My Digital Toolbox

Routinely, I am asked what programs I recommend for this or that; removing viruses, spyware, making computers run faster, etc. Until recently, my suggestions might have been quite different. So here are the programs I recommend be installed on every computer, and why:

Google Chrome


What is it?

Google Chrome is an Internet browser. You know, what you use to view websites.

I used to be a stalwart Internet Explorer (IE) fan, primarily because of speed. Since IE was pre-installed on every computer, why bother installing anything else? Google Chrome has completely changed my mind.

Why use it?

Speed

It’s fast! It’s easily one of the speediest and snappiest browsers I’ve ever seen. Add to that Google’s eerie way of reading your mind, and you have a browser that actually anticipates what you want to do.

Simplicity

It’s also incredibly easy to use. No more “http://” and no more cluttered windows with a million buttons. In addition, there’s a growing number of “extensions” that are essentially tiny programs that run within Chrome that add additional features. For example, an extension that lets you fill in any field in a website by speaking. There are thousands of extensions available, and more coming out every day.

Security

Chrome is also one of the most secure web browser available. This means less viruses accidentally downloaded, or taking advantages of holes in IE that are so prevalent. For this reason alone I would recommend it.

Sync

Chrome also has an amazing option to sync virtually everything you do in your browser: bookmarks, history, passwords, and even those extensions I mentioned earlier. In short, it means being able to access the same information across multiple computers, as if it were the same PC. Until you experience it, it’s difficult to explain, but once you do, it’s a game-changer.

>> Download from Google.com

 

Microsoft Security Essentials


What is it?

Security Essentials is Microsoft’s Anti-Virus and Anti-Spyware solution. It’s designed to prevent your computer from contracting harmful viruses, or information-stealing spyware by warning you if it detects a problem.

Why use it?

It’s Free

It’s not only one of the best Anti-Virus programs out there, but it’s 100% free.

Automatic Updates

So long as you have Windows Updates turned on (and you really should), Security Essentials will automatically update itself with the latest information to protect your computer.

Less Resource-Intensive

Many Anti-Virus programs are suites of programs that work together to actually slow down your computer. Some programs have even been known to half a computer’s speed. Obviously this is not acceptable. Security Essentials doesn’t fall into this trap, however, and takes up very few system resources, which means a faster computer.

Unobtrusive

Another nice feature of Security Essentials is that it’s very unobtrusive. You really don’t see it working unless it finds something, and when it does, it’s very obvious, and does a great job of grabbing your attention.

Simple

Not only does Security Essentials get your attention, but then it’s very simple and clear about what steps it’s going to take, what it recommends you do with the infection it’s found, and even links you to additional resources which will explain more about that particular infection (and in layman’s terms, which is nice.)

Did I mention that it’s free?

>> Download from Microsoft.com

 

Malwarebytes


What is it?

It’s an application that compliments Anti-Virus programs quite nicely by detecting malicious software that may have crept onto your computer. Though Security Essentials is fantastic, it doesn’t always catch everything. There have been times that Security Essentials found something that Malwarebytes didn’t, and vice versa. This is an essential tool for not only removing malicious software from a computer, but for preventing it.

Why use it?

It’s Free (Sort of)

Though there is a paid version available, the basic software is completely free. I’ve been using it for almost 3 years to date, and have yet to have it ask me to pay for anything.

The free version will run on-demand scans, meaning you have to begin them yourself. The paid version will monitor your computer as you use it, and (presumably) prevent any type of infection. To be fair, I’ve never used the paid version, so I can’t speak for it’s effectiveness in immediately preventing malware from getting onto the comptuer. The free version however, works wonderfully, and has saved me countless hours troubleshooting, or having to erase and re-load a computer.

Works Every Time

There have been times where it seems nothing can get rid of an infection. But Malwarebytes has come to the rescue time and time again. It’s not the fastest tool in the world (a full scan can take a couple hours), but it’s by far the best I’ve used–and I’ve used a lot.

>> Download from Malwarebytes.org

 

Revo Uninstaller


What is it?

Over time, a computer seems to get slower and slower, until it’s painful to use. In reality, the computer isn’t getting slower, it’s just getting bloated, kind of like when you’ve eaten too much.

When you install a program, many items are added to something called the Registry, and files are stored all over your computer. Let’s say you don’t like that program you just installed, so you choose to uninstall it. Though it appears to go away, there are still those Registry entries, and tons of files that are still hanging around on your hard drive. Think of it like a loaf of bread: you’ve gotten rid of the bread, but all these crumbs are sitting on the counter. Revo Uninstaller is the broom that sweeps those files away.

Why use it?

Simple

Revo Uninstaller works much like the built in Windows Add/Remove programs function, except that it takes things a step further. As you uninstall, you’re given the option to do an Advanced uninstall, which then kicks off a 2-part process, where the program is uninstalled, after which it scans your computer for leftover files and registry items, which it then allows you to remove. By using Revo Uninstaller, you can make your computer feel like it had never installed that program at all! This not only helps keep your computer cleaner, but helps it continue to run as fast as possible, as long as possible.

It’s Free

Again, there is a paid-version available, which offers additional features, but the free version works just fine for me.

>> Download from Revouninstaller.com

 

CCleaner


What is it?

CCleaner is yet another of those programs designed to help keep your computer running in tip-top shape. CCleaner looks through your computer for unused files, abandoned registry entries, helps you prevent programs from running at startup, and even securely erase a drive (like a USB stick, or hard drive). It’s a very good utility, and should be installed on any computer.

Why use it?

Ease of Use

It’s a super-simple application to use, but is super-powerful in what it does.

It’s Free

Again, this program has a paid-version available, but the free version works fantastically.

>> Download from Piriform.com

 

Dropbox


What is it?

Dropbox is another of those programs that’s difficult to explain why you need it, but once you’ve used it, it’s a game-changer. Dropbox allows you to store important files in a folder on your computer, that then gets synced (automatically) to the Internet, and any other computers where you have Dropbox installed. I’ve stopped carrying a USB stick around because of Dropbox.

Though there are many other alternatives to Dropbox, some with more features, some with less, I still prefer Dropbox over the others for it’s simplicity, and reliability. It’s Cloud storage at it’s finest.

Why use it?

Convenient

Always having your most important files available to you is very handy. With the ability to access those files from any computer, or even a smartphone, you never have to worry about if you’ve got the right files with you or not.

Automatic Backup

Because everything you put in your Dropbox folder is automatically synced to the Internet, you don’t have to worry if your computer fails. You can access those files anywhere you have an Internet connection, which is like an automatic backup of your critical files (resumes, school letters, etc.)

Reliable

Dropbox is such a good solution that once you set it up, you never really have to think about it. So long as you have an Internet connection, it happily goes about its business, syncing your files to the Internet and/or other computers where you have linked Dropbox. It’s a very elegant solution.

Endless Possibilities

Dropbox can be used for all kinds of things: sharing photos with family members, hosting a basic website, streaming music, and countless other things that people haven’t even thought of yet. Who knows? Maybe you’ll find an unexplored use for this program.

It’s Free (Sort of)

Dropbox provides 2GB of free storage space, and you can purchase more for a reasonable price. There are a few ways to get additional storage space for free, by referring friends or family, linking your Facebook or Twitter account, etc. 2GB holds a lot of information though, and I’m quite happy with my free storage.

>> Download from Dropbox.com

 

Other Tools I Use:

 

1Password


What is it?

Formerly only for Mac computers, 1Password recently launched their Windows version, much to my delight. 1Password is an application that stores passwords, and other information you want to keep secure. Software license information, credit card details, website logins, and much, much more. It stores all this information behind one single primary password, preventing you from having to remember more than one password ever again.

Why use it?

Secure Password Generator

Ever have a problem coming up with a decent password, that meets those seemingly impossible conditions (8 characters, a symbol, and some mythical hieroglyphic?) 1Password will create a secure password for you, and store it for you. You’ll not only have a password nobody can guess, but one that you don’t have to remember, as you can recall it any time using 1Password.

Browser Integration

It’s compatible with the majority of the major browsers (including the aforementioned Google Chrome). The beauty of this is that when you login to a website, 1Password will ask you if you want to save that login to the program. Choosing yes stores all the details you need so that the next time you go to that website…

Login Auto-Fill

You can click ctrl+ (or set something else if you prefer) to automatically fill the username, password, and any other fields required to login to that site. It also submits the login for you, so you have nothing to click at all. You simply enter your primary password to ‘unlock’ 1Password, and it does the rest.

I’ve tried other similar utilities in the past, but haven’t even come close to the beauty that is 1Password.

Dropbox Synchronization

The aforementioned Dropbox comes into play with 1Password. You can store your 1Password data within Dropbox, and keep your passwords in sync across multiple computers. Without even thinking about it, any password I enter at home is automatically available to me at work, and vice versa. This is one of those ‘ah-ha’ moments when using Dropbox and 1Password together.

Web-based Interface

If you don’t have 1Password installed on your computer, that’s no problem. You can open a web-based version of the program (either from Dropbox, or a USB stick, if you have it) and access your passwords that way. It’s not as elegant as other solutions, but it prevents you from ever being without your passwords.

Though 1Password isn’t free, it’s easily the best money I’ve spent on a computer program in a very long time.

>> Purchase from Agilebits.com

 

PC Decrapifier


What is it?

The first program that should be installed on any new computer out-of-the-box is PC Decrapifier. It’s exactly what it sounds like. When a computer is brand new, the manufacturer has usually included a multitude of ‘crapware’ on it. In other words, they’re programs that rarely ever get used, generally slow your computer down, and prevent you from getting the most of your new computer.

Why use it?

PC Decrapifier scans your computer for that ‘crapware’ and helps you to remove it, instantly making your computer more streamlined. This not only helps in the short-term, but in the long-term as well. The less junk on your computer, the more likely you’ll find what you actually need.

It’s also free.

>> Download from PCDecrapifier.com

 

Windirstat


What is it?

Windirstat is a tool that shows you a graphical representation of what’s on your hard drive. Often times, I’ve found a hard drive nearly full, but can’t locate what it is that’s filling up the drive. This tool shows you exactly what is taking up all that space–and how much of it.

>> Download from windirstat.info

 

Virtual Clone Drive


What is it?

Virtual Clone Drive creates a ‘virtual’ CD/DVD drive for your computer. This tool is more for advanced users than most, but allows you to mount an .ISO file and use it, without first having to burn it to a disc. This comes in especially handy when trying out software, or installing something that’s rarely needed. I’ve avoided wasting countless discs with this program.

>> Download from Slysoft.com

 

Teracopy


What is it?

If you ever find yourself copying a LOT of data from drive to drive, it can be not only time-consuming, but difficult to keep up with. What happens if one file fails to copy? What if I want to pause the copy? With the default options in Windows, you can’t pause, and once it fails, you have no idea what caused it. Teracopy solves these problems. You have the ability to pause, restart copy or moves of files, but also to see a log of what copied and what didn’t. It integrates right into Windows, and has become a very helpful tool for me, especially when working with backup files that span into the Terabyte (TB) range.

>> Download from codesector.com

 

Recuva


What is it?

Ever deleted something you wanted back? Recuva is for you then. It’s pretty much what it sounds like. Though not perfect, this tool helps to recover files that you’ve deleted. So long as nothing’s been written over that portion of the disc, you can commonly restore it using this utility. It has saved me a few times in the past.

>> Download from Piriform.com

 

Team Viewer


What is it?

Team Viewer is my remote-assistance tool of choice. It’s also handy for accessing my other computers remotely. The free version only allows for personal, non-commercial use, but there is a paid-version available if you need it for business.

Most of my family members have Team Viewer installed so that when they call me, I can connect to their computer with just a couple of clicks, see their screen, and even control their computer, in order to fix their issue. When you have parents that live 200+ miles away, this tool is invaluable.

>> Download from teamviewer.com