Simplicity leads the way in being productive.
Tools & Utilities
While being applications, I don't use these tools "all the time". I use them mostly as supporting infrastructure while doing the "real" work in some "real" application. So, here are tools and utilities:
Ssh/scp is the best-known and mostly used secure way to login to other machines. Considering that I work at least half of my time on our product which is built upon Linux OS, I use PuTTY/PScp intensively. I just wish it came in "tabbed" enclosure.
This is a swiss knife of archiving. The best of the best. 7-Zip opens and archives to any archive format, iso and many others. It is more convenient than WinRAR and, something much more important - its an open source application.
Once again, SysInternals (now Microsoft) have created a very nice application which allow to analyze processes running in the system. It also provides the option to dedicate specific processor to a process (if available), to raise or lower the priority of the process (niceness?) and such. Very good application, which allows me close monitoring of my system (very needed tool when running Windows XP on the machine with only 512MB of memory).
It happens to everyone - you want to work on multiple computers at the same time, and you even have dual-monitor setup, but the problem is the keyboard and mouse - it is very inconvenient to switch between them, and it takes space on your desktop. So, there are 2 ways invented to deal with the situation:
KVM - Keyboard, Video and Mouse, its a hardware device which allows you to connect multiple computers to a one set of keyboard, mouse and monitor.
Software application - Synergy - allows server-client model, when multiple computers are interconnected by software allowing control of all of them with a single KVM set.
I used Synergy to work on my personal Linux laptop from my Windows XP desktop computer and it works great. The great thing about it is, again, that this program is open source software.
- Gmail Notifier
Everyone uses Gmail today, so it even doesn't need introduction. This small utility sits in my tray and notifies me about important messages I get, such as comments on my blog, forums and other stuff. Quite important peace of software.