The Essentials: What I Install on a Fresh Workstation

Posted on Oct 22 2008 in Computing

This past weekend, for a number of reasons I won't get into now, I performed a complete "re-install" of my primary workstation. Previously, I was using XP Pro SP2, which had been installed and running smoothly on the machine for nearly two solid years. This also meant that my machine had two years worth of my customized configurations, applications, tools, etc., so a re-install also meant bringing a fresh Windows (Vista this time) installation up to speed and in sync with my preferences.

During the process of re-installing all the various programs and utilities that I make regular use of, it occurred to me that I was installing the things that I just couldn't do without -- the tools I keep in my toolbelt at all times. I don't know if I've got everything installed yet, but I know I've installed all the primary tools that I use on a regular basis... and they are listed here:

AVG Free Anti-Virus

Regardless of the enhanced security of Windows Vista, the very first thing I installed was AVG Free. This free little anti-virus is great for the price tag and reasonably effective at catching threats.

Firefox 3

Firefox is by far my browser of choice due to its features, speed, extensibility, standards compliance, and cross-platform support. Along with Firefox I also install a standard battery of extensions, including:

  • Firebug
  • Web Developer Toolbar
  • YSlow
  • Download status bar
  • Foxmarks


For my simple text-editing and random coding, Notepad++ is my weapon of choice. I spent some time taking a look at the editors highlighted over at LifeHacker, but Notepad++ has just the right mix of everything for my taste.


PuTTY Tray:

I've looked at other programs for Windows, but they are either too expensive, too bloated, or just too limited. PuTTY is by far my favorite SSH/terminal program for Windows. I install the full PuTTY package including PuTTYGen and the like, then replace the putty.exe file with the exe from the PuTTY Tray project, to get just a few more nice features that make it that much better.

Zend Studio for Eclipse

I use ZSE as my primary IDE for my web development work.


During the course of web development, you usually end up interacting with databases a good bit. I've found that the MySQL Query Browser is a handy little tool, especially when working in a local development environment. This is probably a tool I could do without or even find a better fit, but it got installed quickly nonetheless -- because I'm familiar with it.

P.S.: It's a rather large shame that MySQL decided to cripple the free version of MySQL Workbench and charge you $100 for some of the best features. I don't mind paying for software, but the value provided by Workbench is not worth $100, especially when many of those features used to be free.


KatMouse is a little Windows interface tweak that makes the cursor behave a little more like Linux desktops or OS X by allowing you to use the scroll wheel to scroll a window does not have the focus but is directly under the cursor. Once you have this functionality you never want to go back... imagine not having to click in the list of files to scroll through it or not having to switch windows to scroll that web page you have open behind your terminal...


Taskix is simple and to the point: it lets you drag taskbar items to reorganize them. It is lightweight and just works, so I love it. Thanks LifeHacker for turning me on to this little gem.


I have been using FileZilla for (S)FTP transfers for as long as I can remember -- long before it was a slick as it is now. Many agree that FileZilla is the best FTP program out there.


eWallet is a little addiction I picked up a couple years ago at my last job. This is where I keep all of my passwords and important information, safely encrypted behind my master password. As an added bonus, Illium software (the maker of eWallet) just released an iPhone version of eWallet that syncs over WiFi with your Windows eWallet!


Since I am using Vista this time around, I thought Vista's nifty search bar in the start menu would replace Launchy. However, my love for Launchy's power, customizability, and great plugins brought me running back into Launchy's arms. Launchy is a simple (although not very light-weight) application launcher that indexes your Start Menu (and whatever you want) and provides a great little hotkey-induced interface for launching your programs, documents, or whatever you want. The excellent PuTTY Plugin makes a great companion to PuTTY as well!


After a long time of using 7-Zip, I found TUGZip about a year ago. TUGZip is extremely fast, has an excellent shell extension (right click on a file and extract it in place), and supports every compression format I've ever heard of... and many that I've never heard of. Best of all, it's free!


I started using CrossClip when I started working from home a year ago. My Windows machine sits front and center, flanked by my Ubuntu laptop running virtual machines on the left and my MacBook Pro with OS X on the right. Swivelling back and forth between the platforms is great fun until you realize that you would give just about anything to be able to quickly and easily copy from one computer and paste to the other. CrossClip lets you do that, and it works on Windows, Mac, and Linux (though I don't use it on Linux right now because of synergy), and it turns out I only had to sacrifice $19.95.


Synergy, with all its quirks and oddities, is still the only cross-platform way I've found to use the keyboard/mouse of one computer to control another computer. I use the keyboard/mouse connected to my Windows workstation to also use my Ubuntu workstation to the left.

Note: If you need this functionality between two Windows computers, check out Stardock's excellent Multiplicity.


Jing is awesome. Never has it been so easy to make a screen capture (with or without voice-over), take a screenshot of just part of the screen, or share your captures with the rest of the world. You have to try it to understand -- I use it regularly to collaborate with coworkers or explain things to clients.