After many years service my Windows laptop gave up the ghost. It was literally starting to fall apart (the plastic near the hinge was breaking and it would occasionally freeze up completely). So, as I had to reinstall the software I use on my new laptop, I thought it would be interesting to record what I installed and in which order.

This is a useful aide memoire for me, and might flag up a few interesting tools that you might not know about.

1. Chrome

There are only two good uses for Internet Explorer: downloading another browser and IE compatibility testing.

So the first thing I did after powering on my new laptop was to open IE and use it to install Google Chrome.

As well as the browser itself, I created virtual application shortcuts – = | More tools | Create application shortcuts… – for some of the sites I access most often:

  • GMail
  • eBay
  • Facebook
  • Twitter

I also set Chrome to start with a blank page and to use DuckDuckGo as my default search engine.

2. Paint.NET

The next application I installed was Paint.NET. It’s always useful to have a free graphics manipulation package, and I find Paint.NET a lot simpler to work with than GIMP.

3. Dropbox

I love Dropbox. It just sits there quietly ticking away, making sure all my important files are backed up.

Just by installing Dropbox and letting it pull down my files, I ended up much more at home in my new laptop’s environment.

4. Vim

Next came Vim, the text editor I couldn’t be without.

I copied my _vimrc file out of Dropbox and immediately had a text editor set up just the way I like it.

5. ConEmu

ConEmu is a console emulator. It’s got lots of bells and whistles, but the main benefits for me are that you can freely resize the window, and you can group multiple consoles together as tabs within a single application. Having a split window is also useful on occasion.

6. Inconsolata font

My favourite fixed-width font is Inconsolata – in particular, the tweaked version with straight quotes. This is the font I always use in Vim on my own machines.

7. LinqPad

LinqPad is a strange little application. It describes itself as The .NET Programmer’s Playground. I find it’s really handy when I just want to try something out in C#. It’s quicker to open LinqPad than to create a temporary solution in Visual Studio, and the rich formatting of the .Dump() function that it adds to all objects makes it easy to see what’s going on. It’s particularly useful when messing about with regular expressions.

8. Beyond Compare

Not free, but cheap enough and good enough that it’s a no-brainer: Beyond Compare does one thing and does it well – comparing files.

Specifically, it has some novel features:

  • Explorer integration, so you can right-click a file and specify it as the left file to compare, then navigate somewhere else entirely, right-click that file and compare with left

  • Built-in support for comparing images and spreadsheets.

  • A text compare view where you can paste in snippets of text from wherever you want to grab them from. This is insanely useful and I find myself using it all the time (e.g. for resolving merge conflicts in source control).

9. Directory Opus

Just as ConEmu is a command window replacement, Directory Opus is a Windows Explorer replacement.

It does all the stuff you’d expect, and it does it well.

10. Scrivener

Scrivener is the best application for working with fiction.

11. Process Explorer

Once you’ve tried Process Explorer the standard Windows Task Manager just won’t cut it any more.

Originally developed by SysInternals, it’s now been subsumed into Microsoft.

12. Visual Studio

Speaking of Microsoft, I also installed Visual Studio…

13. Office

… and Microsoft Office.

14. Adblock plus

There’s only so long you can use Chrome before you remember you haven’t got Adblock Plus installed. I remembered, so I installed it.

Seriously, bad marketeers are their own worst enemies! I left the “allow unobtrusive ads” option enabled – I wish the whole fiasco wasn’t necessary.

15. FoxIt Reader

If you need to read PDFs but don’t need the bloat and incessant updates that you get with Adobe Reader then FoxIt Reader is a lightweight alternative.

16. VLC Player

Similarly, VLC is a media player that can handle almost any file format while being fairly unobtrusive.

17. F.lux

F.lux is something I’ve only discovered fairly recently. It puts an overlay on your display to change the colour temperature to better suit artificial lighting in the evening. It’s an interesting idea.

18. 7-Zip

For archiving I use 7-Zip. Not only does it produce really tiny files in its own .7z format, but it can also produce smaller standard .zip files than most other programs.

19. Cygwin

There are a few Unix commands I don’t want to be without on Windows, so I installed CygWin and its apt-cyg package manager.

Here are some worthwhile commands that aren’t installed by default but are worth getting:

  • wget
  • whois
  • par

20. GitHub for Windows

It used to be really painful to work with GitHub from a Windows PC. You had to install all sorts of third-party software and manage your own private key.

These days, the GitHub for Windows handles all that fluff and makes it easy to stay in sync.

It actually includes both MySys Git and PoshGit, which will be in the path as long as you open a shell from the application, so there’s nothing else to install.


21. TortoiseGit

Okay, sometimes it’s useful to be able to interact with Git from an Explorer (or Directory Opus) window instead of from the command line. TortoiseGit isn’t quite as polished as TortoiseSVN, but it does a decent job.

Rather than installing another MySys Git, you can just type which git from a command window opened up via GitHub for Windows and specify that path. If you check the path, Tortoise will complain because git --version doesn’t contain “mysys”, but that’s just because GitHub have rebranded it slightly. It’ll still work fine.

I ended up with this:


22. Resharper

Last, but not least, I find it increasingly frustrating to try to use a Visual Studio environment without Resharper installed (for example, when pairing with someone else). If you use Visual Studio you owe it to yourself to use Resharper.

Yes, it slows things down slightly. No, I don’t care, because it gives back much, much more time in improved productivity.


So there we have it. A smorgasbord of quality software – some mainstays, and a few you might not have heard of. Many of them are free or inexpensive. All of them improve my day-to-day productivity.

I hope you found something new that you’d like to investigate. Is there something missing that you couldn’t imaging being without on your own PC? If so, drop me a line on Twitter and let me know.