Wednesday, April 06, 2011

25 Installs: My Essential Software List

telerik-floppy-disksThis definitely isn't the first blog post on the topic, nor does this post aim to be the definitive final word on "essential software," but I feel it's a list worth sharing as I have a pretty simple system setup that I'm generally happy with. What follows is a list of the "essential" software that I'd install today if I were rebuilding my primary work machine. Software I'd need to get back to "normal" day-to-day operations.

I've grouped software loosely by category for easier browsing and tried to note prices for software where tools aren't free (I'm of the philosophy that I'll pay for tools if they make my quality of life better).

After you review the list, let me know what I missed. What software do you call essential to your well appointed work machine?

The Software

Dev Tools

  • Visual Studio 2010 [$1200 to $12000]
    • Pretty sure 2010 is better than VS2008…hard to remember now. Definitely a must for .NET 4 and Silverlight work.
  • Telerik Ultimate Collection [$2000]
  • LINQPad [Free]
    • Great scratchpad for testing LINQ or small snippets of .NET code. Premium features are well worth the $40 to $80 if you end-up using the tool often.
  • VMWare Workstation [$190] OR VirtualBox [Free]
    • Both very good virtual machine solutions. VMWare's advantage is a bit more advanced features, but I've used and love VirtualBox. Sorry VirtualPC, still too slow comparatively.
  • Microsoft Web Platform Installer [Free]
    • This is sort of a "catch all." It will install all of the supporting tools for .NET dev (like MVC, WebMatrix, IIS Express, SQL Management Studio, SQL Express, etc.)
  • Git Extensions [Free]
    • Only essential if you work with Git and/or GitHub. This obviously has some prerequisites (also free), but this is currently my preferred Windows tool for Git operations.
  • Fiddler 2 [Free]
    • Essential if you're a web developer for browser-independent HTTP sniffing (sometimes Firebug and Chrome Tools don't go far enough)
  • RedGate SQL Comparison Bundle [$700]
    • If you do any regular migration of SQL schemas or data between DEV/TEST/PROD environments, I can't imagine doing it today without SQL Compare and SQL Data Compare. Both come in this nice compact bundle.

"Major" Apps

  • Microsoft Office 2010 [$280]
    • Worth it for Outlook 2010 primarily. Still enough done with Word, Excel, and PowerPoint to make this essential (Google Docs doesn't cut it).
  • Adobe Photoshop [$700]
    • Most useful if you do a lot of image manipulation. I have a graphic design background, so this is like my "original dev tool." Not free, but better than a lot of the free alternatives. (Unless you're on a Mac, then Pixelmator is awesome.)


  • All of them (IE9, (Virtualized IE6/7/8), Chrome (latest), Firefox 4, Safari 5, Opera 11)
    • Set Chrome as default browser with sync enabled to automatically pull-down bookmarks and plug-ins


  • Pandora One [$36/year]
    • Adobe Air desktop client + no commercials = well worth the $36/year if you regularly listen to Pandora
  • Dropbox [Free]
    • Dead simple file sharing (somehow worlds better than Live Mesh)
  • TweetDeck OR Twhirl [Free]
    • Depends on your Twitter needs. I love the simplicity of Twhirl, but if you need to manage multiple accounts, go for TweetDeck.
  • SnagIt [$50]
    • This should be built-in Windows functionality for "Print Screen." Until then, SnagIt is essential.
  • CuteFTP [$45] OR FileZilla [Free]
    • There are lots of good FTP programs for Windows. I like CuteFTP on the commercial side, and FileZilla on the OSS side.
  • Live Writer 2011 [Free]
    • Essential blogging tool for Windows (using it right now, as a matter of fact)
  • 7-Zip [Free]
    • Hard to believe Windows can provide better native support for creating/extracting archives, so until then, 7-Zip is essential.
  • Virtual Clone Drive [Free]
    • Another thing I view as "missing" Windows functionality. VCD is a great, simple tool for mounting ISOs in Windows until Windows can handle this basic task.
  • FoxIt Reader [Free]
    • I refuse to rely on Acrobat Reader for viewing PDFs. Too bloated for too long for me to give it another chance. FoxIt Reader is quick and gets the job done. (Though shouldn't Windows, like OS X, be able to do this natively, too?)
  • VLC [Free]
    • Windows Media Player? Really? Until it learns to work harder to read more video/audio formats, VLC is a must for universal media playback.

And that's about it. Are there other things I'd likely install? Sure. I enjoy FolderSizes 5 to help me find space hogs on my SSD, and AnjLab's free SqlProfiler ("lite") for quick and dirty SQL work, but I don't know if they rise to the level "essential"- the things I'd need to get back to the "normal" daily work I do.

The Cost

Just for fun, I tallied the retail cost for my "essential" software. It comes-out to a staggering $16,000! Clearly, the bulk of that cost is Visual Studio Ultimate with MSDN, which is employer provided (and even then likely not a "retail" cost). Assuming a more modest Visual Studio Pro SKU (which is what I'd like buy if it were my cash), and it's still $5,200 worth of essential software. I suppose that's a bargain compared to the cost for professional tools in other industries…


Litzo said...

Jing - for easy desktop movies.
Paint.Net - Not Photoshop quality, but free.
RegEx Designer - For those regular expressions.
Obfuscation - if done locally. Love DeepSea obfuscator
Ants Memory Profiler
Data Management Clients - E.g. SqlYog, SQL Server Management Studio.

It all mounts up. Even with all the free stuff about.

Niels said...

Sql server management studio - full version

Anonymous said...

Where is Total Commander? This is the first soft I install. File manager, ZIP, SFTP, file compare, directory compare, search... Absolutely essential tool.

Todd Anglin said...

@richard- Yeah, I usually install RegExBuddy for my RegEx needs.

@Niels, @Anon- Good suggestions.

TexasJetter said...

Great list, but being the frugal person I am I would replace Snagit with Windows 7 Snipping Tool combined with Paint.NET

I was using the FoxIt Reader but my current tool is Nitro PDF Reader. It has the same quick startup plus minor editing and PDF system printer.

eidylon said...

I use mostly the same stuff. The only change I made, is I replaced RedGate Sql compare with SqlDelta. MASSIVELY cheaper, and does all the important stuff. RedGate, I had used for a while (owned, not trial), and it was WAY, WAY, *WAY* to heavy and bloated for my tastes. SqlDelta is a much lighter app.

Todd Anglin said...

@TexasJeff- You know, Snipping Tool is not nearly as bad as I remember it. If you assign a keyboard short to it, it's pretty close to what I'd expect Windows to do by default. No SnagIt, but more useful than the default Print Screen.

@eidylon- Good highlight with SqlDelta. Never seen that before. Looks to be about 50% cheaper than RedGate. If it works as reliably as RedGate for schema migration and data compare, I might have to check it out.

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nexbit said...

A "little" hidden gem if u use Visual Studio 2010 Ultimate: try the Schema and Data compare integrated tools, they work very well, no need for external tools...

If u don't have Ultimate, I suggest to try dbForge Schema Compare/Data Compare for SQL Server (they also have Mysql and Oracle tools).
They are a LOT cheaper and in my experience they NEVER failed a job.

Happy Coding!