The Sourcerer's Apprentice

The adventures of David Heinemann in IT & software development

Stuff I Use

Last updated 08 July 2012

For some time I’ve wanted to assemble a list of great software, services and gadgets like Scott Hanselman has, so here it is. These are the tools I swear by, and use regularly at home and work. The list is sorted by platform, and is comprised of both free and non-free software, in both senses of the word.



Programming tools & utilities for Windows

BareTailPro - Tail for Windows

BareTailPro is a GUI Tail application for Windows. Like its Unix counterpart, it “tails” log files and displays new data as it is written. It also has pattern highlighting and Regex search & filtering. BareTailPro is $35, but there’s also a perfectly good free version.

Beyond Compare - Diff/Merge

Beyond Compare is the best diff/merge tool I’ve come across. Like all diff/merge tools, it allows you to easily compare and merge similar files, but Beyond Compare also has a neat spreadsheet mode for comparing CSV and Excel files in tabular format. CSV files are a nuisance to compare as text, and this feature alone makes Beyond Compare invaluable to me.

Console Calculator - Calculator

Console Calculator is the type of calculator app that every operating system should ship with. It supports lengthy expressions, decimal precision to 100+ digits, unit conversions, plus custom functions, variables and units. When was the last time you saw a calculator app with a 9-page manual?

Everything - Instant search

Still using Windows XP? You can throw out Windows Search now; Everything is here to save the day. In a few seconds it indexes all the files on your hard drive and allows you to search through them all instantly. It is only able to search by file name (i.e. not full-text), but it’s extremely fast.

f.lux - Screen temperature adjustomatron

Sleep research indicates that bright blue light can interfere with our sleep. f.lux attempts to fix that by automatically adjusting screen temperature based on time of day. As the clock moves closer to midnight, the screen slowly turns to a candlelight-orange colour. Although a little unusual at first, I find it makes computing at 2:00 AM much more comfortable.

The GIMP - Image editor

GIMP, the GNU Image Manipulation Program is often underestimated, but it’s a fantastic image editor in its own right. Similarly to Vim, it has a bit of a learning curve, but is very powerful, not to mention better value for money than Photoshop.

KeePass - Password manager

KeePass is a simple password management application. The fact that it runs on multiple platforms (even Android!) means you can combine it with Dropbox to keep your passwords synced across all your devices.

PowerGREP - Grep for Windows

There are a number of GUI Grep tools out there for Windows, but none of them have the same number of features as PowerGREP. Whereas the others trade features for the convenience of a GUI, PowerGREP has both - for $160. Is it worth that price? Read the features list or download the trial and see what you think.

RegexBuddy - Regex assistant

RegexBuddy allows you to write and visually test Regular Expressions prior to implementing them. In addition, it explains what a given expression does, allows you to write and translate expressions in a variety of languages (C#, Perl, etc.), and record patterns in your own library for later use.

Revo Uninstaller Pro - Uninstall all the things!

Revo Uninstaller Pro is a better uninstaller for Windows. Whereas the usual program-specific uninstallers tend to do an awful job and leave useless files and registry keys on the hard drive, Revo tracks them down and allows you to remove them on a case-by-case basis. It’ll set you back $40, but if you don’t need 64-bit support, the older freeware version is perfectly good.

SQL Complete - Intellisense for SQL Server Management Studio

Devart’s SQL Complete turns SQL Server Management Studio into everything it should have been. It adds a ridiculous number of features, including Visual Studio-style intellisense which allows you to easily identify available databases, tables, columns and even their datatypes. The full version is relatively affordable, and a rather generous free version is also available.

TrueCrypt - Whole Disk Encryption

TrueCrypt allows you to easily encrypt files, partitions and entire disks (whole disk encryption) so that they can’t be accessed without a passphrase. In my opinion, it’s better to encrypt a laptop than use something like Prey. It reduces your chance of ever seeing your data again if it’s stolen, but at least you can sleep easy knowing it’s safe.

Vim - Ninja text editor

Vim is a keyboard-driven text editor. The idea of coding without a mouse might sound crazy, but after learning Vim you’ll never look back.

VirtualBox - Virtual machine

VirtualBox is easy-to-use virtual machine software. It will happily run under Windows, GNU/Linux or OS X and supports a large variety of guest operating systems.

What The Hex? - Colour picker

I wrote What The Hex? because I was tired of having to load up The GIMP every time I wanted to know the hex or RGB value of a particular colour. What The Hex? takes a second to open, automatically takes a screenshot, and allows you to easily grab a colour’s details.


Programming tools & utilities for Linux

Ratpoison - Tiling window manager

Ratpoison is a tiling window manager heavily inspired by GNU Screen. No fancy window decoration - applications are displayed in all their fullscreen glory. It’s quite fast and light.

GNU Screen - Console window manager

Screen is like a window manager for the console. It allows you to easily run multiple terminals together, and switch between them using shortcut keys.

Vim - Ninja text editor

Vim is a keyboard-driven text editor. The idea of coding without a mouse might sound crazy, but after learning Vim you’ll never look back.

VirtualBox - Virtual machine

VirtualBox is easy-to-use virtual machine software. It will happily run under Windows, GNU/Linux or OS X and supports a large variety of guest operating systems.

GNU Wget - Download manager

In a nutshell, Wget is a command line application for downloading files over the web, but it’s actually quite powerful. With the right parameters, you can even use Wget to download an entire website.

Services & Web

Various websites and Internet services

alternativeTo - Software alternatives

alternativeTo is a community-contributed list of computer programs and similar software that may serve as an alternative. It supports multiple platforms from Windows and OS X all the way to Symbian and Windows Mobile, making it very easy to find an alternative to mIRC, for example, on OS X or Android.

DuckDuckGo - Search Engine

Unlike other search engines, DuckDuckGo doesn’t bubble or track you. It also has useful !Bang commands, which can be used to automatically forward your query to another search engine like Google, YouTube, Amazon, etc.

NearlyFreeSpeech.Net - Nearly free web hosting

NearlyFreeSpeech.Net is a rather unique web host. They offer the usual set of features like PHP, MySQL, Shell access, etc, but unlike others, they only charge you for what you use. This blog literally costs me just a few cents a day to host. None of that $10/month nonsense for bandwidth I don’t need.

Peepcode - Screencasts

These guys make high-quality screencasts for programmers, with subjects like Ruby, Git, Vim and Backbone.js.

Pinboard - (Anti-)Social bookmarking

Pinboard is a new social bookmarking service that offers some nice features. With the $9.21 signup fee you’ll get a minimalistic but effective bookmarking service. What makes it really worthwhile though is the archival feature, which is available for an additional $25/year and automatically crawls and archives any pages you bookmark. This means that even if a bookmarked website goes down permanently, you’ll have an archived copy of your bookmarked pages. I blogged about this briefly here.

RegexPal - Regex assistant

RegexPal will help you build Regular Expressions by allowing you to test them live as you go. It’s a great free alternative to RegexBuddy, but very limited in comparison.

W3C Markup Validation Service - HTML validator

If you work with HTML regularly, you may find this service useful. It will validate your page according to the HTML standards, outputting compiler-style warnings and errors. This is exceedingly useful for ensuring your web page is standards-compliant and cross-browser compatible.

Deals & Promotions

Opportunities for cheap or free software

Bare Metal Software pack - Cheap Grep & Tail tools

BareTailPro & BareGrepPro cost $35 each, but both of them, plus nag-free versions of their free counterparts ($25 each) can be bought together for $50 on the Bare Metal store - $70 off.

It’s Not Cheating - Cheap Microsoft products

A Microsoft promotion, whereby University and TAFE students in various countries can purchase select Microsoft products at heavy discounts. Right now in Australia, Windows 7 Professional Upgrade and Office Professional Academic 2010 are available at $119 AUD and $99 AUD respectively. In the past Visio and Office 2007 Professional have been available too. If you aren’t Australian, you can select your region in the top-right corner.

Microsoft Dreamspark - Free Microsoft products

Microsoft is giving away a bunch of MS products to students for free. Though Windows 7 unfortunately isn’t included in the package, other great software like Windows Server 2003 & 2008 and Visual Studio 2010 Professional are.


While your code is compiling

Good Old Games - Classic DRM free games

These guys sell classic PC games, DRM-free with XP, Vista & W7 compatibility. Big publishers have jumped on board to provide hard-to-find classics like Total Annihilation, Master of Magic, Planetfall and Little Big Adventure. DOS games even come pre-configured with DOSBox, allowing them to work right out of the box. Many games also come with extra freebies like soundtracks.