Utilities That Bring Joy to Your Desktop

By Dan Coolidge

Over the years I have discovered (or been told about) little programs that are either amazingly cheap considering their utility, or free. Some of them have become “must have” parts of my computer desktop—always reinstalled every time I update my computer. In each case, they add remarkable utility with very slight learning curve. I commend them to you.

Get Rid of Annoying Confirmation Screens

You go to do something, and a screen pops up that says something like “Did you really mean to (whatever).” Or you burn a CD, and when you’re done and try to exit the program, you are asked, “Do you want to save this compilation?”

I find this stuff annoying, but the solution is simple. If I want some pop-up screen answered the same way every time without my having to intervene, the Buzof from Basta computing is the answer. The first time one of these annoying screens pops up, bring up Buzof from the system tray and drag the response button from Buzof to the default response you want. Thereafter Buzof will answer that screen for you automatically. You can enable and disable responses at will ( www.basta.com, $15).

Manage All Your Photos and Images and Create Slide Shows

You have zillions of photos and images on your computer. How do you find them? How do you make use of them easily? Edit them? Sharpen them up a bit? Get rid of redeye? You could buy a photo program costing upwards of $100, or you could go to Google.com and download Picassa 2 for free. It will scan your computer for you and give you thumbnails off all the images in an easy-to-use format. (You’ll be surprised at how many are there!) You can even do some light editing, adding special effects, sharpening, or giving soft focus and the like. No learning curve, and free ( www.picasa.com).

Automate Your Logons and Web Form Filling, Safely

You go to buy something off the Web and have to fill in twelve fields of information. You go to log onto a site you don’t use very often and can’t recall the password. What to do? Use a robot to fill in the blanks! AI RoboForm ( www.roboform.com) will let you put all of your information into a secure, password-protected file and will automatically fill in things like your name, address, phone number, credit card number, and so forth. (It is polite enough to ask you first.) And you can password protect access to RoboForm to keep the great unwashed from using your information illicitly. It’s free for the basic version and $29.99 for the more robust version—well worth the extra pennies.

Automate Repetitive Typing Tasks

How many times do you have to type in the same thing? Wouldn’t it be nice if whatever program you were in, there was a macro or something that would put in your name, or address, or jurat, or what have you? Or by pressing a single key take you to a particular website and log you in? AIM Keys is the answer. It is simple, intuitive, and runs in any Windows program, so that the same AIM Keys macro that works in Word will also work in every other application. That makes it easy to remember. It has fancier functions that I’ve never really explored for those who feel they simply must crack open the well-written manual.

How Do I Connect to a WiFi? Where Is a Hotspot?

While finding and connecting to an available Wifi network is built into Windows if you know where to look, there is a free utility that makes the process straightforward and simple, as well as containing a database for every state of local Wifi hotspots. Go to http://client.hotspot.t-mobile.com and get the PCtel roaming client. With a single mouse click you can see all the available networks, their protection status, and signal strength, and log into any open network quickly and easily.

My Computer Is Slowing Down—What’s Going on? Maybe It’s S pyware!

Spyware is ubiquitous these days and creeps in despite our best efforts to block it. I found Spybot Search and Destroy to be one answer. It will scan your computer for known spyware (it is frequently updated) and identify each instance and allow you to select whether to ignore it or to delete it. I run it every few days and wipe out any of the little creeps’ software that has infected my computer. It’s free (you can make a donation to support their efforts if you wish: www.spybot.info).

How Can I Find Stuff in My Computer Quickly?

There is no faster way to find anything on your computer than to use a product called X1. It’s not free, but it is the single most useful utility I own. It indexes everything on your computer (or even on your network if you wish) in the background, invisibly. When you want to find something, such as an e-mail from someone sent to you two years ago, it will find it as quickly as you are able to enter the search criteria. It supports Boolean operators (and, not, or etc.) and you can limit the search to e-mail, attachments, all files, documents, and so forth. It will find it and show the results in native application format so you can quickly browse through the files that meet your criteria to find just the one you want. Really! Instantly! It’s $94.95 for a single license, available at www.x1.com.

I Want to Find a Picture of Someone. What’s the Fastest Way?

 Google deskbar is the simple and free solution. Go to www.google.com and do a search for deskbar and follow the install directions. It will put a small data entry field on your task bar, and, after you enter something, will do a Google search right there. No opening a browser or the like. Even better, if you are looking for images, just type in the name and press CTL-I and up pop images found on the Web. I found myself lots of times!

Or you can press CTL-T for a thesaurus, or any of a host of other choices. Information truly at your fingertips.


I’ve Lost a File—It’s Not Even in the Trashcan. Is There Anything I Can Do?

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Clause. He goes by the name of Rest2514.exe and can be found (along with lots of other neat free stuff) at www.all-freeware.com/gu4.htm. It will look around on your hard drive ad find bits and pieces of files—or even whole files if they haven’t been completely overwritten. It can be a lifesaver, and it is free.

Dan Coolidge is a former computer engineer and recovering large firm lawyer. He practices intellectual property law in Warner and Keene, New Hampshire, with Coolidge & Graves PLLC. He has been on faculty for the ABA Tech Show for the past decade and serves on the editorial boards of several legal technology and practice management magazines.

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