Some Tried & True Utilities

Search around on sites like CNET or Tucows and you’ll find hundreds of PC utilities for every imaginable task. All of these programs are designed to help you work more efficiently with your computer, but which ones do you really need? Well, that depends on what kind of work you’re doing or the particular types of computer issues you might need to resolve. The wrong utility for the wrong job can waste more time that it reclaims, and it’s sometimes difficult to sort through all the freeware and shareware available to find the perfect utility.

I’ve downloaded my share of duds over the years, but there are several utilities I use regularly that have enhanced the way I work without being intrusive. So here’s a brief tour of utilities I can recommend from my own experiences:

  • Second Copy 2000 — The home edition of Windows XP doesn’t include a backup software, and other versions only provide a simple, inflexible way to backup. After searching everywhere for a good backup utility, a co-worker recommended Second Copy. I downloaded a trial version and set up separate profiles for backing up my music, photos, email, documents and other files to my external drive. It took a while to get the profiles in place, but I haven’t touched them since. Second Copy quietly runs in the background and only copies over new files or ones that have changed. All I have to do is make sure I store files in the proper folders on my main drive and they’ll get backed up. Second Copy offers a 30-day free trial, then it’s $29.95 for further use. Well worth the price!

  • GetRight — I’m stuck with dial-up Internet access at home, though I’ve learned to live with it for general surfing. But downloads are painfully slow and tie up the phone line for extended periods. The solution? A cell phone in case someone needs to reach us, and a download manager called GetRight. Unlike downloading with a browser, you can set GetRight to queue the files you click and download them later. Better still, it employs a file segmenting trick that speeds downloads slightly. The increase is not dramatic, but with dial-up every little bit helps! GetRight also hangs up when finished downloading, and if disconnected it will automatically reconnect. All this spiffy automation means that I can queue up a huge list of files and let them download overnight. Not only does is this method easier on my patience, it uses a large amount of the 160 hours included in my monthly Internet service. For a measly $25, GetRight feeds my current MP3 obsession while adding value to my old-school dial-up account.

  • Clipomatic — This tiny freeware utility saves gobs of time and frustration by adding a cache to the Windows clipboard. Each time you copy text it’s added to the cache and is available in a list when you use CTRL-ALT-V to paste. With a user-definable setting of up to 64 items in the cache, Clipomatic is very handy for pasting multiple sets of text multiple times or across different apps. It’s also nice to have previously copied text available whenever you paste so you don’t have to locate the text and copy it again. Microsoft Word and Outlook provide their own clipboard caches, but I still prefer the simplicity of Clipomatic.

  • IrfanView — Also freeware, IrfanView is an extremely popular image viewing and editing utility. I’ve been using it for a while now and find it to be quite useful, though a tad quirky. For example, if you edit an image and accidentally exit the program it doesn’t prompt you to save the changes. But IrfanView is a robust and mature bit of freeware with features that are adequate for most consumer-level image manipulations (cropping, resizing, brightness/contrast/color adjustment, basic effects, batch conversion, etc.). I imagine many people have invested $100 or so in Paint Shop or Adobe Photoshop Elements when IrfanView would’ve served their purposes nicely. Lately I’ve been using it for batch resizing of digital camera photos to make them easier to email, and the main banner for Ashamblesburg was created in about 20 minutes using IrfanView!


One Response

  1. Neat stuff! I’m putting these on my list of utilties to try.

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