New Laptop = what to add?
July 27, 2009 6:16 PM   Subscribe

What must-have programs do you use on your laptop for work? And travel?

I took the advice of the green and bought a new Lenovo Thinkpad, it will be delivered this week. I'll use it mostly for work, having just taken a new job that involves about 80% travel. Uses include email, note-taking during meetings, project management tools, and entertainment during the long nights in hotel rooms and waiting in airports. I have MS Office already installed. I'll be adding these immediately:

Firefox and Thunderbird
AVG and ZoneAlarm and Winpatrol
Spybot, Ccleaner, Malwarebytes, and SuperAntiSpyware

What are your must-have programs? Would prefer free, but will pay for something that I can't live without. I've read previous posts, but want an updated list that focuses primarily on business apps.
posted by raisingsand to Computers & Internet (26 answers total) 52 users marked this as a favorite
I'm a big fan of Launchy and Auto Hot Key. Actually, fan may not be strong enough...I can't do without either any more. I've picked up a couple of UI tweakers (namely D-color and Start Killer from various LifeHacker writeups, but nothing goes on a new laptop until those first two.

The rest of my standard load-out are things that are pretty much work-related: vmware, HTTPWatch, Fiddler, WinSCP, putty, wireshark, and so on.
posted by jquinby at 6:26 PM on July 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

Windows Live Mesh is the best thing ever to happen to my laptop-using life. I guess it only applies if you have more than one computer, but it's so awesome how I now only have one "documents" folder between my two computers, and it's synchronized completely transparently. And I can access my files from wherever I have internet. (Huh, I guess that works even for just one computer.) Love it so much.

I am not a fan of any third-party firewalls; the Windows Firewall seems to work great, and ZoneAlarm was a huge pain.

Also, it seems like that might be a bit overkill on the antispyware, but hey, maybe you get lots of spyware on your machines while doing business stuff...

Adobe Acrobat is pretty standard, or at least Adobe Reader.

I am a huge fan of ClipX for making my clipboard much more useful.

SyncToy + scheduled tasks is a pretty good backup solution for certain purposes.

Virtual CloneDrive is useful for mounting .isos, which is the format that a lot of the software my school provides comes on. Probably similar if your company has MSDN or anything of the sort.
posted by Jacen Solo at 6:27 PM on July 27, 2009 [3 favorites]

VLC Media Player! Open-source and free!

Also a tip for long flights or other times without an outlet: Put any media you want to watch on a flash drive and play it from there. It takes less power to run the flash drive than your hard drive.
posted by radioamy at 6:31 PM on July 27, 2009 [2 favorites]

Seconding VLC.

I also use:

Foxit for PDFs
Quicktime Alternative
GIMP for basic photoshop action
Infrarecroder for burning
7-Zip for all zip and archive files
Audacity for editing podcast
Virtual Clone Drive for mounting ISOs
Camstudio for Screenshots and recording
posted by smoke at 6:50 PM on July 27, 2009

AVG and ZoneAlarm and Winpatrol, Spybot, Ccleaner, Malwarebytes, and SuperAntiSpyware

Unless you have an amazing history of developing problems or visiting questionable places on a machine that you use for work, you could knock that down a bit.
posted by sageleaf at 7:00 PM on July 27, 2009

I use :
dropbox (folder syncing software)
adblock (firefox addon)
irfanview (simple batch manipulation of photos)
(pdf/jpeg/tiff etc printer)
posted by a womble is an active kind of sloth at 7:01 PM on July 27, 2009

For the entertainment part, besides VLC you could give Boxee a try. Tons of streaming web video, plus easy access to any local media. Also the Hulu Desktop player...both of those and you'll have plenty of entertainment for the road.
posted by griffey at 7:13 PM on July 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

Primo PDF allows you to print documents directly to PDF format. This is really helpful if you need to print a travel document or receipt or something similar, but don't have a printer because you're traveling. The next time you're near a printer, you can just open up your PDF and print it out. It is free software.
posted by Vorteks at 7:22 PM on July 27, 2009 [2 favorites]

For note taking you can't go wrong with Evernote they have a free version although it does come with a small ad on the left of the screen.

I also like Songbird for music listening.

Seconding Auto Hot Key, CCleaner, Dropbox and VLC.
posted by lilkeith07 at 7:28 PM on July 27, 2009

posted by deezil at 7:31 PM on July 27, 2009

Good timing, my roommate seriously screwed-up my netbook, so here's the list of what I had installed:
- ArtWeaver (freeware, photo editing)
- AVG (freeware, anti-virus)
- Comodo (freeware, firewall)
- Crimson Editor (freeware, syntax highlighted for various file formats)
- FileZilla (freeware, FTP)
- Google Earth (freeware, satellite imagery)
- Printer drivers
- KeePass (freeware, encrypted password storage)
- Ad-aware (freeware, malware scanning)
- Firefox (freeware, web browser, duh)
- Picasa (freeware, photo browsing/editing)
- Roxio easy CD/DVD creator
- TrueCrypt (freeware, encryption, plan on your laptop being stolen)
- VLC (freeware, media player)
- WinAmp (freeware, media player)
- WinRAR (freeware, unzip tool)
- Acrobat reader (freeware, PDF viewer) _or alternatives
- Flickr uploader (freeware, upload photos)
- Microsoft Money (paid, manage finances while away)
- Microsoft PowerPoint viewer (freeware)
- Microsoft Streets and Trips (paid, combined with a USB GPS dongle can help if you're lost)
- Microsoft SyncToy (freeware, keep lappy and desktop sync'd)
posted by hungrysquirrels at 7:53 PM on July 27, 2009

Best answer: I have MS Office but I use Google Docs most of the time now because I can access my stuff from any computer with Internet access. I have also installed Google Gears on my laptop so I can access and work with them off-line if I have to (see menu at top right corner of Google Docs to install). Another advantage is that I won't lose my work if my laptop blows up or gets stolen. (Which reminds me, you may to find a good program and external drive for backing up your files. )

You can export a Google Doc if need to get it into Word. You can also easily import your Word docs into Google.

I also use a Firefox plug-in called Foxmarks that does a great job synchronizing all my bookmarks and passwords on all the computers that I use. It will also let me restore all my bookmarks if my laptop blows up or gets stolen.

If I had time, I could also recommend about ten other essential Firefox plugins.

BTW, I also use Firefox's master password option with a very strong password to protect my browser's passwords in case my laptop gets stolen. I also carry a flash drive with the portable version of Firefox with all my favorite plugins on it. I use that on computers at work that I can't or don't want to install Firefox on.

I also recommend Windows Live Mesh for storing files in the "cloud" and synchronizing them on different computers. It's free, easy to set up, works well and they give you a generous amount of file space. My only complaint is that it causes my laptop to start up a little slower.

You mentioned Thunderbird which I think is a great email client, but I prefer Yahoo web mail or Gmail. I think they are much more convenient to use, I like being able to access my mail from any computer with a web browser, and also being able to store mail and attachments on line where they can't be lost. Yahoo and Google also do a good job screening out Spam and they give you some extra protection against email viruses.

You may also want to use TrueCrypt or some other utility for encrypting sensitive files, folders or even your whole laptop.

If you deal with a lot of a passwords then you might want to get software that stores them in an encrypted file so they are safe and still convenient to access. I can't recommend one because I am still doing that with a PDA.

I highly recommend Netflix if you like to watch movies for entertainment. The price is right, the web site is great and new DVDs always show up in my mailbox two days after I mail the ones I've watched.
posted by 14580 at 8:12 PM on July 27, 2009

Seconding Evernote for keeping scraps of info with you wherever you are.

I also bring a thumb drive with vital info on it in case my laptop is stolen. The drive has scans of my passport, glasses prescription, and health insurance card, along with any data I need for that trip.

For entertainment, I download free audio books from Librivox.
posted by PatoPata at 8:17 PM on July 27, 2009

NoteTab - text editor. The clipboard grabber, called the PasteBoard, saves me time and time again.

Atlantis - RTF editor. Also has a clipboard grabber, called the Clippy Bank. Makes a nice pig grunting sound when invoked. I don't know why.

HyperSnap - image editor and screen grabber.

MediaMonkey - for music files.

And don't forget to set up a new non-admin user for daily use, saving the admin account for installing new software. Much safer that way.
posted by yclipse at 8:17 PM on July 27, 2009

zip genius
posted by WizKid at 8:58 PM on July 27, 2009

Another vote for Launchy. It can be much more efficient than mousing if you make use of keyboard shortcuts in apps as well.

If it's not too restrictive, how about setting up an XP/Vista virtual machine for browsing and personal email, and keep the rest of your laptop for business stuff only? VirtualBox is excellent.

Finally, you need backups. Don't trust your hard drive. I recommend Acronis True Image, although Lenovo may have bundled something else. NTBackup that comes with Windows isn't everyone's cup, and it doesn't do images. Get your laptop to how you like it and make an image of it and store it on an external hard drive. Schedule daily backups of your most important data to that drive. Schedule full image backups as frequent as you like. If you have a second external hard drive that stays at home, and is mostly stationary except for when you sync it with your primary backup, even better. Don't forget to backup the stuff on your virtual machine(s) if you decide to use them. I occasionally make DVD backups of really important stuff too. The frequency and number of copies of your backups will depend on how critical the stuff on your machine is.
posted by lmm at 9:03 PM on July 27, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks so much, keep them coming. The tips are especially appreciated, as I have only traveled for business occasionally in the past.
posted by raisingsand at 9:11 PM on July 27, 2009

Don't let the fact that it has the ugliest website known to man fool you (a chameleon? Seriously?)—Notepad++ is indispensibly awesome. With an insane number of text-manipulation function, most of which I might never know how to use, it's easily the program I use most every day. Some awesome ones:

  • Convert numbers to hex-16, hex-32, hex-64, hex-128, octal, binary, C-style, and a whole bunch more that I don't really comprehend

  • My absolute favorite find-and-replace function EVAR, allowing strict Perl-style regular expressions, basic regular expressions (\r for return, \n for newline, and \t for tab) and direct replacement; I use this so often I don't even really know

  • Good, solid tab-editing support; neat things like Tabbing a block indents it and Shift-Tabbing a block unindents

  • Alt-C is a column editor; basically, you can add anything you want to the front of every line—line numbers, titles, "http:\\www.", the list goes on

  • The 'strip HTML' function alone is worth the price of admission; now, when I want a txt copy of a web page, I just open the Source of it and strip the HTML—whammo—not to mention there are a billion other great uses for this

  • Native support for C, Python, Java, etc, including about fifty languages

  • Easy marking of lines; very, very good undo buffer, so changes are never lost; a macro recording system…yeesh, I could go on all day

  • Seriously, it's the absolute best way to manipulate text, bar none. Unless you're Richard Stallman and you've got emacs, I guess.
    posted by koeselitz at 9:47 PM on July 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

    VLC!!! - everything Media
    7zip - archive
    Truecrypt - encryption
    Dropbox - file synchronization
    Cropper - screen capture
    Irfanview - iamge viewer
    Virtual Clone Drive - img mounting
    imgBurn - imgBurning
    CCleaner- Crap Cleaner
    posted by bbyboi at 10:08 PM on July 27, 2009

    Okay, now that I've gotten that out of the way, I may as well go into my OPEN SOURCE GREATEST HITS list:

  • 7-Zip: the best compression/decompression utility available

  • AbiWord: a good lightweight word-processor, as in "I've got ten youtube videos open and I really don't want to try to swing OpenOffice right now"

  • ***** Aptana Studio: an amazingly good web-editing program; I like it a hell of a lot better than DreamWeaver, and it even has rudimentary DreamWeaver-style manual manipulation

  • Audacity: very cool open-source recording software

  • Autohotkey: good, well-documented scripting utility

  • Avidemux: very good video-editing software

  • DOSBox: DOS emulation utility; gotta play Commander Keen somehow

  • drumtrack: a very cool, very basic and easy drum sequencer; fun to play with & hack out a rhythm that pops into my head quickly

  • DVD Flick: surprisingly high-quality and versatile open-source DVD creation software

  • emacs: [that's a direct download link there] in case I stumble into a NERD WAR

  • ***** Exact Audio Copy: not strictly open-source, it's freeware from Germany, and it's the best cd- and vinyl-ripping software I can find; since I'm more of an audiophile and can't stand iTunes-type mp4s, it's my standby

  • FileZilla: a very good FTP client

  • GIMP: the best photo- & image-editing software

  • Imagine: [another direct download link there, watch out] tiny, almost-disappeared image-viewing software, happens to be my favorite because it's lightweight but STRONG

  • InfraRecorder: quality CD-burning utility

  • ***** Inkscape: a really awesome vector-image drawing program; the GIMP of vector graphics

  • IrfanView: a famous (perhaps infamous) image viewer that is ridiculously versatile, opening any type of file; not open-source, but rather released under one of the weirdest licensing agreements I've ever seen by a crazy dude who I think is Russian; still, free, and very, very good…for example, it's one of the easiest ways to extract icons from .exe files—just open the exe file with irfanview, and there they are!

  • KeePass: high-encryption vault for storing commonly-used passwords; this is a vital, everyday piece of software for me, and I prefer the professional version (which is still free and open-source)

  • Microsoft's Process Explorer: I still can't figure out why the 'Task Manager' doesn't include this awesome thing which does what it does better

  • MP3 Tag Tools, v12: okay, there are probably better taggers out there, but this is open-source, and while the code's buggy, I can get it to do what I want - and it's really actually pretty great at mp3 tags

  • EasyBCD: the only easy way in Windows Vista & 7 to edit the boot record & change the Windows boot procedures; includes a lot of really cool utilities

  • OpenOffice: 'nuff said

  • ***** Psycle: this is so awesome; a synthesizer and sequencer with enough cross-compatible plugin capabilities to run most professional synthesizer software plugins; I could play with this all day, and often do

  • Scribus: an open-source alternative to InDesign; still in development, but the latest version works great, and is a great way to produce good-looking documents

  • SMPlayer: I prefer VLC, but sometimes—very rarely—VLC won't play something; when this happens, SMPlayer usually comes through

  • PuTTY: very good windows-based terminal interface with support for SSH security

  • Paint.NET: a great image editor

  • ***** Statistical Lab: this is just so incredibly awesome; it's a statistics program based on the R statistical language that's designed to provide a user-friendly and educational way to manipulate and graphically represent statistics; from Germany

  • VLC Player: the great media player

  • posted by koeselitz at 10:38 PM on July 27, 2009 [11 favorites]

    Everybody recommended to "install" the programs and my policy is, don't install unless you really have to. Hence I use Liberkey This is a collection of portable (i.e. no need to install) programs and makes a folder on your C drive along with a launcher that resembles old Windows Start menu style. The great thing is, since this doesn't perform installation, doesn't mess with your registry too much. Using this should certainly reduce your frequency of performing OS reinstallations / system recovery due to messy registry or computer getting slower.
    If you DO decide to install the programs as opposed to using LiberKey, Make sure to use Revo Uninstaller to perform uninstallations.
    posted by zaxour at 12:32 AM on July 28, 2009

    zaxour: Everybody recommended to "install" the programs and my policy is, don't install unless you really have to. Hence I use Liberkey This is a collection of portable (i.e. no need to install) programs and makes a folder on your C drive along with a launcher that resembles old Windows Start menu style. The great thing is, since this doesn't perform installation, doesn't mess with your registry too much. Using this should certainly reduce your frequency of performing OS reinstallations / system recovery due to messy registry or computer getting slower.
    If you DO decide to install the programs as opposed to using LiberKey, Make sure to use Revo Uninstaller to perform uninstallations.

    Hmmm. I've never heard of LiberKey—sounds like a French thing, eh? It appears to simply be a collection of already-portable software; looks like they're not really doing anything aside from acting as a repository…I wonder about the legality of this, but I'm not really one to judge. But everything certainly isn't Open Source there, although the poster didn't specifically request that.

    Because these are portable and semi-portable programs that don't all have open sources, they have a minimal impact on the registry, but usually they leave some trace behind: a configuration folder in the user's directory, for example.

    If anyone is looking for a cleaner set of applications, I highly recommend PortableApps. A pretty diligent crew led by John Haller has taken a fantastic and ever-growing set of completely open-source programs and carefully made them absolutely portable; these things stay in the folder you put them in, and don't leak into the registry, the user directories, etc, at all. They can be used from a usb drive without leaving any real trace on the host computer; and, because the sources are open, they're generally better-designed for this purpose (the source code being available to the developers). Most of all, they've put a lot of time and work into these applications, and some of them are just fantastic as far as agility and speed.
    posted by koeselitz at 1:40 AM on July 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

    The application that has changed my life is everything.exe which maintains a FAST index of all your files (not content, just titles).

    With one key press (in my case Win+Q) I can type any part of a filename on my disk, and it will instantly filter down to those files that match.

    If I am looking for a Big Widget powerpoint I remember saving somewhere, I can type:

    Win+Q ppt widget big or
    Win+Q widget ppt big or
    Win+Q whatever words or parts of words in any order

    and it finds the files *instantly*

    I no longer sweat the filing.
    posted by blue_wardrobe at 4:57 AM on July 28, 2009

    I just got rid of AVG and went back to Antivir since AVG takes to long to scan, and there's an easy way to block the antivir ads.
    posted by Obscure Reference at 11:57 AM on July 28, 2009

    Response by poster: Thanks to all for the great advice and travel tips. Can't wait to get my hands on the new laptop, you guys have been so helpful. Metafilter is one of my favorite things.
    posted by raisingsand at 8:21 AM on July 29, 2009

    In addition, Lifehacker had a great post of "[Their] List of Essential Free Windows Downloads".

    I vehemently trust Lifehacker's opinion on all things free and all things software so I'd recommend checking out their list.
    posted by carpyful at 9:00 AM on July 29, 2009

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