Free unmissable Windows software that will make your computer life easier.

Whatever your job, there is a good chance you’ll spend lots of time sitting in front of a computer. If you do lots of data analysis, as I do lately, then you’ll find yourself in front of the monitor for most of the day. I’ll use this and the following few posts to introduce some softwares that are going to dramatically improve your productivity – and make your digital life easier. Web is full of list with dozens of best freeware software so I have no intention of making just another one; rather I will suggest one software per category. If you know of something better feel free to leave a comment to this post. I’ll start with this post with some more general softwares, useful to anyone. In the next one I will talk of more scientific-oriented softwares.

  • 1. Launching Applications: Launchy (Windows)
  • Let’s start from scratch: how do you start a program? Most people move their mouse to the start menu and browse a wood of icons finding their way to word or their email software. Wiser guys use shortcuts on the desktop or on the task bar for the applications they use more often. Geeks use keyboard shortcuts. Smart people use Launchy. Launchy is a fantastic piece of software that will allow you to run any program listed in the start menu just using a couple of key strokes. Once installed Launchy will silently wait for your activation event (normally is the simultaneous pressing of “Alt + Space Bar”) and then it will be ready to go. Just type a few letters and Launchy will prompt you with a best match and a series of choices you can navigate with the arrow keys. Nice thing is that the program will learn your preferences and will tend to give highest priority to those applications you use the most so that after a while even a single letter will be enough for Launchy to recognize your choice. The program comes with few plug-ins that allow to search among other things too (such as shortcuts to disk, browser favorites and others) and a number of skins. Easier to use that to explain. If you are familiar with macs, then I’d call Launchy the windows quicksilver.

  • 2. Using the clipboard: CLCL (Windows)
  • This is another great one. You will ask yourself how you managed to get so far without using it before. You probably do copy and paste the way everyone does it: compulsively. Especially when it’s time to write that manuscript: those paragraphs move up and down like dancers, don’t they? I use CLCL, a clipboard enhancer to make the whole thing easier. CLCL will store in memory the last 30 items you copied in the clipboard so that you can, at any time, paste back something you copied before. You activate the menu window with a keystroke (Alt-C) and with arrows or numbers get the text or the object or the image or whatever you copied minutes or hours before. You can also specify some templates, meaning objects or text that will always stay in the menu and may turn handy if you need to insert them frequently here or there.

  • 3. Easy Screenshots: Cropper (Windows)
  • Sometimes the easiest way to include pictures in a document or a presentation is to copy and paste a screenshot of your screen. Think of when you want to include an extract from a PDF file (its title or a figure; in all those cases when print resolution is not an issue this is sure enough this is the fastest way to get the job done. Cropper is a tiny utility that will help with that (and more). Just activate it to grab a portion of the screen (or the whole of it with your PrtScreen key) and save the image as a file (several formats are available) or in the clipboard, ready to be pasted. Using ad-hoc pluginsyou can also automatically send the image to a web hosting service (such as flickr or tinypic) or via email or do other fancy things such as recording animation into .avi files o animated gifs. Make sure you download the latest version (1.9 as of now).

  • 4. Copy and Paste à la unix and windows always on top: X-mouse true Gizmo (Windows)
  • Imagine to have to windows open: one is full screen, let’s say a spreadsheet; the second is resized, small: let’s say your browser. You want to drag and drop a bunch of links from your browser to the spreadsheet but every time the full-screened application gets the focus (such as after the dragging and dropping) the browser disappears. Now, this won’t happen if you use X-Mouse True Gizmo. And that would already be enough to install it, wouldn’t be? Plus: this little app introduces in window a copy and paste linux-like: just select the text with your mouse to copy it and press the wheel to paste it!

  • 5. Create PDF on the fly out of everything: PDF Creator (Windows)
  • No more words are needed here: PDFCreator will install a virtual printer on your machine. To make a PDF out of whatever document you wish (word file, spreadhseet, web page, picture…) just print using that virtual printer. As easy as it gets.

    [to be continued]