A Few of My Favorite Things (For Windows)

I used to have an Apple PowerBook but switched back full-time to a PC over a year ago. My reasoning at the time was basically a preference for some of the PC hardware choices out there (namely, a laptop that wouldn’t burn my lap) plus an understanding I could dual-boot / virtualize Linux whenever I couldn’t stand Windows.

I use Windows 7 full-time now, but this post is not about Mac vs. Windows vs. Linux though (even though I, and every other computer user on the planet, have plenty to say about that).1

Below the fold, a list of some of my five favorite tools on Windows. Most of these are things I downloaded to replicate functionality I missed from OS X or Linux.

AutoHotKey. I blogged about this before, but one of my top annoyances with Windows is the inability to change the keyboard shortcuts. AHK is a little difficult to grasp for beginners — it uses a pseudo-programming-language, but once you grasp it, it’s an extremely powerful tool.

Startup Monitor. Programs installing things that run on startup without asking for permission annoy me. I don’t mind if it takes an extra second for Acrobat or Quicktime to start, but it does bug me that some of my memory is being used by programs I use relatively infrequently. To block such annoyances, I’ve long relied on StartupMonitor. StartupMonitor gives you a little alert when a program installs something into startup and lets you block it if you want. Simple. Done.

NB1: The page says the program hasn’t been tested with Vista and up yet, but it works on Windows 7 for me.

NB2: The guy who wrote StartupMonitor, Mike Lin, also has other cool tools available. Check it out.

Switcher – One of things I missed from Mac OS X is Expose (in fact, seeing this in action was one of the reasons I started using Macs in the first place). Switcher is Expose for Windows — a fast Windows switching app that runs in the background that you can trigger with a hotkey or mouse movement.  In fact, it’s better than Expose IMHO, because of how customizable it is.

PowerMenu – Lets you right click on Windows and say “always on top” or “transparency 50%”. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to work with 64-bit apps. For x64 users, you can get always on top with FileBox eXtender. For transparency, see Actual Transparent Window (you have to pay after 60 days though).

Launchy – It’s like Quicksilver or Gnome-do for Windows. Hit a hotkey and a box pops up. Type in a phrase and it’ll start searching for the app  you probably want. With the new search box in the start menu for Windows Vista and Windows 7, this is less useful now, but it’s still much more customizable. You can set it up to search certain folders, act as a simple calculator, and do other fun stuff.

1 One little tidbit — I’ve gotten hooked on the Thinkpad’s trackpoint. Apple’s going to have to include either that or some crazy new UI paradigm for me to switch. For a mix of pointing and typing, it’s a much more efficient than the trackpad (you don’t need to move your entire hand just to move the mouse cursor). In that way, I think it’s like a Dvorak keyboard. Once you get over the learning curve, it’s annoying to switch back.