Ten Super-Duper Free Tools

By  |  Thursday, April 9, 2009 at 9:40 am

Steve Bass's TechBiteI’ve been bingeing on free tools for the last week. Here are a bunch of the best I found.

Greased Lightning Finds

I want you to download and try the Everything search tool. It installs in a minute, and indexes your drive in another minute — and the speed of its finds will blow you away. No, really, this is the fastest thing I’ve ever seen.

My friend Darryl said, “Everything’s search engine only searches file names and folders — it doesn’t index file contents like Windows Desktop Search does. Instead, it indexes the entire hard drive by using the hard disk’s existing USN Change Journal. The result is a tiny program that uses very little resources, is deadly simple to use, and is astonishingly fast. You can find any file virtually instantly.” The question is why Microsoft didn’t use the USN functionality in the Search function built into XP and Vista. (Don’t you love these rhetorical questions for Microsoft?)

About the only downside is that Everything won’t run on a drive using a FAT32 file system. (What, you don’t know the difference? Read this: FAT32 vs. NTFS and then consider the painless conversion to NTFS.)

Everything is a good tool, but there are two other search tools you could use. Play around with Agent Ransack. It’s slower than Everything, yet it’s a versatile, dweeby kind of program that lets you search within files using complex rules. You might like Copernic Desktop Search, too, because it not only does smart searches of file contents, it also lets you launch the program associated with the file. The downside? It’s ad sponsored. Of course, I’ll get a ton of e-mail if I don’t mention Google Desktop, even though I don’t like the way it displays search results in a browser.

“Everything” is fast, even on your creaky, old ‘486

Wizmo — Steve Gibson’s Nifty Tool

Steve Gibson is famous for small, free, smart tools. One that I’m using is Wizmo — Steve’s Windows Gizmo — and it does things some of you can use. For instance, Wizmo gives you a quick one-click way to blank the screen or put it into low power mode; lock the workstation; or set the PC in any one of several states, including standby, hibernate, log off, reboot, or shutdown.

Wizmo isn’t difficult to use, but it could be an adventure for beginners. That’s because the tool doesn’t have an installation program: You’ll have to create a desktop shortcut and modify the shortcut’s Properties. However, the instructions are clear and easy to follow. And while you’re looking at Wizmo, poke around Gibson’s site — it’s a marvelous jaunt into technology.

Quick aside: My buddy Leo uses Wizmo to put his monitor in low power mode Since moving to Vista Business x64 from XP, using “wizmo.exe monoff” on his two-monitor system has given him trouble. Both monitors went into sleep mode, but only the secondary analog monitor would wake up with the mouse; the primary LCD would stay asleep, and he needed to power off the desktop to recover. He used Monoff 4 to fix the problem.

Use Wizmo for quick one-click commands

Capture and Record any Sound

In last week’s story, I talked about ripping the music from YouTube videos. This week I’ve got two powerful tools with a wide array of features for grabbing and manipulating sounds you hear on your PC, including MP3s.

Audacity is free and easy to use. Just click the red button to start recording and the orange one to stop it. Then from Files, choose Export as MP3. Plenty of editing tools are built in, so you can, say, remove silence. One drawback: It also records PC sounds, so if you’re not careful, you’ll hear error sounds and new-message “dings.” For that, download SoundOff, a freebie that temporarily turns system sounds off and on with a quick right-click.

I also like Total Recorder, which has some useful features Audacity doesn’t have. For instance, it lets you set up multiple daily and weekly recording schedules. The standard edition is $18, and the $36 Pro version has extra goodies, such as automating everything — it opens the browser to a designated URL, starts and stops recording, saves the file, and closes the browser. And yes, the program is smart enough to not record system sounds.

Multi Monitor Mouse

You have two or more monitors and you’re tired of moving your mouse from one monitor to the last one in the array? You’ll like Multi Monitor Mouse, because it gooses your mouse cursor so it makes the jump across monitors without scrolling. The tool is especially valuable if your monitors aren’t the same size or resolution, if you’re using, say, a 23-incher and a notebook. You’ll need to be geek-savvy as this freebie doesn’t come with documentation.

Multi-Mouse lets your cursor jump across monitors

Monitor arrays at Bass International

Tech Tip of the Week: Stop Errors

Pop quiz: It’s fast, it’s blue, and it stops your computer cold. I get one every so often — a blue screen loaded with dire warnings, a list of letters and numbers, and an obscure stop error. (see one here.) Actually, the stop error codes offer valuable info about what caused your system to come to a complete halt. The message might let you know your RAM is on its last legs, a driver is missing, or a hard drive is infected with spyware or damaged. Microsoft has a list of stop errors, along with an explanation and details that are written in somewhat readable English.

Resolving a stop error can be an enjoyable weekend project (ha!). My favorite stop (sorry) for help is UpdateXP, run by Microsoft Windows MVP Marc Liron. The site has the most commonly seen stop errors with possible resolutions.

Seen one of these lately? It’s a stop error that’s likely to ruin your entire day.

[This post is excerpted from Steve’s TechBite newsletter. If you liked it, head here to sign up–it’s delivered on Wednesdays to your inbox, and it’s free.]



2 Comments For This Post

  1. vincent Says:

    I think copernic is the best desktop search tool right now, especially now that they have a mobile plug in technology that allows you to search and transfer files from your PC directly into your cellphone! It is awesome.


  2. thehumanyawn Says:

    Your link to Microsoft’s stop errors isn’t right